Certification is a way to confirm certain characteristics of a product or service. Examples include: Organic, Grass Fed, and Animal Welfare Approved. Most certifications are verified by an independent third party.
Why do agricultural enterprises pursue certifications?
- There is a price premium in the market available for products with the certification
- Customers and/or buyers in your market demand production practices meet certain standards
- A certification differentiates your produce to customers and buyers, and those customers and buyers use that as a criteria for their purchasing decisions
- Producers with common standards can be counted, which can lead to an allocation of more private and public resources to that producer community
- History & Background. In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) to develop a national standard for organic food production. After years of work, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented the National Organic Program (NOP), which were their rules, regulations, and recommendations about what could be used in organic production and handling. In order to keep to the NOP, farms producing and handling organic agricultural products need to become certified. Find out more here.
- National Organic Program Rules. If you are interested or plan to become certified organic, you must read and know the details of the program. The National Organic Program rules can be found here. A common myth is that is takes three years to certify a farm organic. It only takes three years if any of the prohibited substances have been applied in the last three years. Certifiers allow an affidavit by the current land owner and previous land owner if applicable.
- Certification Cost Share. Producers are eligible for as much as 75 percent of the cost (up to $750) through the Georgia Department of Agriculture under the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program. Georgia Organics is reimbursing the remaining 25 % for farmers getting their certification for the first time. Learn more from our 200 Organic Farms Campaign Page or from the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Organic Cost Share Page.
- Accredited Certifying Agencies. Farms are certified organic by federally accredited certifying agencies, and these certifying agencies can certify farm operations anywhere domestically or internationally. Certification includes an audit from seed sourcing to harvest and an on-farm site inspection. Two important points to consider when choosing a certifier are their staff’s experience with your type of farm enterprise, and the organic practices associated with that enterprise. Click here for a list of certifiers. When looking by state, be sure also look for certifiers in neighboring states.
- $5,000 Exemption. Farms with under $5,000 in revenues are not required to be certified, but are still required to follow the guidelines of the National Organic Program. Registration is still required with the State of Georgia, and this form can be found here.
- State of Georgia Registration. The State of Georgia requires that certified organic operations register with the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Find the registration forms here.
- Prohibited Substances. The organic standards include a National List of Approved and Prohibited Substances for both vegetable and livestock production. In most cases, synthetic substances are prohibited and non-synthetic (naturally occurring) substances are allowed. The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) evaluates products for a fee against the requirements of the National Standard. If a product becomes “OMRI-Listed”, you can be reasonably certain it is allowed for use, but the OMRI list is not law. There are products that don’t go through OMRI and are allowed for use. In those cases, the user has some research to do, and in all instances, the certifier has final say.
Tools to Assist with Organic Certification
- Organic System Plan Overview Brian Baker, Organic Materials Review Institute and Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota
- ATTRA: Organic System Plan Templates
- Organic Farming Compliance Handbook
- ATTRA: Forms and Documents for Organic Producers
- Carolina Farm Stewardship Association: Organic Vegetable Operation Record Keeping Systems
- ATTRA: National Organic Program—Compliance Checklist for Producers
- The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will provide you with a free, aerial, digital map of your farm, and digitally outline your fields so that you can map your farm at no cost. Find your local NRCS office here.
- ATTRA: Preparing for an Organic Inspection
- American Grassfed
- Animal Welfare Approved
- Certified Humane Raised and Handled
- Certified Naturally Grown. CNG is a non-profit organization offering certification tailored for small-scale, direct-market farmers and beekeepers using natural methods.
CNG was born of a commitment to healthy food and healthy soils, and grew out of the belief that we could create something uniquely valuable to family farms and the communities they feed. CNG was founded when the National Organic Program (NOP) took effect in 2002.
CNG producers don’t use any synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or GMO seeds, just like organic farmers. Certified Naturally Grown is an independent program not affiliated with the NOP. Find out more about their programs, resources, and requirements on their website.