By: Jim Riddle, organic policy specialist, Rodale Institute’s www.newfarm.org and Tony Kleese, executive director, CFSA
The organic certification process, as outlined below, is similar across certifiers due to the USDA requirements.
1. Comply with federal standards
2. Choose organic certifier and submit application
3. Application review
4. On-farm inspection
5. Final review
6. Annual re-certification
1. Farms must comply with the federal standards for organic production.
2. The next step is to choose an organic certifier and complete an Organic Farm (or System) Plan. The Organic Farm Plan is also considered the application for certification. The certifying agent may ask questions to assess your eligibility. The Organic Farm Plan, including farm maps and three year field history for crops planted and inputs applied, must be completed along with other required records. The completed Organic Farm Plan (the application), licensing agreement and fees should then be submitted to the certification agency.
3. Next, the certifying agent reviews the Organic Farm Plan and accompanying documentation to ensure completeness and determine whether the applicant appears to comply. The certifying agent also verifies information regarding any previous certifications, notification of noncompliance or denial of certification.
4. The next step of the process is the on-site inspection of the farm. The certifying agent assigns an organic inspector who calls the farm to set up an appointment. The inspection may take 3 to 6 hours, depending on the complexity of the operation. The inspector needs to verify information from the Organic Farm Plan. He/she inspects fields, farm buildings and equipment, assesses contamination risks, fills out on-site inspection report, and gathers as much information as is needed to determine if your operation is in compliance. The inspector evaluates crop health and growth, soil tilth, the fertility management program, pest and weed management strategies, and the operator’s understanding and commitment to compliance. He/she also reviews records to insure monitoring and compliance. The inspector may be authorized to take soil, tissue or product samples for analysis. The inspector reviews identified non-compliance issues at the time of the inspection. The inspector conducts an exit interview to confirm the accuracy and completeness of the inspector’s observations and information gathered, addresses the need for additional information, and discusses issues of concern. The inspector completes a report based on the information gathered. The inspector does not make the certification decision, but identifies noncompliance issues with regard to organic standards. The inspection report and all associated paperwork are sent to the certifying agent.
5. A Certification Committee or Review Committee reviews the Organic Farm Plan, the inspection report, and all associated documentation. If the certifying agent determines compliance in all procedures and activities, the applicant is granted certification. A certificate of organic operation is issued. If the certifying agent determines any minor non-compliances, the applicant has the opportunity to correct these non-compliances as a condition of certification.
6. To continue organic certification each year, the certified operator must pay annual certification fees, submit an updated Organic Farm Plan detailing changes from the previous year, and submit an update on correction of minor non-compliances previously identified by the certifying agent. Other records or information may be needed if deemed necessary. Each farm must be inspected at least annually to maintain certification. The updated Organic Farm Plan and inspection report must also be completely reviewed by the certifying agent to receive an updated certificate of the organic operation.
Denial of Certification: If certification is to be denied, the certifying agent must provide an applicant with written notification of non-compliance with the date by which the correction must be accomplished, and any documentation necessary to support correction. The applicant may rebut in writing any non-compliances identified by the certifying agent. When a correction is not possible, a notification of non-compliance and notification of denial of certification is provided to the applicant. This notification is also provided to the USDA National Organic Program Administrator. The applicant may re-apply for certification or request mediation with the certifying agent. The applicant may file an appeal of the denial of certification to the USDA National Organic Program Administrator. If the certifying agent has reason to believe that the applicant has made false statements or otherwise misrepresented compliance, the certifying agent may also deny certification simultaneously with issuance of notification of noncompliance.