Any producer whose annual organic gross sales are more than $5,000 is required by law to become organic certified and must register with the SOP. Producers who have less than $5,000 in organic sales also can become certified. It is highly recommended that all organic producers become certified because organic products cannot be used in a processed product labeled as organic unless your product also is certified.
The five steps of organic certification are:
- Adopt organic practices, select a USDA-accredited certifying agent (ACA) and submit an Organic System Plan (OSP) application and fee to the agent. The OSP describes the operation’s organic practices relative to organic standards.
- Certifying agent reviews the application and verifies compliance with USDA organic regulations. (A list of accredited organic certifiers is available online as is a searchable database of certifiers.)
- Inspector conducts an on-site inspection. Additional inspections may be announced or unannounced.
- Certifying agent reviews application and inspector’s report.
- Organic certificate issued by certifying agent.
The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has created a series of videos that walk would-be organic growers through the certification process step by step. The AMS “Organic Sound and Sensible” videos can be viewed at the AMS YouTube library or chosen from a list of available videos on the AMS website. Another helpful resource is the Road to Organic Certification video.
When preparing to transition to organic, it is important to remember that there is a 36-month transition period prior to becoming certified. As soon as a grower begins converting to organic and starts the transition period, the grower should contact the organic certification body and obtain the “organic input material sheet” in order to begin tracking inputs during year one of the transition period. It’s also important to note that organic growers need to save all receipts for any material they put on the grove.
Land used to produce raw organic commodities must not have had prohibited substances applied to it for the three years preceding certification. A 36-month transition period will be enforced for newly certified organic operations that did apply prohibited substances. During that time, producers cannot sell, label or represent their product as organic nor use the USDA organic seal. Those who are not organic certified and use the organic seal can be fined up to $11,000 per violation. Technical and financial assistance is available during the transition period.
Once You’re Certified
Once a producer is certified organic, the operation can utilize the organic seal. Organic producers should follow USDA instructions concerning the seal.
All organic operations must complete an annual review and inspection process to maintain organic certification.