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Pasture Rule Training Highlights

By Lisa McCrory

Added May 17, 2010. At least 80 people attended the Pasture Rule Training in Woodland California on April 26, 2010. Of those, I would say half of them were producers – which is a great number, especially in comparison to all the other training locations. Dr Kerry Smith gave the same presentation that she gave at the other locations with perhaps some more detailed case study examples,which were used at the end of the workshop to see how well people understood how the new rule was going to work.

In the afternoon a local USDA NRCS agent by the name of Richard King covered the nuts and bolts of management intensive grazing. It was particularly nice to see that, having been to two of the trainings and having heard about a third one, each grazing management presenter has had a slightly different style in getting the message across.

Richard King, is also a Holisic Management Educator (HMI ©) and it was refreshing to hear his perspective. He talked about how hard it is on the plants and their root system when they are overgrazed, and how overgrazing can prevent seed production. “Small leaves can only feed small roots” he said. Some key points with a good grazing system are: 1) the importance of minimizing the overgrazing of plants and the over resting of the land, and 2) provide adequate rest periods and avoid excessive accumulation of standing litter to keep grass vigorous. Mr King also talked about microbes and how grazing grass flushes plant sugars from the roots into the soil and gives the microbes energy. “Microbes include the fungi that have miles of microscopic hairs that can bring nutrients and moisture to the roots that are otherwise unavailable to the grass.”

Symptoms of a poor grazing plan includes:

    1. No description of what the landscape is being managed toward
    2. Planning is based on grazing periods rather than recovery periods
    3. Livestock performance is poor
    4. Realistic stocking rates not calculated quickly
    5. Changing plant growth rates are not considered in developing the plan
    6. Invasive/noxious weeds increase
    7. Very long grazing periods occur
    8. Pastures need replanting every 4-7 years
    9. Wildlife needs not adequately addressed
    10. Poorly planned drought reserve

Questions from the audience at the end were predominantly from certifiers wanting clarification on a particular scenario:

Let’s say there is a farmer that meets the minimum 120:30% on pasture when the animals are receiving their full pasture ration. But during the days that the farmer transitions their cattle onto pasture in the spring and the days when they are extending the grazing season in the fall, the animals are only getting a small amount of pasture. If the volume consumed on these ‘transition’ periods were included in the DMI calculations, then the average %DMI from pasture could fall below 30% for some farms. The answers received from the NOP staff did not really satisfy the audience. Most of the challenges came, I think, with the interpretation of what ‘grazing’ means. For the NOP, Grazing has a significant meaning now, which should not be taken lightly.

There will be a Q and A section posted on the NOP website soon which I hope will clarify the right way to present certain scenarios within an Organic System Plan so that the producers can properly document their practices. The NOP also hopes to make useful resources available in print form to meet the needs of the many producers who do not use the internet.

A number of educational organizations such as NOFA Vermont and MOSES are starting to offer workshops to help their producers understand new Pasture Standards. Go to t he Calendar section in this newsletter to read about some workshops happening in Vermont and Wisconsin. Check with your certifier, your organic outreach organization, your extension agent, your NRCS agent or processor and see if they are putting something together.