Organic Certification

This presentation will help you to identify many useful resources and decide if organic certification is appropriate for your farm business.
Organic Certification - Videos


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More by Kristy Borrelli 

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- [Instructor] Many economic, environmental, and social benefits exist to farmers who certify their farm for organic production, but is this the right choice for your farm?

This short presentation provides an overview of what certified organic production is and the requirements that certification entails.

By the end of the presentation, you will be provided with several useful resources and hopefully have a better understanding if organic certification can enhance your farm business.

This overview will first explain the national organic program, discuss market demand for organic products, and go through several details of the certification process, including regulations.

The USDA's National Organic Program began in 2002 as part of the Agricultural Marketing Service.

This program was initiated in response to the 1990 Organic Food Production Act, which requires the USDA to develop implement and administer national standards for the production, handling, and labeling of organic products.

Comprehensive information about these standards and organic requirements can be found online at by going directly to organic certification and accreditation.

Environmental, social, and financial incentives exist for producing organic products.

Looking a little bit more closely at financial incentives, we can see that consumer demand for organically produced goods continues to demonstrate growth.

In fact, it has for a long time.

Organic sales of food and non-food items have increased from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $43.3 billion in 2015 according to the Organic Trade Association.

In particular, 2015 was a year of significant growth for the organic industry, bringing in the largest dollar gain ever, adding $4.2 billion in sales from the previous year.

Organic market incentives exist across a broad range of products for U.S. farmers.

Typically, fresh fruits and vegetables are the primary products being produced organically, but demand for organic milk, eggs, and meat products is also increasing.

Increasing demand for organic animal products, in turn, increases demand for organically produced forage and grain that is required for feeding certified livestock.

Although many organic farmers produce many of these products on a single farm, this isn't necessary, and a farmer could focus more specifically on a product and choose to grow only one or two certified items.

As a whole, supply of organic crops is not meeting demand for this sector in the United States, and much of the organic animal feed and many other products are being imported.

Local sources of these goods are highly desired, which provides great opportunities for farmers to participate in a growing market.

In order for crops and products to be officially marketed as organic, they need to be certified to verify that production practices meet NOP standards.

Only certified crops and products can officially bear the USDA organic logo shown here and carry the associated price premiums.

Before certification can be granted, the NOP requires that land transitions to organic, meaning that no prohibitive substances can be used for three years on crop land.

Similar restrictions exist for livestock.

Specifically, slaughter livestock must be managed organically from the last third of their gestation period, poultry, the second day of their lives, while dairy animals require 12 months of organic management before milk products can be certified.

Until this transition period is met, you may not sell or label products as organic or use the USDA organic seal.

Following the transition period, you must then submit an application for official certification.

This application includes a detailed description of the operation to be certified, a history of substances applied during the previous three years, the name of organic products grown, raised, or processed, and a written organic system plan.

Producers and handlers must work directly with an accredited agent to become certified.

Your certification will need to be renewed each year.

A certifying agent can help producers understand all regulations and identify solutions to specific concerns by developing an organic system plan and a strategy along with the grower.

Agents should be contacted prior to organic transition to ensure all regulatory steps are met.

The certifying agent will also schedule a qualified inspector to visit your farm or business to ensure compliance.

Fees for certification services vary widely, but typically include an application fee, an annual renewal fee, and an inspection fee.

Many organizations are accredited by the USDA to serve as certifying agents.

Pennsylvania Certified Organic is one of those agencies in Pennsylvania, but producers may contact any similar organization to be connected with a certifier.

It might be helpful to talk to other organic producers to get advice about working with certifiers.

Additional resources for finding certifiers is also available on the USDA AMS website.

Certified organic products exclude the use of synthetic chemicals in crop and animal production systems.

This includes the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and seed treatments and crops, as well as the use of non-therapeutic treatment with antibiotics and hormones in livestock.

Genetically modified organisms and several other practices such as the use of sewage sludge in crop land, field burning practices, and irradiation on meat are also restricted.

The national list of allowed and prohibited substances from the USDAMS, and the OMRI products list are useful resources for determining what can and cannot be used under organic management, but you should always check with your certifier before using questionable products or practices or before trying something new.

In the absences of these products, organic cropping systems rely on natural ecosystem processes to manage fertility and control pests.

Organic producers achieve these goals by using practices such as crop rotation, mechanical and cultural weed management tactics, cover cropping, application of animal manure in compost, and developing habitats to support beneficial organisms.

In fact, these practices are necessary, since regulations also require that farming practices foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity by maintaining or enhancing soil, water, and environmental quality.

Of course, many of these practices can be incorporated into any farming system, and adoption of multiple or individual strategies is possible if organic certification isn't appropriate for you.

More details about certified organic requirements as well as specific productions tips for growing field crops in Pennsylvania can be found in Penn State's Organic Agronomy Guide.


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