By STEVE BROWN
In response to the drought gripping much of the nation, the USDA has granted a variance to National Organic Program rules requiring that organic ruminants consume at least 30 percent of their dry matter intake from certified pasture.
The variance applies only to organic ruminant livestock producers in counties declared primary natural disaster areas by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. As of Aug. 15, Vilsack has designated 1,670 counties as natural disaster areas due to severe drought.
The variance applies only to non-irrigated pasture in declared disaster areas, and producers must supply at least 15 percent of their dry matter intake (on average) from certified organic pasture. The variance applies to the 2012 calendar year only.
Jim Rickert, co-owner and co-general manager of Prather Ranch in Shasta County, Calif., said the USDA variance is welcome news.
"I applaud them (USDA) for the flexibility. My hat's off that somebody thought of that," he said.
"This variance should be helpful for ranchers on dryland," he said. "It's hard to rent organic-certified pasture."
Four counties in Oregon and 24 in California have been declared primary disaster areas. None are designated in Washington or Idaho.
* Oregon: Harney, Klamath, Lake, Malheur.
* California: Alameda, Butte, Calaveras, Fresno, Glenn, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Lassen, Madera, Marin, Mariposa, Merced, Modoc, Mono, Plumas, Riverside, San Bernardino, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Tehama, Tulare, Tuolumne.