If you are already farming for yourself, you might be wondering how to start an organic beef business. Organic cattle farming is a rapidly growing niche market, and by providing high quality organic beef you can feel good that you are doing your part for the health of consumers as well as the health of the planet. But what is required to raise organic beef?
How to Start an Organic Beef Business From Scratch
It can seem overwhelming to begin an undertaking as large as starting cattle ranching, especially if you intend to do so organically. But it is not as foreboding as it may at first seem. Simply break the process down into manageable steps and you will be marketing your organic beef before you know it.
To qualify for organic certification, it is important that your pasture land be organic as well. If you are buying land that has been farmed previously, you will need to look into the history of the acreage to see if there has been any activity that might preclude certification. Check the Center for Rural Affairs' Land Link program. This program matches new farmers with retiring farmers based on land use plans and type of production.
Choose Your Livestock
Some cattle breeds do better on organic farms than others. Breeds that have been developed to maximize production might not thrive in an environment with minimal veterinary intervention. Heritage breeds of cattle are a good option for small scale producers. Peruse Oklahoma State University's Cattle Breeds database to find a breed that matches your goals.
Select and Organic Certifier
Once you have your land and your cattle, you will need to begin the certification process. The first step to certification is to make contact with a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) accredited certifier. Accredited certifiers are listed by region on the National Organic Program website. Take your time and get to know your certifier before making a final decision. Some certifiers have particular areas of specialty or industry associations that may be a help or hindrance to you, so it is worth taking the time to choose carefully.
Prepare an Organic System Plan
The organic certifier will need to review a copy of your organic system plan. This is a document that outlines your basic farm practices - how many animals you have, what feed you use, your housing systems, veterinary care, and so on. Your certifier will provide you with forms to fill out and answer any questions you may have.
Submit to Inspection
Once your certifier has reviewed your organic system plan and is satisfied with the results, you will need to submit to a formal inspection. Expect the inspection to be thorough, but not prying. Your certifier will need to examine your animals, barn, feed, feed storage, pasture, veterinary records and sales records for any organic feed or other products you have purchased. Good housekeeping and careful record-keeping will make the process as stress-free as possible.
Review Inspection Report
Your certifier will then prepare a report detailing the findings of the inspection. You will have a chance to review the report and respond to any requested changes before it is sent to the USDA for final approval. If you and the certifier are both satisfied with the report, he or she will send it to the USDA for final approval and you will be granted status as a certified organic beef producer. Once certified, you will need to submit to annual inspection to maintain your status.
Learning how to start an organic beef business is not hard, but any ranching is labor-intensive, round-the-clock work. Ranchers get few days off and cows never take holidays, but being able to make a living doing something you love that is in line with your conscience makes all the hard work worthwhile.