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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week



Permalink I am interested in applying for organic certification. What will an organic certifier look for?

Answer: Three years of land-use records is critical, with brand names and formulations of each material used, its location, and date of use. Plans and examples of how the producer will do recordkeeping in the future is important, even if every detail has not been documented in the past. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) requires that records be kept for five years going forward.

An organic inspector will look at what is happening on the ground in the operation, and that key things are documented and recorded. Organic inspectors are more concerned with your records being accurately and faithfully kept, regardless of whether they are hand-written or saved on a computer. The key components of records are:

a) What goes into a farm: Receipts for material inputs with full brand name and formulation (so there is no question about being able to verify their allowability). It is easier to review these when there is one folder for seed and planting stock, with clear notations about organic and untreated seed, and any allowed treatments, and a separate folder for fertilizer or pest-management inputs.

b) Practices carried out on the farm, such as material applications (including clear identification of materials, dates, rates, and crop on which it is used) and crop rotation (one simple but effective way to track this is directly on multiple copies of a farm map).

c) What comes out of the farm: Harvest and sales records may be one and the same for some operations. A Market Load List (a template can be found in the Organic Market Farm Documentation Forms publication referenced below) should show market location, date, product taken to market, and product actually sold, with the total dollar amount of sales. Notation of travel, stall fees, and related marketing expenses, while not required for certification, is important to assess the true costs of marketing. Having records organized by market and date makes it easier and faster to review them for adequacy and completeness. Receipt books or invoices should also track the quantity, date, and organic status of product sold, and to whom. Records can be organized any way that makes sense to you and your farming operation, and as NOP regulations state, track every transaction such that they may be "readily understood and audited."

For more information the organic certification process, see the following ATTRA publications:

• Organic Certification of Farms and Businesses Producing Agricultural Products
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=152
• Organic Certification Process
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=163
• Organic System Plans: Market Farms and Greenhouses
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=300
• Organic Market Farm Documentation Forms
https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=23

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