When propagating strawberries, do transplants or seeds need be certified organic in order to be certified organic when they are in full production?
Answer: According to language in the USDA-NOP regulation 205.202: “the producer must use organically grown seeds, annual seedlings, and planting stock. The producer may use untreated nonorganic seeds and planting stock when equivalent organic varieties are not commercially available. Seed and planting stock treated with substances that appear on the National List may be used when an organically produced or untreated variety is not commercially available. Planting stock used to produce a perennial crop may be sold as organically produced planting stock after it has been maintained under a system of organic management for at least 1 year. Seeds, annual seedlings, and planting stock treated with prohibited substances may be used to produce an organic crop when the application of the substance is a requirement of Federal or State phytosanitary regulations.”First, if you’re growing your plants in a perennial system (multi-year, as in the “matted row” system) and, therefore, won’t be harvesting fruit for roughly a year after you plant, you should have no problem getting your fruit certified. Again, the regulation reads: “Planting stock used to produce a perennial crop may be sold as organically produced planting stock after it has been maintained under a system of organic management for at least 1 year.”However, if you are growing the fruit in an annual production system, you may need to purchase organically certified strawberries. Here’s the problem: there are organically certified strawberry plants available, but they are very expensive and sold in very small lots. See www.backyardberryplants.com/strawberries/index.htm and www.mountainvalleygrowers.com/fragariastrawberries.htm.Again, part of the regulation reads, “The producer may use untreated nonorganic seeds and planting stock when equivalent organic varieties are not commercially available.” You should be able to convince your local certifier that what is available online is not “equivalent.” You might also be able to make the case that organically-certified strawberry transplants at the exorbitant prices listed at Mountain Valley Growers and Backyard Berry Plants are not really “commercial.” Rather, such prices would have to be considered as something only for non-commercial backyard hobby growers.So, in conclusion, if you’re using one of the perennial growing systems where you won’t be fruiting plants until they’ve been grown organically by you for at least one year, you can use non-certified plants. Otherwise, you’ll have to convince your certifier that the available plants are not “equivalent” or not “commercial.”For more information about growing strawberries organically, see the ATTRA publication Strawberries: Organic Production at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=13. This publication provides an overview of organic strawberry production methods. It also covers integrated pest management and weed control techniques that can reduce pesticide use in strawberry production. Included are discussions of weeds, pests, diseases, greenhouse production, plasticulture, fertility, economics, and marketing.