*The certification process for organic processors will be similar. There will be differences in the application and organic plan. Your certification body will guide you through the process.
Start with doing as much research on organic production, the organic standards and regulations, and the certification process as you can to help you make an informed decision about transitioning to organic. A good place to start is our transition resources, production resources, and our choosing a certification body web pages. We recommend contacting at least two certification bodies and compare the information to see which CB is the best fit for you and your operation. Each CB certifies to the same organic standards, however, there are differences in structure and service between some of the CB’s. For example, some are organized as not-for-profit, others for-profit, some offer other certifications that you might want to add to your operation (i.e. Gluten Free, Grassfed), some agencies offer mentoring, networking, and peer support opportunities. You may want to talk to producers belonging to different CB’s or just do some general research on each organization before deciding which certification agency would be the best fit for you.
Certification bodies (CB’s) are accredited by the CFIA to certify agricultural products as organic in accordance with the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime. They issue certificates for organic products as well as for the activities of packaging and labelling when meeting the Canadian Organic Standards.
Application Package & Organic Plan:
The Organic Plan is a detailed document where you will be asked for a general scope and nature of your operation, farm map, acres in organic, conventional, transitional, pasture and ecological zones, what crops you plan to grow and what your organic rotation will look like, whether you have livestock and also want them to be certified, a description of your 5-year conversion plan to Organic, description of buffer zones, seed sources and seed treatments, inputs used, storage and handling, weed management and pest management, crop monitoring, harvest practices, transportation, soil and fertility management and monitoring, natural resource and water management, compost and animal manure management (if applicable), sanitation practices, record keeping system, waste management and more.
An organic inspector (a third party trained professional) is contracted by your CB to conduct your inspection. Annual farm inspections are done during the growing season and typically take anywhere from 3 hours to all day, depending on the size and complexity of the operation. Processor inspections may take place throughout the year and can take a few hours to a few days, depending on size and complexity. An inspector will visit your farm or operation and tour all aspects including fields, storage and processing facilities, equipment, water sources, etc. They will also review your record keeping and paperwork to ensure all crops can be traced from point of sale back through the storage and fields to the seed. Upon completion of their inspection, they will submit the report to the CB for review and final decision. (The organic inspector does not make the certification decision)
Your CB is required to conduct unannounced inspections representing 5% of their certified clients. So your operation may or may not be chosen for a random inspection in addition to your annual inspection. Unannounced inspections shall be limited in scope and shall cover only certain aspects of the operation. The criteria used in choosing operators for unannounced inspections shall be random, risk based, and as a result of a complaint or investigation.
If everything is in order after your inspection and you receive your organic certificate, valid for 1 year. Your CB will contact you when it is time to submit your renewal application and when your next inspection will take place. You will need to present your organic certificate as part of documentation required for an organic sale.
You will need to have a record keeping system in place. Your CB will send you many of the forms and documents that you will need to fill out as part of your record keeping. Some of the records you will need to maintain are:
- Input documentation: if organically approved inputs are used, you will need to save labels and purchase receipts, record rates and dates of applications and and on which fields.
- Seed records: 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. You will have to fill out a Seed Search Affidavit. Keep in mind that some markets, especially European, do not accept any exemptions for non-organic seed. Genetically engineered seeds are always prohibited.
- Field history records showing crops planted by field #.
- Harvest records
- Pest control
- Storage or inventory records: list commodity, quantity in, quantity out, dates in and out and storage unit #. Scale tickets should be accessible, if used.
- Buffer zone crop storage and inventory: If you have cropped your buffer zones (if they are not pasture, roads or ditches, pollinator strips etc.) you will need to show that you have separate storage and sale of the buffer zone commodity as it can’t be certified organic.
- 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. You must always inspect trucks before loading organic crops. This is usually documented on Bills of Lading, truck inspection or cleaning/washout affidavits.
- Water source test results, if applicable
Canadian Organic Growers (COG) has published a great handbook “Record Keeping for Organic Farms” to help producers with record keeping. SaskOrganics has these handbooks available for sale on our shop.