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Organics: a family tradition

“It was natural for us,” Allan Kettle said, reflecting on his decision to certify his family farm as organic. “We didn’t know there was any other way.”

Kettle’s father, who ran the family farm before Kettle, had never used synthetic fertilizers or sprays. Kettle continued his father’s practices, which were based in organic farming principles, when he took over the farm. It was only natural, then, for Kettle to pursue organic certification in the mid-1990s.

Although the organic farming movement began in the early 20th century, prior to the widespread availability of the Internet, information surrounding the rules, regulations, and certification process remained challenging to find.  “We had trouble finding out how to get into [organic certification],” Kettle recalled.

Kettle, who is based in Alberta, eventually found a husband and wife team in Saskatchewan who helped jump-start his certification journey. “I was going to join [their organization],” he said, “when the lady said, ‘we know of a lady in Alberta that is the secretary of an organic [certification agency].”

Kettle would certify with the Alberta based organization the following year, and he has maintained his organic certification since.

Alfalfa, blue sky, and a tree line
Refining practices for continued success

Crop rotation plays a vital role in Kettle’s ability to consistently produce high quality organic crops. The farm’s main crops are alfalfa, cereal oats, and green manures, but Kettle also grows sweet clover, rye grass, turnip, and purple turnip.

Maintaining organic certification has meant that Kettle must consistently revisit how and what he grows on his farm, especially as genetically modified seeds—which are prohibited under organic certification standards—become ubiquitous and non-GMO seeds become more challenging to source.

“We used to grow sugar beet,” Kettle said, “but now we can’t find any that aren’t GMO, so now we substitute purple turnip.”

Staying current on organic regulations is also essential for Kettle. “Every year,” Kettle explained, “it seems like there are quite a few changes or differences. It’s almost maddening.”

The only constant is change

Many of the changes, Kettle noted, seem to be in how information is communicated between certification agencies and inspectors, and inspectors and farmers.

“Of course you get different inspectors, and they ask different things, and that’s part of the [renewal process],” Kettle said. Some inspectors, he said, would focus on one area of his operation while the next year, and inspector might focus on a completely different area of his operation. It’s all part of the process, though, Kettle maintained.

Although Kettle has always operated his farm organically, he has taken over land that was once conventionally farmed and has had to go through the transition process. His advice to others, based on his own experiences, is simple.

“Make sure you understand everything,” Kettle said. “Read, and reread. Read every article.”

He also noted that it’s important to pursue organic agriculture for the right reasons. Transitioning a conventional operation to an organic operation takes time, effort, and a fair amount of persistence.

“If you’re [transitioning] for money, back up and choose another option,” Kettle said. “People hear about the prices that people get and think ‘Oh, I gotta do that,’ but like I say, if you don’t truly believe in it don’t bother doing it.”

Are you a farmer, rancher, or processor who has transitioned to organic with OCIA International?

This post is part of a series featuring OCIA International certified organic operators from Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and the United States. Are you an OCIA operator interested in being featured? E-mail us at info@ocia.org for more information.

Every operator’s path to organic is different. Read more from our “Operator Spotlight” series to learn about the different paths to organic certification.
  • Bessette Creek Farm: Through traditional organic farming methods like the use of cover crops and crop rotation, Bessette Creek Farm improved the quality of their soil, reduced their water usage, and now better retains moisture in their soil even during the driest months of the year.
  • Askegaard Organic Farm: For Mark and his family, transitioning their conventional family farm to an organic farm just made sense. Organic practices–focused on creating sustainable environments and providing consumers with transparency–aligned with their values.
  • Ryan Albinger and Parallel Production: He initially transitioned his entire operation to organic. However, as Ryan Albinger’s farm grew, he decided to use parallel organic and conventional production methods. Albinger argues such an approach offers economic and social benefits.

Learn more about organic agriculture, certification, and OCIA International.

  • Should you transition to Organic?: The decision to transition a conventional operation to organic is deeply personal. Organic certification requires resources, like time and money, and perseverance in the face of the challenges that you will inevitably encounter along the way. Is transitioning to organic the right step for your operation?
  • Organic Certification Process: All operators seeking initial organic certification must complete a similar six step process regardless of which certification agency they partner with. The certification process can feel intimidating at first, but knowing what to expect can help alleviate much of the stress you might initially feel.
  • Organic System Plan: Everyone seeking organic certification–whether applying for the first time or the seventeenth time–must submit an updated Organic System Plan (OSP). But what is an OSP? And more importantly, how will it help you beyond certification?
  • Healthy Soil: Cultivating healthy soil requires establishing ecological balance and increasing biological diversity. But how can you establish healthy soil on your farm?
  • Why Certify with OCIA?: Choosing an organic certification agency is one of the most important points in an operator’s certification process. Let us tell you why OCIA is the right choice for you.

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Thank you for submitting your organic certification application! OCIA looks forward to working with you.

For applicants who are new or currently under suspension, please see the end of the page for some important notes.

An estimate for your 2023 certification and inspection fees was sent with the login information. Please promptly send payment to the address on the invoice. If you are a new applicant, OCIA will not review your file until payment is received.

If you are submitting hardcopies of any supporting documents, please mail them to the address on the invoice. Failure to submit required supporting documents may lead to delays in the review.

Once a complete file is received, OCIA will complete a pre-inspection review. During this process, OCIA will contact you if additional information is needed. Please respond to any communication from OCIA in a timely manner.

Please contact OCIA International if you have any questions.

New applicants: Please be reminded that as a new applicant, your operation currently cannot label or sell product as organic. If organic certification is granted, an organic certificate will be issued and product can then be sold as organic.

For farm operations, the inspector must see your crop in the field, so check-strips must be left in all fields requested for certification if any harvest occurs prior to inspection. For hay fields, any hay harvested prior to inspection cannot be certified as organic.

For suspended operations: Please be aware that no product can be sold as “organic” while suspended and previous product is no longer “organic.” For farm operations, any crops currently in storage are no longer organic and must be sold conventionally. Only crops harvested after reinstatement, if it is granted, may be sold as “organic.” Any crops harvested from fields prior to reinstatement must be sold conventionally.

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¡Gracias por enviar su solicitud de certificación orgánica! OCIA espera trabajar con usted. Para los solicitantes que son nuevos o están actualmente suspendidos, consulte el final de la página para conocer información importante.

Se le envió un estimado de los honorarios de certificación e inspección 2023 con la información de inicio de sesión. Envíe puntualmente el pago a la dirección que figura en la factura. Si usted es un nuevo solicitante, OCIA no revisará su expediente hasta que se reciba el pago.

Si envía copias impresas de cualquier documento de respaldo, envíelas por correo a la dirección que figura en la factura. Se podrá producir demoras en la revisión si no se envían los documentos de respaldo necesarios,.

Una vez que se recibe un expediente completo, OCIA llevará a cabo una revisión de preinspección. Durante este proceso, OCIA se comunicará con usted si necesita información adicional. Responda a cualquier comunicación de OCIA de manera oportuna.

Póngase en contacto con OCIA International si tiene alguna pregunta.

Para los solicitantes nuevos: recuerde que, como solicitante nuevo, su operación actualmente no puede etiquetar o vender productos como orgánicos. Si se otorga la certificación orgánica, se emitirá un certificado orgánico y el producto se podrá vender como orgánico.

Para las operaciones agrícolas, el inspector debe ver su cultivo en el campo, por lo que si se produce alguna cosecha antes de la inspección, se deben dejar franjas o surcos de verificación en todos los campos solicitados para la certificación. Para los campos de heno, cualquier heno cosechado antes de la inspección no puede certificarse como orgánico.

Para operaciones suspendidas: tenga en cuenta que ningún producto puede venderse como "orgánico" mientras está suspendido y que el producto anterior ya no es "orgánico". Para las operaciones agrícolas, cualquier cultivo actualmente almacenado ya no es orgánico y debe venderse de manera convencional. Solo los cultivos cosechados después del restablecimiento, si se otorga, pueden venderse como "orgánicos". Cualquier cultivo cosechado de los campos antes de la reinstalación debe venderse de manera convencional ".

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