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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #294977

Research Project: Multifunctional Farms and Landscapes to Enhance Ecosystem Services

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Title: Sustainability of US organic beef and dairy production systems: soil, plant and cattle interactions

item Orr, Aimee
item Macadam, Jennifer - Utah State University
item Soder, Kathy

Submitted to: Sustainability
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/4/2011
Publication Date: 7/11/2013
Citation: Hafla, A.N., Macadam, J.W., Soder, K.J. 2013. Sustainability of US organic beef and dairy production systems: soil, plant and cattle interactions. Sustainability. 5:3009-3034.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: In 2010, the National Organic Program implemented a rule stating that pasture must be a significant source of feed in organic ruminant systems. This article will focus on how this rule has impacted the management, economics and nutritional value of products derived from organic ruminant systems and the interactions of grazing cattle with pasture forages and soils. The use of synthetic fertilizers is prohibited in organic systems, therefore producers must rely on animal manures, compost and cover crops to increase and maintain soil nitrogen content. Rotational and strip grazing are two of the most common grazing management practices utilized in grazing ruminant production systems; however use of these practices is not exclusive to organic livestock producers and there are many other specific management practices in use across various regions. For dairy cattle, grazing reduces foot and leg problems common in confinement systems but lowers milk production and exposes cows to parasites that can be difficult to treat without pharmaceuticals. Organic beef cattle may still be finished in feedlots for no more than 120 days, but without growth hormones and antibiotics, gains may be reduced and illnesses increased. Grazing reduces the use of environmentally and economically costly concentrate feeds and recycles nutrients back to the soil efficiently, but lowers the rate of beef production. For both beef and dairy systems, increased use of pasture can be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable if forage use efficiency is high and US consumers continue to pay a premium for organic beef and dairy products.