In our Cooperative, each “pool” of production, like the egg farmers or dairy farmers, may develop standards and policies that go above and beyond the USDA National Organic Standards or other legal requirements. These CROPP-specific standards and policies clarify requirements for materials allowed on our member farms, help assure high quality product standards are being met, and assure our animal husbandry goals are being met. All members who join our Cooperative sign a membership agreement and pledge to abide by any additional CROPP standards. In addition to our third-party certifier, we also have trained staff who conduct farm audits on specific standards to assure compliance on the following additional standards:
Pasture is a foundation principle in organic livestock production. Our members adopted our first pasture standard in 1997, and we advocated hard for many years to have a pasture requirement added to the USDA organic standard. We were very pleased when the USDA adopted a pasture requirement in 2009 which mirrors our existing pasture policy. The USDA organic standard requires a minimum of 120 days on pasture, but our farmers will extend their pasture season whenever seasonally appropriate for their region and climate.
To enforce our pasture policy, we require our member farms to have a pasture plan that accounts for adequate space for their herd size, nutrition management, and more. The pasture plan is part of the member’s overall Farm Plan and is on file with our Cooperative. We are proud to say that all of our farmer-members meet or exceed the pasture requirement.
We have a Pasture Committee that is made up of Dairy Members who make recommendations for policy updates, approves farmer-members’ pasture plans, and assist the staff in communicating pasture information to the farmer membership. We consider this part of our dedication to continual improvement and a testimony to the responsibility that our farmer-owners take upon themselves.
In addition to pasture requirements, the National Organic Program requires daily access to outdoors for all livestock whenever seasonally-appropriate for their region and climate, with temporary exception for inclement weather, or environmental or health concerns. Our Cooperative’s standards are stricter, with specific requirements for each species.
We have supported the USDA National Organic Program and National Organic Standards Board process for defining farm inputs, but at times we have disagreed with the final allowance of some materials.
The following material is allowed by the USDA National Organic Program but is not allowed in the CROPP Cooperative program:
Oxytocin—This is a hormone-stimulating synthetic material that is used widely in milk production to aid in calving and therapeutic uses. Since hormones are a great concern to us and to our citizen partners, we elected to not allow this "hormone mimicker" in Organic Valley milk even though it is allowed by the National Organic Program. We can truthfully tell our consumers that our products are “produced without synthetic hormones.”
While antibiotics are not allowed in organic production, their use is encouraged for treating sick animals rather than allowing the animal to suffer. If used, the animal cannot return to organic production. Our cooperative retains the ability to review a farmer-member’s certification, and if we determine that antibiotics were improperly used or an animal has been allowed to suffer, that farmer’s membership may be terminated.
Even though antibiotics are not used as a medical tool in organic livestock, there are two minor exceptions where trace amounts of antibiotics are allowed as a preservative. Those exceptions are vaccines for young animals and artificial insemination, both of which are invaluable tools in organic production that aid in animal well-being.
After entering organic dairying, we require our farmer-members to raise all of their future milk cows on their organic farms and organically from the day they are born. We see this as a critical component to animal health; a holistic organic farming system works best when the animals are connected to the land from birth. If the animals raised on the farm are not adequate for their organic Farm Plan, then the farmer can only purchase replacement cows that were organically-raised from birth or that were transitioned to organic in a new herd process. This standard is stronger than the USDA organic standard, and we continue to be active in advocating for the USDA standard to be strengthened to mirror our standard.