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Steps to Take Before You Get Certified Organic

What you need to accomplish before starting the certification process

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Organic certification is a big step so it helps to have all your ducks in a row before you actually attempt to get certified. Below are the steps you should take first.

1. Decide if Organic Certification is Right for You

Going organic offers rewards but it's not for everyone. Some people don't have the time, some don't have the drive and some don't have the ability to do basic tasks like keeping spotless and thorough records.

Some people are simply happy with hobby farming or making products for fun which makes certification less necessary. Check out the following links to make sure you're ready to jump on board with the certification process.

2. Make Sure You're Eligible for Certification

Not everyone is eligible for organic certification. You have to sell the right kinds of products and those products, if processed, must be processed in a specific way. Before you grab an organic certification application, make sure you're actually qualified to apply.

3. See if You're Exempt From Certification

Some businesses can still sell organics even though they're not certified. For example, if your farm or business brings in less than $5,000 in gross organic sales annually you're considered exempt from official certification.

Being exempt will save you the hassle of the application process, but you'll still have to follow organic standards and there's also one major downside - you won't be able to use the USDA organic seal on your products or refer to the products you sell as "certified organic." That said, even if you're exempt, it can make sense to apply for voluntary organic certification.

4. Make Sure You Can Afford Certification

Certification can be expensive. You shouldn't let costs hold you back if you truly want to become certified, but ideally, you should try to work out your financial issues before you start the application process.

5. Choose a Certifying Agent

Before you can apply for organic certification, you'll need to choose an organic certifying agent, as you'll be submitting your application for organic certification to your agent.

You can find a list of USDA-accredited certifying agents listed at the National Organic Program website or check out the helpful tips below.

6. Make Sure You Understand the Transition Period Rules

Going organic is not a super quick event. Though the actual application process for new organic applicants can take as little as 8–12 weeks, it can also take many more months, depending on variables such as type of operation, location of operation, mistakes on your organic system plan (OSP), time of year and so on.

What may really hold your business up when it comes to selling organics is the transition period. A farmer transitioning from conventional to organic production may not sell, label or represent any farm grown products as "certified organic" until the farmland has been free from prohibited substances for the previous 3 years.

Example: If you spray a crop of fruit trees with a non-allowed synthetic fungicide in June of 2012, you'd first need to quit using the prohibited substance. Then you'd need to wait out the three year transition period. Assuming you've gotten certified, you'd be able to sell any fruit harvested in or after July of 2015 as "certified organic."

Because land is obviously crucial for raising organic livestock, the transition period also may affect livestock producers as organic animals must graze on, or eat food from organic land.

7. Ready to Get Certified?

Once you're sure that you're ready to get certified, discuss any application questions with your certifying agent, and get to work on your organic system plan.

For more information on this part of the process, see the links below...

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