Transitioning to Organic Agriculture
April 14, 2013
What is Organic Agriculture?
Organic agriculture prohibits the use of non-approved synthetic herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides. Growth hormones, antibiotics and slaughter by-products are not allowed in organic livestock production. Federal organic rules prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), sewage sludge (bio-solids) or irradiation. Items on the National Organic Program’s National List of approved synthetics and prohibited natural inputs adhere to strict environmental, human health and organic compatibility criteria.
Organic agriculture emphasizes biological practices to build soil fertility, manage weeds and pests, nutrient recycling and increase biodiversity. Rather than substituting approved inputs for non-approved inputs, organic farmers continuously improve their farm system by the use of compost, cover crops, green manures, hedgerows, and crop rotation to build and their soils that then produce vibrant crops and robust livestock.
How do I become Organic Certified?
- Choose a certification agency. There are many great certification agencies. If you have other organic certified farms near you that you do business with, many times it is easier to all work with one certification agency. MOSA, Oregon Tilth, & Stellar are all examples of certifications agencies. Contact a certification agency to begin the process.
- Three year transition from conventional to organic. A mandatory 36 month (3 year) transition period in which all prohibited materials including fertilizers, pesticides, and genetically modified crops (GMO’s) have not been applied to crops or crop land before an organic harvest can take place.
- Record keeping. When you are transitioning to organic agriculture it is important to keep detailed records. Keep records of where your organic, untreated and saved seed came from, any soil inputs, where your organic seedlings were grown, when you are applying compost and manure, pest problems and solutions, crop rotations, field history, cultivation records, planting and harvest dates, crop harvest and storage records,
- Dairy animals must be under full organic management for one year before producing organic milk.
- Meat animals must be certified organic from last third of gestation. All ruminants must receive a significant portion of their nutrition from grazing, when seasonally appropriate.
- Day-old chicks can be purchased from any source but then managed organically to produce organic poultry products.
How do I annually maintain my Organic Certification?
- Submit an OSP (Organic System Plan). Each farm’s OSP is unique to the farm. Every year the farm submits its plan for the season. The OSP has a list of all of the fields and the crops from the previous year along with this year’s crops. Any seed purchased should be organic, keep records for proof. Records should be kept of all manure and compost applications, along with any other inputs to the soil.
- Work with your certifier to get your OSP approved prior to the beginning of the season. Any changes should be approved before physically making them.
- Inspection. Every year an organic inspector will visit your farm to do an in-person evaluation. They may have recommendations for better record keeping or request information that may be unclear or not adequately represented in your farm’s OSP.
- After inspection your certifier may have questions that need written responses. Answer all questions in writing. Keep a copy for your records.
- Certification! Each year, once approved you will receive a paper copy of your certification. Other organic certified farms may request a copy of your certification for their records, you should also request a copy for your own records.
What else do I need to know?
- Organic and Conventional Crops. If you grow both organic and conventional crops, non-organic crops must be documented; care must be taken to prevent co-mingling. Any equipment that is used to harvest both organic and conventional crops must be thoroughly cleaned. Records must be kept to prove adequate cleaning.
- Water and Soil Tests. Your certifier may request regular water and/or soil tests. Any soil amendments must supported by your soil test.
- OMRI Approved. Just because a product is OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved does not mean that you are able to use it on your farm. All products must be pre-approved on you OSP.
- Livestock Records. All livestock records should document the health of each animal and each animal should have clear identification such as an ear tag, tattoo, or photograph. Birth, vaccinations, castration, weaning, grouping with other animals, and health inputs should be documented and tracked to each individual animal. Health records such as feed, appropriate housing, exercise opportunities must be documented.
An excellent resource for organic certification is available from MOSES (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service) http://mosesorganic.org/publications/guidebook-for-certification/ .