Bignell outlines state’s organic beef industry
NEW BRUNSWICK — One of the challenges raising organic beef in the Northeast is just the record keeping, Henry Bignell of Rutgers Agricultural Extension told a group of beef producers and people who hope to raise beef.
His talk was part of the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey Winter Conference on Saturday, Jan. 26.
Bignell is senior program coordinator in Cooperative Extension of Warren County.
Before joining the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, he was the livestock expert for six upstate New York counties for Cornell Agriculture Extension.
More than one member of the audience uses organic techniques, but does not have the certification.
Bignell said it does help to be certified.
While farmers have issues with labels, consumers like to know what they are getting, he pointed out.
While organic requires concentration on soil health and weed control, the same safety and productivity concerns apply on organic as on conventional farms, he said.
Organically raised beef are grass-fed, but all forages are not created equal. Farmers must decide on cool season or warm season grasses, legumes, alfalfa or another forage.
Ancillary to finding the right forage is developing a rotation schedule and finding the proper fencing. Farmer and NOFA Board Member Lucia Huebner of Hopewell suggested Power-Flex-Fence for its step-in posts as a good choice for rotating grazing. She said electric wire clip-ons are available.
Farmer John Lima of Somerset County pointed out there are easily movable fences as well as those with pound-in posts which are more sturdy.
Since water is important, especially for lactating cows, Bignell recommended the North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development service as a resource to help with both access to water and protection of water sources.
Extension can assist with budgeting and finance, including setting a price point for the product and calculating labor and other input costs.
One of the most difficult aspects for farmers is marketing their product.
“People aren’t farmers because they love marketing,” he pointed out.
There are many ways to sell beef, ranging from custom raising for other owners, to selling directly to grocery stores, hotels or restaurants to farmers markets to adding organic beef for a CSA. Each producer needs to find the best method, Bignell said.
Processing is a big issue in New Jersey.
“Slaughterhouses are a statewide talking point,” he said, noting the distance to a facility and the cost are added stressors.
Fly control is another particular problem for organic producers. Lima suggested an organic insecticide on felt that can be wiped on the cows face when she dips her head in a special tub to drink. The felt also causes the cows’ eyes to water which helps prevent pinkeye, Lima said. He said flies will still get on the rest of the cows’ bodies, but there are also organic controls that can be sprayed.
Talking to successful producers, possibly through a NOFA sponsored field walk, is a good way to get answers, Bignell said.
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