Steps to Organic Certification

Step 1 – Choosing a Certification Body

Contact a certification body (CB) and obtain questionnaires, standards, licensing agreements, and other associated forms. Many people contact two or more certification bodies and compare the information to see which CB is the best fit.  The Standards are the same regardless of which certification body is verifying them, however, there are differences in structure and service between some of the organizations. For example, some are organized as not-for-profit, others for-profit. Some agencies offer mentoring, networking, peer support opportunities while others operate on a fee for services basis.  It is advisable to also talk to producers belonging to each organization, as well as buyers or traders before deciding which certification agency would be the best fit for you.

Step 2 – Review Field Histories

Review your field histories (the past five years), farm inputs and management plans to assess their compliance with Standards. Producers should implement written records of crops planted and inputs used, including seed and manure or compost. Storage records and a lot numbering system may also need to be developed. As a rule of thumb, a minimum of 36 months is required between the last application of a prohibited substance (eg synthetic fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide, etc) and the first certified organic harvest.

Step 3 – Review Current Crop Plans

Review current crop plans (soil building rotation in place). Develop clear field maps (highlight borders), and denote adjoining land use. Figure the # of acres and clearly number each field. A border or buffer strip is required between all organic and non-organic fields. This is usually 25’; however the certification agency may require it to be larger if there is a greater risk of contamination.

Record Keeping

  • Input documentation: labels, rates and dates of applications and what fields, purchase invoices.
  • Seeds: obtain certified organic, untreated seed. If this is not available, a special exemption must be requested from your certification agency BEFORE the seed is planted. Keep in mind that some markets, especially European, do not accept any exemptions for non-organic seed. Genetically engineered seeds are prohibited.
  • 5 year Field history records showing crops planted by field #.
  • Harvest records: may be a part of production and/or storage records.
  • Storage or inventory records: show pre-cleaning, any pest control measures, commodity, quantity in, quantity out, dates in and out and storage unit #. Also should show records of buffers harvested separately and where sold/stored. Scale tickets should be accessible, if used.
  • Sales invoices, bills of lading (BOLs), lot numbers and proper labeling of organic products, where applicable. Lot # should allow tracking of crop back to field of production.
  • Transportation. Inspect trucks before loading organic crops. This is usually documented on Bills of Lading, truck inspection affidavits or on storage records.

Step 4 – Completing Your Farm Plan

Fill out the Farm Plan questionnaire and submit to the Certification Body, with the appropriate payment. Attach farm map and other required forms. (For example, a water test for coliform bacteria and nitrates is required annually for all livestock producers.) Keep a copy of all documents submitted.

If your paperwork is in order and it appears you may be eligible for certification, the certification body will contract an independent third party organic inspector (verification officer) to visit you. Farm inspections are done during the growing season and typically take from 3 hours to all day, depending on the size and complexity of the operation. Processing inspections may take place throughout the year and can take from a few hours to a few days, depending on size and complexity.

An inspector will visit you and tour all aspects of your operation, including fields, storage facilities, equipment, etc. They will also review your paperwork to ensure all crops can be traced from point of sale back through the storage and fields to the seed. Following the inspection a report will be filed with the certification body. You will also receive a copy of this report.

Step 5 – Inspection Report Review & Certification Decision

The certification body will review the inspection report, together with your Farm Plan and other documents submitted and make a decision on whether or not you meet the requirements of the Standard. The inspector does not have the authority to make a certification decision.

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