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Ten Common Mistakes Made by Organic Certification Applicants

Mistakes you should avoid during the organic certification process


Mistakes made during the organic certification process can cost you your certification. Not getting certified is bad enough, but mistakes also waste time and money. Below, learn more about ten common mistakes made by applicants during the certification process.

NOTE: New applicants are more likely to make mistakes than certified individuals are. Mainly because there's so much to learn as you transition to organic. That said, keep in mind the mistakes below can affect you after you're certified too, not simply during the certification process.


1. Failing to Ask Questions About Organic Requirements

As a wise person once said, "The only dumb question is the question you're afraid to ask" - or something akin to that.

If you have questions, aren't sure or you think you may be doing something wrong then you need to check in with your organic certifying agent. Your certifying agent is here to help you achieve organic certification, and really, they expect questions. If your agent disregards your questions or makes you feel bad for asking, frankly, you should consider a different agent.

With organic certification the little things do matter. In fact very small mistakes can result in not getting certified. Even if the question seems silly ask anyhow. Better to be safe than un-certified.

2. Missing Paperwork Deadlines

Once you get started with the organic certification process, investing in a simple day planner or business planner is an excellent plan. If you're not great with paper calenders, use a digital one, such as your cell or the alarm on your computer. You have to remember an insane amount of small details during the organic application process. Since it's unlikely that you'll remember it all, write everything down.


3. Failure to Pay Fees

During the application process you'll have general organic certification fees and possibly separate inspection fees as well. You do need to pay these fees on time.

4. Deliberate Use of Prohibited Substances

Flat out using a prohibited substance because you don't think anyone will find out is a serious mistake. I'm pretty sure we don't need to delve too much into why, but keep in mind that moves like this will cost you your certification. Worse, you're harming the integrity of the organic community as a whole.

5. Mistaken Use of Prohibited Substances

Following are some common reasons why a certification applicant might mistakenly use a prohibited substance.

  • You don't understand organic certification requirements. See list item #1 above!
  • You're not sure what's allowed and what's not. Make sure you stay up to date on the National List.
  • You get a prohibited substance from a shady (or likewise mistaken) source. For example, a supplier may say, "This input is organic" or "These veggies come from a certified farm" but trusting the supplier may be a mistake. When purchasing certified organic goods for your business or land, always check with the seller's certifying agency to make sure the goods are certified organic and approved.

6. Mistaken Use of Allowed Substances

Some items on the National List are allowed for specific uses by organic growers and processors, but not for other uses. Always read the fine print on the National List. If you're not sure what's okay, again, always ask your certifying agent.

7. Forgetting to Document GMO-Status

Your certifying agent will want well-documented records about all the inputs, seeds, inoculants and Bt products used with regards to their non-GMO status. Make sure you closely document any and all GMO issues that affect your business or farm.

8. Changing Your OSP Without Saying a Word

Your organic system plan (OSP) is in place to help you succeed with the certification process, and should be followed, especially since what's in your plan will be looked at during inspections.

Your OSP can be changed after you write it, but you'll need to tell your certifying agent about any significant changes. In fact, when you're new to the process, it's wise to tell your agent about small changes too. Just to be sure the plan still works well for your certification goals.

9. Failure to Control Commingling and Contamination

Following are common ways that individuals mess up when it comes to controlling commingling and contamination.

  • Using the same harvesting equipment or storage spaces for both organic and conventional products. Or not cleaning equipment between uses - for example, if you're processing both organic and conventional
  • Failing to segregate crops harvested from buffer zones.
  • Contamination during post harvest handling is common. For example, where you wash, prep or pack produce needs to be free of any prohibited substances. 
  • Failing to implement a GMO drift management plan or not locating the nearest GMO fields.
  • Failure to post helpful no-spray signs at your operation.

10. Shoddy Record Keeping

If you're not a good record keeper, you need a system that will help you become a great record keeper. Detailed records are required by NOP and most of the mistakes above can be solved with excellent record keeping.

Avoid the following.

  • Records that lack adequate detail - too many records is better than not enough.
  • Field maps that don't document acres, borders, field numbers, plus adjoining land uses.
  • Falling behind on record keeping.
  • Not organizing all receipts from sales and purchases. 
  • Loosing service records including planting, spraying, harvesting, processing and delivery.
  • Failing to document field numbers on harvest and storage records.
  • Using an inconsistent lot numbering system.



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