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General Requirements for Certification

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  • Comply with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the USDA National Organic Program Rules and regulations (Federal Register, Vol. 65, No. 246, pgs. 80367-80663)
  • Establish and implement an Organic Farm Plan
  • Permit annual on-site inspection
  • Maintain all records for 5 years
  • Submit applicable fees to certifying agent
  • Notify certifying agent immediately of any changes concerning drift or in the operation which may affect compliance

Step 1: Submit Application

  • Choose a certifying agent and request an Organic Farm Plan questionnaire. The certifying agent may ask questions to assess your eligibility and which Questionnaires are appropriate to fill out
  • Read the Standards and Materials List carefully
  • Complete the Organic Farm Plan Questionnaire, including farm maps and three year field history for crops planted and inputs applied, and other required records
  • Submit completed Organic Farm Plan questionnaire, licensing agreements and fees to the certifying agent

How to Pick a Certifier

Guide to U.S. Organic Certifiers – The New Farm

Note: For help with your application, you may want to take a look at this Organic Farm Plan. It’s a mock certification application for a farm that was developed to be compliant with the National Organic Program (NOP) and is keyed to the proposed rule. This document can be used as a practice template before you receive an application from an accredited certifier.

Step 2: Certifying Agent Review

Certifying agent reviews the Organic Farm Plan and accompanying documentation to ensure completeness and determine whether the applicant appears to comply. The certifying agent also verifies information regarding any previous certifications, notification of noncompliance or denial of certification.

Step 3: On-site Inspection

Preparing for an Organic Inspection: Steps and Checklists – ATTRA

  • The certifying agent assigns an organic inspector
  • The inspector calls the applicant to set up an appointment
  • Depending on the complexity of the operation, the inspection may take 3-6 hours. Set aside time for the inspection
  • The inspector needs to verify information from the Organic Farm Plan. He/she inspects fields, farm buildings and equipment, assesses contamination risks, fills out on-site inspection report, and gathers as much information as is needed to determine if your operation is in compliance. The inspector evaluates crop health and growth, soil tilth, fertility management program, pest and weed management strategies, and the operator’s understanding and commitment to compliance. He/she also reviews records to insure monitoring and compliance
  • The inspector may be authorized to take soil, tissue or product samples for analysis
  • The inspector reviews identified non-compliance issues at the time of the inspection
  • The inspector conducts an exit interview to confirm the accuracy and completeness of the inspector’s observations and information gathered, address the need for additional information; and discuss issues of concern

Step 4: Inspection Report Submitted to Certifying Agent

  • The inspector completes a report based on the information gathered. He/she may need additional information from the operator or other sources to complete the report
  • The inspector does not make the certification decision, but identifies noncompliance issues with regard to organic standards
  • The inspection report, the Organic Farm Plan, and all associated paperwork are sent to the certifying agent

Step 5: Notification of Certification

  • A Certification Committee or Review Committee reviews the Organic Farm Plan, the inspection report, and all associated documentation
  • If the certifying agent determines compliance in all procedures and activities, the applicant is granted certification. A certificate of organic operation is issued
  • If the certifying agent determines any minor noncompliances, the applicant has the opportunity to correct these noncompliances as a condition of certification
  • Once certified, an operation’s organic certification continues until withdrawn, suspended, or revoked

Denial of Certification

  • The certifying agent must provide an applicant with written notification of noncompliance with the date by which the correction must be accomplished, and any documentation necessary to support correction. The applicant may rebut in writing any noncompliances identified by the certifying agent
  • When a correction is not possible, a notification of noncompliance and notification of denial of certification is provided to the applicant. This notification is also provided to the USDA National Organic Program Administrator
  • The applicant may re-apply for certification or request mediation with the certifying agent
  • The applicant may file an appeal of the denial of certification to the USDA National Organic Program Administrator
  • If the certifying agent has reason to believe that the applicant has made false statements or otherwise misrepresented compliance, the certifying agent may deny certification simultaneously with issuance of notification of noncompliance

Continuation of Certification

To continue organic certification, a certified operator must:

  • Pay annual certification fees
  • Submit updated organic farm plan, detailing changes from the previous year
  • Submit update on correction of minor noncompliances previously identified by the certifying agent
  • Submit other information as deemed necessary
  • Have annual on-site inspection
  • Complete certifying agent review of updated Organic Farm Plan and inspection report, with issuance of updated certification of organic operation

Suspension or Revocation of Certification

  • When rebuttal or correction of the noncompliance is not completed within the prescribed time period, the certifying agent shall send the certified operation a written notification of proposed suspension or revocation. It shall state the reasons, the proposed date of suspension or revocation, the impact on the future eligibility for certification, and the right to request mediation or file an appeal
  • The operator has 30 days to request mediation or file an appeal
  • If mediation or appeal is successful, certification is reinstated. If the mediation or appeal is unsuccessful, certification is revoked
  • Revoked operations are not eligible for certification for five years
  • If the certified operator has signed a licensing agreement to the use the certifying agent’s seal, the certifying agent can directly suspend or revoke the operator’s right to use the seal

Violations of the USDA’s National Organic Program

Any operator who makes a false statement or knowingly sells or labels a product as organic that is not in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 or the NOP Rules may be subject to criminal prosecution and fined up to $10,000 per violation.

Back to Organic Certification Guide

Written By

Debbie Roos, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionDebbie RoosExtension Agent, Agriculture - Sustainable / Organic Production Call Debbie Email Debbie N.C. Cooperative Extension, Chatham County Center
Page Last Updated: 1 decade ago
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