How it Works . . .
Life on a farm is a school of patience; you can't hurry the crops or make an ox in two days.
The Organic Standards:
Organic certification is a process of third party verification of adherence to the organic standards. These standards are set by the USDA, however, compliance with the standards is verified by third party Certification Agencies (CA’s), who are accredited by the USDA. You have a choice of which Certification Agency you choose (e.g. CCOF, Oregon Tilth), but all accredited agencies certify to the same USDA standards.
Land: In order to be eligible for organic certification, the land must be free of prohibited materials for the last 3 years. Prohibited materials include (but are not limited to) synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and seed treatments. If your farm is in a “transitional” period, (i.e. it has not been 3 years since the last prohibited application), you can usually still apply for certification and complete an inspection. If your CA finds that your farm is otherwise compliant, they can usually automatically grant certification the day your land becomes eligible. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with what it takes to maintain certification before you actually need it!
Livestock: Mammalian livestock to be sold as organic meat must be managed organically from the last 1/3rd of gestation. This means the mother of the animal to be sold as meat must receive only organic food and approved health care materials for the last trimester of her pregnancy.
Poultry must be managed organically from the 2nd day of life (the day after hatching).
Dairy animals can be transitioned. That is, if a non-organic animal is managed organically for 1 year, its milk can thereafter be sold as organic. Transitioned animals cannot be sold for organic meat.
Organic certification is a process based certification. That is, you submit a document to your CA which details in writing how you intend to produce your products in a manner that is compliant with the organic standards. That document, which describes your process, is essentially your application and it is known as the Organic System Plan (OSP). Each CA should have a version of an OSP you can fill out. Your CA will either approve your OSP or inform you of which parts are not compliant. Once it is approved, an inspector will conduct an on-site inspection and will review your OSP for accuracy and completeness based on observations made on-site. The inspector then writes a report and submits this to the CA. Based on observations and recommendations made by the inspector in the report, the CA will then make a certification decision. Your OSP is a “living document” and once you have become certified it is your responsibility to keep this document current and accurate regarding your practices and to submit any changes to your CA for approval prior to implementation. In order to maintain certification you will have an annual inspection every year after.
It is thus with farming, if you do one thing late, you will be late in all your work.