Friday, March 15, 2013

Certified Organic - Part I

So, your farm is Certified Organic - so what does that mean anyway?  No chemicals or sprays?  Grow like my grandparents used to grow?

Ah...if only you could ask a simpler question when you wanted a quick answer!
I'm completing our paperwork to apply for organic certification in 2013.  It must go in the mail today if I want to get a discount on the fees.  And, once I complete the paperwork, I find myself a bit more sensitive to persons who take organic certification lightly.  So - a few blog posts are in the making.  I'll keep it from getting too heavy - but I won't skimp on information either.

Step 1 - Look at the National Organic Standards
 Take the link, I'll wait.  Just take a quick look, then come back.

Ok, There is the framework for what becomes organic certification.  In short, it tells us that a certified organic producer will do the following:

1. Maintain quality records of all aspects of production
"Fully disclose all activities and transactions of the certified operation in sufficient detail as to be readily understood and audited"
These records must be available for review and must be kept for five years.  They must demonstrate that we meet all regulations.

2. Use substances in production that can be found in an approved list.
 You may petition for other items and the process of putting things on the list is not simple.  Without going into that, the things you need to know are these:
a. Certified Organic does not necessarily mean NO SPRAY.  This also means that there is no guarantee that a broad spectrum insecticide was not used.
b. What it does mean is that ALL applications can be traced (see #1) and it enforces more of an open book.
c. This also means that some thought is put into deciding what inputs to a farming operation are more sustainable and support a healthier environment.

3. Certified Organic producers must have a production plan that is reviewed and approved by an independent certifying agency.  This plan must meet all other NOS requirements, such as those that follow.

4. Production land must have been transitioned for three years after ANY non-approved substance has been applied before anything from it may be certified organic.  Efforts to avoid contamination (including buffers) are required.

5. Soil health must be monitored and cared for using methods approved by the National Standards.  Specific rules for application of compost, manure, etc must be followed.  No synthetics or sewer sludge are allowed.

6. Seeds and planting stock must be from a certified organic source unless no source can be found.  In those cases, it must be shown that no treatments with non-certified substances were made that can contaminate the fields.  Effort to find sources of certified organic seed must be shown.

7. Crop rotations must be practiced that show efforts to maintain soil health, deal with pest control, avoid soil erosion and manage plant nutrients.

8. Pest, weed and disease control must be planned and use approved methods and materials.  This is big enough that it may need its own blog post.  Again, synthetics are prohibited.  Use of natural habitat is encouraged.

9. Post harvest handling must be planned, recorded and must not used non-approved substances for cleaning, etc.

10. Storage, buildings and facilities used to process foods produced and to be certified organic must meet certain requirements.

11. Non certified product should not be allowed to commingle with certified organic product.  Equipment must be cleaned properly if non-organic product was harvested, etc.  prior to working with product to be certified organic.

12. Product must be traced and handled properly until it reaches its destination.  Use of "organic", "certified organic", etc on labels is strictly regulated.

Certification is an annual process.  Those who wish to be certified organic must apply to a qualified independent certifying agency.  Most states also provide a service through their Ag departments (we certify through Iowa's).  The process includes development of an application that shows the producer's plan to meet the regulations.  It is reviewed by the agency and any shortfalls are noted with indications as to what needs to be adjusted.  On site inspections are part of the process.  Any shortfalls or denied certifications must be reported to the certifying agency.

These accredited agencies require applicants to pay fees in order to be certified organic.  Our costs this year are estimated to be around $750.  We do not begrudge them these fees as they are needed to secure the services of people who have sufficient expertise to review our applications and provide inspection services. 

If you made it this far - good for you!  If you didn't - how did you get to this comment?  Did you cheat and read the end first?  Booooo! Boooo!  You missed the plot twist that way!  Go back and start over.  Then, when you come back.

Good for you!

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