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Why Go Organic?

Transitioning to organic farming and getting certified is a big step toward a more sustainable and eco-friendly way of farming. Organic farming focuses on using natural methods like crop rotation and taking care of the land responsibly. This leads to healthier fruits, veggies, and grains that are good for both you and the environment.

Getting certified as organic opens up opportunities to sell in premium markets where people really care about organic products. Organic farmers often get paid more for what they grow, which helps them financially.

But transitioning to organic farming isn't easy. That's where we can help.

 

At Farmers Alliance, we're here to support farmers through the whole process of getting certified. We offer education, speak up for farmers' needs, and bring farmers together to build strong, community-based food systems. By working together, we can create a better food system that's fair, sustainable, and good for everyone, now and in the future.

The Organic CertificationProcess

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USDA Organic Requirements

The rules for getting USDA Organic Certification depend on what kind of operation you have.

Click HERE to learn more.

Crop Producers

If you're a crop producer switching from conventional to organic farming, you need to follow organic rules for 36 months (3 years). This time makes sure the land is free from all banned substances.

Livestock Operators

If you raise livestock, you can switch to organic in 1 to 3 years.

Processors and Handlers

People and facilities that label or sell products as organic, like butchers, bakers, distillers, and packagers, must be certified organic.

Wild Crops

The rules for wild crops are similar to those for cultivated crops. However, to be considered wild, you must not water, feed/fertilize, or manage the crop. Wild crops must be harvested in a way that does not harm the natural environment.

Mentorship Programs

During this part of the certification process, many farmers who are transitioning to organic find it helpful to get some guidance. The Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) has a great mentorship program that matches experienced organic farmers with those who are transitioning.

Adopt Organic Practices

Before you apply for Organic Certification, you should start using organic methods. Each type of operation has specific rules you need to follow.

On-Site Inspection

An inspector will visit your farm or facility to check things out in person.

Update Certifier

Each year, you give your certifying agent an update.

Certification Issued

After reviewing all the documents related to your application, your certification agency will decide if your operation meets all the requirements for organic certification.

 

If you receive organic certification, you'll need to provide yearly updates to your Organic System Plan (OSP) and undergo annual on-site inspections.

Certification

Your certifying agent issues you your organic certificate!

Annual Review

Your certifying agent looks at both your application and the inspector's report to decide if your operation still meets the USDA organic rules.

Post-Inspection Review

Once the inspector completes their on-site visit, your chosen certifying agency will go over their report. They'll compare what the inspector found with what you originally submitted in your application.

It's really important to stay on top of any questions or requests your certification agency might have at this stage. If they need more info from you and you don't respond quickly, it could slow down the whole certification process or lead to your certification being denied.

Final Review

After the inspection, your certifying agent will carefully look at the report. They'll give you advice and tips to make sure your practices follow organic rules.

On-Site Inspection

When your application meets organic rules, your certification agency will plan a visit to your place. This visit is to make sure you're doing what you said you would in your Organic System Plan.

During the visit, the inspector will:

  • Watch how your farm or facility works.

  • Check if you're following the steps in your plan.

  • Find any areas where you might not be keeping things organic.

  • Tell the certification agency what they found.
     

To do this right, the inspector will:

  • Go through all your fields, even ones that are changing to organic.

  • Check out your equipment and how you store things.

  • Make sure your records are correct.

  • Follow where your products come from to make sure they're really organic.

  • Make sure your inventory matches what you've recorded.
     

Getting ready for the inspection is important. Have all your records ready and make sure the inspector can get to all parts of your farm or facility.

Remember, how long the inspection takes depends on how big your farm is. Small farms might only take a few hours, but bigger ones could take several days to inspect properly.

On-Site Inspection

An organic inspector will visit your operation to check your practices. They'll make sure what you're doing matches what you've planned in your Organic System Plan (OSP) and follows organic standards.

Don't Forget!

Keeping your organic certification requires yearly updates to your Organic System Plan (OSP) and an annual on-site inspection.

 

But don’t stress! These yearly check-ins are much easier compared to the process you've just completed.

Annual Recertification Process

After You Submit Your Application

Once you send in your application, your chosen certifying agency will look over it to make sure everything you gave them is complete. They'll also check if your operation follows all the organic rules.

During this time, they might reach out to you if they have questions or need more details. It's really important to reply quickly and give them all the information they need so the certification process doesn't get held up.

Submit Application

Send in your application along with any fees you need to pay. A certifying agent will look over your application to make sure your practices follow USDA organic regulations.

Getting Your Application Ready

It's a good idea to send in your application towards the end of your transition period. Many certification agencies now have online application systems, so when you're ready, get in touch with your favorite agency to ask for application materials or set up your online account.

Your application needs to have an Organic System Plan (OSP). This document explains how your farm or production place will follow organic rules. Everyone who wants organic certification, whether it's their first time or they're renewing, has to submit an OSP.

OSP's are different depending on how big your farm is and what you do there. Making an OSP can be tricky, but it gives you a clear plan for moving to and staying organic. It helps farmers and producers meet organic rules step by step, making sure every part of their operation follows organic principles.

Click HERE to learn more about OSPs

You should aim to send your application in 3-6 months before you want to start harvesting or selling organic goods. That's because your fields need to be checked before you do your first organic harvest.

Prepare Application

Complete the application from your chosen certifier. You will also need to create an Organic System Plan (OSP) that explains your farming and processing practices. This plan is a key part of your application.

Certifiers

A certifier is an accredited organization that checks and confirms that farming products and methods meet the organic standards set by the National Organic Program (NOP). Choosing the right certifier is a key step in transitioning to organic farming. Certifiers guide farmers through the certification process and ensure they follow strict organic standards.

When picking a certifier, it’s important to find one that suits your needs. One major factor is making sure the certifying agency hires local inspectors. Local inspectors are familiar with the farming practices, climate, and challenges specific to your area. This understanding can make the inspection process smoother and more accurate.

Using local inspectors can also save you money. If inspectors have to travel far to reach your farm, it can lead to higher costs. Additionally, the cost of living and wage standards differ across regions, so certifiers might need to pay more to hire inspectors in some areas. Choosing a certifier with local inspectors helps reduce these costs.

 

Regulations for organic farming can vary from state to state. Inspectors need to know these local rules to do their job well. Hiring local inspectors means they are already familiar with these regulations, reducing the need for extra training and possibly lowering certification fees.

In short, choosing the right certifier and ensuring they use local inspectors can make the certification process easier and cheaper. By considering these factors, you can make better decisions for your organic certification journey.

Choose a Certifying Agency

Pick a USDA-accredited certifying agent that fits your needs. They will help you through the certification process.

Click HERE to find the one for you.

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