Posted on October 9, 2019 by Sustainable Food News

Organic goat milk co. denied appeal over NOP suspension

Feds agree with organic goat farmer that pasture requirement for goats 'is a challenge'

The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) reported Tuesday that an appeal by organic goat milk producer, Tad Ellinghuysen dba 2 Creeks Farm in Peterson, Minn., over the company’s proposed suspension has been denied.

The verdict was handed down in a Sept. 16 decision by Bruce Summers, administrator of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which oversees the NOP.

According to the NOP’s Organic Integrity Database, 2 Creeks Farm maintains two organic certificates for crops and livestock, specifically, dairy goats for milk, dairy goat replacements, and goat milk. The organic certificates were granted in February 2010 by Midwest Organic Services Association Inc. (MOSA).

Summers said that “the evidence substantiates that Ellinghuysen has a long history of noncompliance” with the organic standards requirement that livestock receive 30 percent of their dry matter intake from pasture during the grazing season.

“Ellinghuysen has been unable to comply with the requirement that its goat herd receive 30 percent of its DMI from pasture and recently has also been unable to prove that its available pastures produce enough dry matter to allow for its goat herd to receive 30 percent of its DMI from pasture,” Summers concluded. “Further, despite prior notices of noncompliance, notices of proposed suspension, Administrator Decisions ruling against it, and a settlement agreement giving it an opportunity again to come into compliance, Ellinghuysen has been unable to do so.”

Ellinghuysen has voiced opposition to the 30 percent DMI requirement for the past several years, stating that the requirement “has been a hardship for dairy goat producers and has resulted in ‘stressed’ goats standing by the pasture gate, and lower production and profits.”

Ellinghuysen also stated in his appeal that the 30 percent DMI requirement “isn’t in the best interest of the goats as it forces them to graze like cows or sheep which is not in a goat’s nature because they are browsers [and that] organic goats should have access to vegetative pasture but not be forced to eat a certain percent by grazing.”

The AMS said reports from “certifying agents indicates that the 30 percent DMI pasture requirement for goats is a challenge for a number of certified goat operations. Despite this, there are certified operations that are compliant. While the management practices themselves are time-consuming and more extensive than those required for bovine ruminant operations, they do exist.”

Ellinghuysen’s history of noncompliance, according to the NOP, began in January 2015 when MOSA issued a notice of noncompliance stating that the company had failed to provide that its goat herd over six months of age received 30 percent of its DMI from pasture over the grazing season. MOSA issued a notice of proposed suspension in March 2015 citing Ellinghuysen’s “failure to comply with pasture practice standards and the unwillingness to change its rations to comply.”

Ellinghuysen filed an appeal in June 2015, which was denied by the administrator in November 2015 after finding that Ellinghuysen “has not met the USDA organic regulations regarding dry matter intake requirements, on a systemic basis for the past four certification years.” The suspension would pertain only to Ellinghuysen’s organic livestock certificate.

In December 2015, Ellinghuysen verbally requested an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). While the administrative hearing was pending, MOSA issued another issued another notice of proposed suspension in January 2017, stating Ellinghuysen “failed to substantiate that its goat herd were receiving 30 percent of DMI from pasture and that it could not provide accurate dry matter demand figures for the animals.”

Ellinghuysen filed an appeal to that suspension notice in February 2017, which was denied by the administrator in September 2017 after finding that the company again failed to meet the 30 percent DMI requirement for its goat herd, and that the company’s organic livestock certificate would be suspended. Later that month, Ellinghuysen requested another ALJ hearing.

Then, with two ALJ hearing requests pending, MOSA issued a third notice of noncompliance in February 2018 for Ellinghuysen’s failure to comply with the 30 percent DMI requirement for its goat herd.

In September 2018, MOSA said the issue was resolved after Ellinghuysen submitted ration information substantiating that it was complying with the 30 percent DMI requirement. MOSA also confirmed that the proposed suspensions at issue in the ALJ hearings had also been resolved.

In October 2018, the NOP and Ellinghuysen entered into a settlement agreement with Ellinghuysen withdrawing its requests for the two ALJ hearings and agreeing to maintain detailed records of all ration changes for its ruminant goat livestock throughout the year, as well as the average milk production during peak and non-peak seasons.

However, in December 2018, MOSA issued a notice requesting that Ellinghuysen clarify its ration information and explain how its goats are meeting DMI requirements based on previously provided information.

MOSA noted that information indicated that the available pastures couldn’t produce the amount needed over the course of the grazing season for the goats to meet the DMI requirement.

MOSA cited the specific acreage of Ellinghuysen’s operation; the average yield for alfalfa pastures in the Filmore County, Minn., region; and the DMI requirements of the goat herd based on the information on Ellinghuysen’s ration sheets and dry matter fed. MOSA concluded that the pasture would need to produce [redacted] pounds per acre over the course of the grazing season to meet the DMI required by the suggested dry matter demand submitted by Ellinghuysen.

However, MOSA found that the available pasture would be [redacted] pounds over the course of the 120-day grazing season, far below what is needed to meet the DMI requirement. MOSA also asked Ellinghuysen to provide information on the temporary confinement of the goats.

MOSA also stated that even if all of Ellinghuysen’s pasture were used for the milking goats in 2019 as the company stated, the acres of pasture couldn’t produce enough dry matter to supply the current dairy goat herd with 30 percent of their DMI.

Summers’ denial of Ellinghuysen’s appeal suspends the company organic livestock certification. Ellinghuysen has 30 days to request an ALJ hearing.

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