Question of the Week
Answer: Developing an easy recordkeeping system is essential for organic farm certification, but it can also be useful in helping you make business decisions for your farm. Software programs are not available through ATTRA, but we do have some templates that could be transferred to an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document on your computer.
Certified organic farmers must maintain an audit trail that can trace a product back to the field where it was produced, in case their product’s organic integrity is questioned.
An audit trail as defined by the USDA National Organic Program is as follows:
National Organic Program Part 205.2-Terms defined:
Audit trail. Documentation that is sufficient to determine the source, transfer of ownership and transportation of any agricultural product labeled as "100 percent organic," the organic ingredients of any agricultural product labeled as "organic" or "made with organic (specified ingredients)" or the organic ingredients of any agricultural product containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients identified as organic in an ingredients statement.
Farmers maintain cropping maps, and the sophistication of the records required in the audit trail usually depends on whether or not they are direct or wholesale marketing. Farmers who market at a farmers market directly to a consumer usually maintain field and harvest records of each crop and what date they are sold. Farmers who market through wholesale distribution channels must maintain sales receipts, travel receipts, lot or bin numbers for their products, and a verification of these by the buyer, as well as harvest and field records.
ATTRA’s Documentation Forms for Organic Crop and Livestock Producers can help you set up a system on your home computer, or even on a notebook in your farm truck (just simply print the forms). To use the forms on a home computer, you will likely need to copy and paste them into an Excel template. These will at least give you a starting point to determine what the variables are. The full publication is available at
Many farmers use Quickbooks or Quicken to manage their farm finances as well as to sort essential records for organic certification. Quickbooks has a farm/ ranch management category to help set up your chart of accounts and from there develop several income and record templates.
COG-Pro is an online database that helps you maintain your farm records in accordance with organic standards. The records can be maintained from your laptop to your tablet or smartphone in the field. They require an annual fee to access your records and their database. Learn more at https://cog-pro.com/index.html.
The Organic Farmers Business Handbook, by Richard Wiswall, is an excellent all around recordkeeping handbook. It also includes Excel templates on a CD. This book is very user-friendly for farmers. After all, the author is a farmer and has been refining his record system over many years. This is not just for certification, mind you, but for business management and enterprise evaluation as well. Chelsea Green distributes this book ( www.chelseagreen.com ), but you could probably get it at Amazon or other retailers, as well.
CSA-ware is a software designed specifically for CSA farms. CSAs are unique in that they have to plant multiple crops in succession and manage multiple accounts through their membership. The software helps manage membership, online orders, and farm financial records, but not so much with crop planning. Learn more at www.csaware.com/.
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