Question of the Week
Our farm is located between conventionally-farmed corn and soy fields and a college sports field. We are not certified organic but we are growing to organic standards. What is the buffer zone required between conventional and organic farming operations?
The buffer requirements in section 205.202 of the National Organic Standards are vague. The exact wording is as follows: “Have distinct, defined boundaries and buffer zones such as runoff diversions to prevent the unintended application of a prohibited substance to the crop or contact with a prohibited substance applied to adjoining land that is not under organic management.” Different organic farms have different buffering needs. Dominant wind direction, physical barriers and other unique characteristics on each farm can influence the buffer size needed. These distances need to be established for each farm by the certifying agency based on a third-party inspection of the farm.
In your case, pesticides and herbicides that are being used on the sports field and on the corn and soybean fields would be the biggest concern. These prohibited substances can drift when applied in windy weather. Twenty-five feet is a common buffer size but if you do apply for organic certification, the buffer sizes will need to be worked out in your organic system plan with your certifier. If the corn and soybean growers next to your farm are conventional, it is likely they are growing GMO crops. The pollen from these crops could cross with corn or beans that you grow, but that wouldn’t make these crops non-organic according to the organic standards. You and other community members may not want to grow crops that could be cross-pollinated with GMO pollen, even if those crops would still be considered organic. If that is the case, your options would be to move the farm to where there is no chance of cross-pollination with GMO crops or to not grow corn and beans in your current location. An adjacent land-use statement will need to be included in your certification application. Most likely, the farmers farming the adjoining land will tell you what they are using on the crops they are growing.
For more information on organic standards, see the ATTRA publication Organic Standards for Crop Production: Excerpts of USDA's National Organic Program Regulations at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=100.
To learn more about the organic certification process, see the ATTRA publication Organic Certification Process at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=163. Additionally, Organic Market Farm Documentation Forms has tools that market gardeners and produce farmers can use for documenting practices, inputs and activities that demonstrate compliance with regulations, or that assist in other aspects of farm recordkeeping. It is available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=23.
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