Becoming a certified organic farm is a lofty goal. It’s a big deal and the steps leading up to your actual certification process are many. Before you can start the official certification process, it’s wise to follow all the pre-certification steps carefully.
There are many questions to consider before you even decide to go organic or get certified. You’ll need to consider time issues, your current and potential marketing skills, organic labeling, your finances and so much more. Be sure to ask yourself if you’re really ready to transition to organics before you start making big changes on the farm.
Reading the National Organic Program (NOP): Final Rule carefully and fully is a must. This will educate you about basic requirements for organic production and processing, along with providing you with information on labeling, marketing, finding an organic certifying agent, certification standards and much more.
It’s almost never too soon to start marketing. With organic products, your market reach and buyers will be very different than conventional reach and markets. Organic markets often have geographic or timing issues that may redirect production and seasonal farming decisions.
Additionally, as an organic farm, you’ll need to develop a much heartier marketing skin. Selling people on organics, when they’re more expensive, can be tough if you’re not invested. Learn about how to educate, not simply sell. Seek out markets that are open to organics. You may even want to speak with an organic food distributor.
You can learn a lot from National Organic Program literature, but not nearly as much as you’ll learn by investing in a local organic education. Local workshops, classes, and other organic producers are excellent resources to tap into. Local resources will offer fact sheets, books and usually host events such as field days or special classes, that cover just what you need to know in order to successfully go organic in your own area.
A basic criterion for a certified organic farm is that the farm, or more precisely, the cropland, must be managed organically for three years prior to certification. According to NOP, certified organic crops must come from land that is totally free of prohibited substances for 36 months prior to the first organic harvest. You need documentation about when you last applied prohibited substances and you can’t use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or treated seeds during the transition period. Certified organic seeds aren’t required, but start searching them out, as it can be difficult to find them.
Don’t wait to contact an organic certification agency. Certifying agents are valuable resources and can hook you up with helpful tips plus all the planning materials you need. Plus, your agent will help you get started on your organic system plan.
National Organic Program Standards requires every single farm, ranch or handling operation seeking organic certification to submit an initial organic system plan (OSP). Completing your plan can be a long process so the sooner you get started the better. Also, your plan is exactly what it says, a plan; and a good plan will help make the organic transition that much easier.
It actually doesn’t hurt to pretend you’re certified organic for a while, before actually taking the leap. Because you’ll most likely need to make changes in your processes and marketing, it can pay off to pretend you’re already fully organic incorporated. Before you go organic is the time to start using organic techniques and practices. Successful organic farming and production are, in part, based on your ability to follow an organic routine and to make changes to the said routine when needed.