How to Become Certified Organic
Federal regulations provide detailed requirements for the farm production methods and products that can be used when farmers and food manufacturers wish to label their products “certified organic”. The regulations were finalized in 2002 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of its responsibilities under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.
The steps to becoming certified organic are to:
- Become familiar with the regulations.
- Determine if you qualify to become certified organic now or if you must plan for transition over the next several years.
- Locate and contact an organic certification organization and apply for certification.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program provides the federal regulations on line. A paper copy can also be obtained from certification organizations or from your local library.
Who Must Be Certified
Anyone producing over $5,000 of product that wishes to label and sell their farm or commercial product as “organic” must be certified. Farmers and food processors must both be certified, as must distributors involved in repackaging. Producers with under $5,000 per year in gross sales must also be familiar with the federal regulations and keep records, but do not need to become certified unless they wish to sell their product to be used and identified as an ingredient in a certified organic processed food product. Retail establishments, such as grocery stores, need not be certified, but must follow the regulations for source documentation, prevention of co-mingling with non-organic product, storage and in-store labeling.
Crop & Pasture Certification
In brief, organic certification of land and crops grown on that land can occur after three years without using any synthetic fertilizers, chemicals or pesticides or planting GMO crops. An organic whole farm plan is required as part of the certification application process.
Dairy Farm Certification
Conventional dairy farmers can transition their dairy herd in a one-year supervised dairy herd transition with an accredited certification agency. Dairy farmers may coordinate the one-year herd transition with the third year of their pasture, hay and crop transition. It is advisable to discuss milk handling with processors in advance of beginning the transition to ensure a market and pick-up at that farm's location.
Herd transition involves:
- 1 year feeding certified organic feeds and following pasture requirements
- 1 year feeding only organically approved mineral and vitamin supplements
- 1 year without using any growth hormones, reproductive aids, or antibiotics, including udder treatments, or other synthetic healthcare products
Only animals that have been raised as certified organic from their last trimester in the womb onwards can be sold as meat that is certified organic. Poultry must be managed organically from the second day of life.
Processing facilities, including animal feed mills, slaughter houses, food manufacturers, flour mills, bakers, coffee roasters and candy makers, may apply for certification at any time. Facilities must be designed or modified to ensure that organic processing is separated from conventional processing facilities. Pest control procedures must be disclosed and only approved cleaning products can be used. For facilities wishing to occasionally process organic products, separation can be achieved by separate processing times, with a documented, approved equipment cleaning protocol between organic and non-organic operations.
Organizations Providing Organic Certification Services
There are more than a dozen certification organizations currently doing business in New York State that work with the State to ensure that farmers receive timely information about the Department’s certification fee reimbursement program. Organizations Providing Organic Certification Services in New York State
All organizations accredited to certify farms and businesses are listed on the federal National Organic Program website. While any accredited certification organization can operate in New York State, not all choose to do so.
Organic Certification Fee Reimbursement Program
New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets administers a certification fee reimbursement program that is funded with federal dollars. Farmers may apply for reimbursement of organic certification fees and receive 75% of the total fee up to a maximum of $750.
New York State Organic Farming Links