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15 Frequently Asked Questions About Organic Certification for Farmers

Got questions about going organic on your farm?

By

If you're considering organic certification for your organic farm, then you've probably got some questions about the whole process. The key questions and answers below should get you started on the path to a successful certification process.

1. Do I have to be certified to sell organic goods?

Unless you're exempt from organic certification, you'll need to be certified in order to market and sell your crops or other farm goods as officially USDA certified organic.

Technically anyone can sell, label, or represent products as organic, which many organic advocates consider an oversight of the National Organic Program (NOP). However, although, in a case like this, you might say, "Hey, I sell organic crops," you cannot in any way use the USDA organic seal on your products or refer to the products as "certified organic" unless you're officially certified.

Even if you are exempt, you'll need to get voluntarily certified if you want your products to be able to wear the USDA organic seal.

2. Does getting certified really matter?

Certification is very important for various reasons, such as:

  • Getting certified shows that you're committed to organics standards and organic integrity.
  • Certification allows you to market your products as officially USDA organic.
  • Getting certified can increase sales.
  • The organic seal, which you can use if you're certified, makes it easy for consumers to find and buy your products.

The above said, the decision to go organic is a personal choice. If you're not sure if organic certification is right for you read the following articles:

3. What sort of organic certification do I need?

As an organic farmer who grows crops, harvests wild crops or raises organic livestock, you'll need to be certified as an organic producer. In some cases, you may need to apply for duel certification as an organic producer and an organic handler.

4. Which farm products are eligible for organic certification?

Crops that you grow as food for humans or livestock or for use as fiber, organic livestock, processed multi-ingredient products and wild crops are typical certified organic eligible farm products.

To learn more about specific products that are, and are not eligible for organic certification, visit the links below.

5. How do I apply for organic certification?

The usual first step to certification is to choose your organic certifying agency, and then your agent will hook you up with an application.

After you locate and pick your certifying agent, the real work begins. You'll need to plan how you want to run your operation carefully, write out a full organic service plan and host an inspection of your operation, among other things. See the guides below for more information on the certification process.

6. What do I need to include in my organic system plan?

During the organic certification process you'll be expected to write a full organic system plan (OSP) that includes all the ways in which your organic farm will be run. Without a comprehensive OSP, you will not be approved for organic certification.

You should pick up a copy of the NOP handbook, which will help you write your plan. Also, below are some guides that can help you write your OSP:

7. How long will it take to become certified?

Depending on the scope of your operation, time of year you apply, plus the organic certifying agency you choose, it can take from 3 to 6 months or more to become certified.

For organic farmers in particular the transition period makes a big difference when it comes to getting certified and being able to sell organic products. The transition period rule says that a producer may not apply any prohibited substances to farmland used to produce raw organic commodities for three years prior to selling, labeling or marketing said commodities as organic.

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service does help provide technical and financial assistance for farmers going through the transition period though. Visit the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to learn more.

8. Will my certifying agent also be my inspector?

Nope, your agent and inspector are two different individuals. Read, Is an Organic Certifying Agent the Same as an Organic Inspector? to learn more.

9. How much does organic certification cost?

Costs to become certified vary depending on the size and scope of your organic farm, among other issues. The best way to be sure of the costs involved is to discuss the issue with your certifying agent and to get all fee schedules in writing. For a general look at the costs involved with certification visit the links below:

10. Can I get financial aid that will help pay for my certification?

Luckily, because certification costs can be significant, there are programs available that can help you cover costs and also some money saving tax breaks you may qualify for. Learn more about these programs below:

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