The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published a notice announcing a public comment period for draft guidance on conservation practices for certified organic operations.

The comment period for the draft guidance is open from Dec. 29 through Feb. 27, according to the USDA notice.

After the draft guidance is final, the USDA said the document will help organic certifiers, farms and businesses understand the types of production practices that support conservation principles and demonstrate compliance with USDA organic regulations.

The nine-page guidance, formally called “Natural Resources and Biodiversity Conservation for Certified Organic Operations,” is available on the USDA website http://1.usa.gov/1BfGpwX.

The document was developed in response to a May 2009 request from the National Organic Standards Board that the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service clarify the requirements and limitations of the general natural resources and biodiversity conservation requirement of the USDA organic regulations. USDA organic regulations require organic operations to “maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality.”

The USDA said the guidance clarifies the certified organic operator’s responsibility to select, carry out, and record production practices that “maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation” The guidance also stipulates the accredited certifying agent’s responsibility to verify operator compliance with this requirement. The guidance shows how domestic organic operations that participate in a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service program and the National Organic Program can reduce their paperwork burdens.