Newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service: A project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). This issue of ATTRAnews is available online.
Transitioning to Organic Production
In order for their farms and products to be certified organic, farmers must comply with the standards of the USDA's National Organic Program. What can producers expect during the process of moving toward and switching to organic production? This issue of ATTRAnews looks at some of the pitfalls and potholes of the transition period and offers advice for how to smooth the way.
In this issue:
George Kuepper, NCAT Agriculture Specialist
Since 2001, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has had a special relationship with the National Organic Program (NOP). It has been our task to produce educational and compliance materials that assist producers and handlers in transitioning to organic certification. Under NCAT's first contract, we developed and published the Organic Crop and Livestock Workbooks, a compliance checklist for producers, and a series of documentation forms.
These publications are being used by producers, handlers, and certifiers in all regions of the country. They are also being used as training materials for Extension agents, NRCS personnel, and other agricultural professionals who need an understanding of organic agriculture and the federal regulations that govern it.
Now NCAT is poised to release a new wave of publications as a result of our second contract with the NOP. A compliance checklist for handlers is already available. It will be followed next by updated organic system plan templates, often used by organic certifiers as application forms. These documents collect and organize all the information that certifiers need to evaluate a farm or handling operation for certification.
We are also planning a series of farmer guides for how to complete organic system plans. These guides--directed to small and large crop farms and to livestock production--explain the sort of information certifiers are seeking, why they require it, and how best to present it. We hope that the new guides will make the application process easier and faster for farmers and their certifiers.
Adapted from ATTRA's Organic Farm Certification and the Organic Crops Workbook
A three-year conversion period is required to achieve full organic status. In other words, no prohibited substances (synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, etc.) may be applied to the land for 36 months prior to the harvest of any product that will be labeled or otherwise represented as organic. Farms or specific fields that do not yet meet this requirement may be considered "in transition", though this term does not have legal status.
Ann Baier, NCAT Organic Specialist
ATTRA provides many publications in English and Spanish on organic certification and management. Download these from the ATTRA website's organic page -- www.attra.ncat.org/summaries/organicpubslist.html -- or call 800-346-9140 for a printed copy.
Guide to ATTRA's Organic Publications (AT005) --This will direct you to everything ATTRA publishes on organic certification, policy, crops, livestock, marketing, and management.
Jeff Schahczenski, NCAT Program Specialist
The complex transition to organic production can be eased with good technical assistance and information resources.
For the last two years NCAT has joined with local partners in Montana to increase the ability of the Montana office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (MT NRCS) to serve organic agriculture. Dave White, the head of MT NRCS, has shown national leadership through his agency's support of this project and support for organic agriculture generally.
Some of the accomplishments of this truly exceptional collaboration:
As a result of the project, MT NRCS is offering more resources to organic producers through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Conservation Security Program.
Besides NCAT and MT NRCS, project partners included the Montana Organic Certification Office, the Alternative Energy Resources Organization, and the Independent Organic Inspectors Association, with the assistance of the Montana Organic Association.
Rex Dufour, NCAT Agriculture Specialist
The national EQIP program, administered by NRCS, can provide cost share for a variety of farm conservation activities. EQIP money can be used for organic transitioning activities. But many local NRCS officials are unfamiliar with organic management practices, and may be skeptical of any claims made about the conservation benefits of organically managed systems.
If you're interested in applying for EQIP funds to help transition your farm to organic, you may need to help educate your local NRCS staff on how to view organic farming as a conservation resource. Ask your NRCS office to have organic farming be highly ranked as a "resource of concern" when considering EQIP applications. Also consider providing your NRCS office with the following two peer-reviewed articles, which support the linkage between organic farming and conservation activities:
Reduced nitrate leaching and enhanced denitrifier activity and efficiency in organically fertilized soils. Kramer, S.B., et al. 2006. Proceedings, National Academy of Sciences 103:4522-4527. www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/103/12/4522
The effects of organic agriculture on biodiversity and abundance:
a meta-analysis. Janne Bengtsson, et al. 2005. Journal of Applied
Ecology, vol. 42.
For a list of other articles that discuss organic farming and conservation, please email Rex Dufour .
Paul Driscoll, NCAT Editor
Melvyn and Sue Brown probably found the transition to a certified organic goat dairy and cheese manufacturing easier than most producers. Having always operated from an organic perspective, the Browns' decision to become certified was less an economic consideration than a continuation of their production philosophy and a reflection of their outlook on life.
Amaltheia Dairy is in southwest Montana's picturesque Gallatin Valley, where the Browns first started milking goats in fall 2001. Mel and Sue were soon able to purchase a small regional cheese-making facility which was quickly moved to a new location in Belgrade, about three miles from the farm, and expanded. The dairy and plant attained certified organic status in August of this year.
Finding New Suppliers
The goat herd, too, had to pass a one-year waiting period. Melvyn and Sue made some minor adjustments to their milking procedures to meet certification standards, using hydrogen peroxide formula to disinfect udders and finding an acceptable compound to treat mastitis when it occurs. Certification for the cheese production was relatively easy, Melvyn said, since the sole source of goat milk is his own farm.
Amaltheia's cheese making plant is located in a small industrial park near the Belgrade airport. Milk is delivered to the plant in a 1,000-gallon tank truck twice a week. Two employees and daughter Sarah oversee production of regular and flavored chevre, feta, and ricotta cheeses. Capacity is approximately 2,000 pounds per week.
Lining up the Market
Melvyn said he would always advise anyone considering the path to certification to "just do it." One minor bump on his own path, he noted, was that some buyers knew that certification was forthcoming and held off on their usual orders until the product was certified.
Sylvanus Farm, Burkesville, Kentucky
Located in Southcentral Kentucky's Cumberland County, Sylvanus Farm is certified organic by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. Todd Elliott and Sarah Paulson cultivate about 5 acres of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruit on their 23-acre farm, marketing through a community supported agriculture (CSA) project. They also raise chickens and Black Angus beef.
The farm is 2 ½ hours from Nashville and 1½ hours from Bowling Green. Todd and Sarah say proximity to urban centers is essential for a CSA to work, but they could not buy higher-priced land nearer the cities. Many CSAs opt out of organic certification because they know their members personally and don't need it, but Todd notes several reasons to certify. Even though they know their members well, he says that certification is important to many of their customers, as it distinguishes them as the only certified organic CSA in the area. Some potential members contact them specifically because they are organic. Also, if they want to expand to other types of markets, certification will be required.
Challenges to certification? Todd says, "I dont think it is that hard to certify." Here are some tips from Sarah and Todd for growers considering the step to organic production:
NCAT staff have updated the Organic Livestock Feed Supplier database on the ATTRA website. This database allows users to search by state for formulated organic feed rations or for individual ingredients. Because the new database is self-listing, suppliers can enter their own contact information and description of the feeds they offer. www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/livestockfeed_srch.php
ATTRAnews is the bi-monthly newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. The newsletter is distributed free throughout the United States to farmers, ranchers, Cooperative Extension agents, educators, and others interested in sustainable agriculture. ATTRA is funded through the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service and is a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a private, non-profit organization that since 1976 has helped people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources.
Teresa Maurer, Project Manager
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