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Healthy Soil and Organic Agriculture

If you’re transitioning your conventional farm to organic, you might be wondering where exactly to start. Taking those first tentative steps into the world of organics can be overwhelming, and it’s all too easy to get lost in a mountain of information. Having a solid foundation for your operation is key. The good news is that every operator’s foundation is the same regardless of an operation’s size, location, or crops. Without healthy soil, organic farming is not possible.

How do organic farmers improve the health of their soil?

One of organic agriculture’s main goals is to improve the health of soil. Doing so requires establishing ecological balance and increasing biological diversity—a cycle that is disrupted, and sometimes destroyed, by synthetic inputs.

For this reason, organic farmers abstain from the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides used frequently in conventional farming and instead use non-synthetic inputs and mechanical interventions to help control pests, weeds, and disease. Focusing on non-synthetic solutions allows helpful organisms to find homes within the soil.

Healthy, productive soil has between 3 and 6% organic matter. Applying synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides can kill this organic matter. However, soil has the capacity to heal and build new organic matter over time. Transitioning, new, and experienced organic farmers can combat loss of organic matter through the application of non-synthetic inputs like green manure, the strategic use of cover crops, and more. As organic matter increases, soil health improves. 

Increasing organic life inevitably leads to a natural increase in organic material within the soil as organisms progress through their lifecycle. As biological diversity increases, the health of soil increases. This is in part because healthy soil exists in a constant state of decomposition and revitalization, and this cycle eventually allows plant life and organisms to operate in a mutually beneficial system:

      • Plant root systems provide food and habitats for diverse organic life
      • Organisms living in soil help relieve soil compaction by creating pathways for better water and oxygen filtration
      • Biological waste deposited by organisms provides nutrients for growing plants
      • Decomposing root systems in turn provide nutrients and shelter for organisms

What are the benefits of healthy soil?

Soil provides necessary nutrients to crops, but healthy soil provides additional ecological benefits. Healthy soil that contains between 3 and 6% organic matter leads to better:

      • Water regulation: Soil that is healthy is better able to absorb water because the diverse organisms living within it relieve soil compaction by creating pathways that allow water to seep deep into the soil. This means that healthy soil is better able to sustain plant life during extreme weather conditions, like droughts.
      • Soil retention: The strong root systems found in healthy soil prevent valuable topsoil from being stripped away by strong winds, water runoff, and other mechanical forces.
      • Nutrient cycling: Because of better soil retention and water regulation, healthy soil is better able to retain these nutrients which are used and replaced by organic life within the soil. This leads to soil that is rich in carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, and other life sustaining minerals and nutrients.

What soil management practices lead to healthy soil?

Improving the health of soil requires intentional soil management practices. Research shows that some strategies are more successful than others in maintaining the health of soil. Farmers who wish to increase or maintain their soil’s health should:

      • Ensure that soil is covered as much as possible. Avoid having exposed soil–even in winter!–to prevent stripping of organic matter and healthy topsoil.
      • Maximize the presence of living roots in soil. Utilize cover crops and other plants to keep live roots in the ground year-round.
      • Minimize disturbance of soil. Mechanical management such as tilling should be used as little as possible to allow nutrients and organic life to remain in soil.
      • Add biodiversity. Use natural inputs, like green manure, to add nutrients to the soil that will lead to increased organic life.

Learn more about organic agriculture and the organic certification process.

  • 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?
Every operator’s path to organic certification is different. Learn more about about the different paths to organic certification in our “Operator Spotlight” series.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Jack Geiger: The farm crisis of the 1980s forced Jack Geiger’s family to consider farming methods that required fewer and less expensive inputs. They naturally turned to organics.
  • Variety Coffee: Variety Coffee has a simple mission: provide customers with the freshest, highest quality coffee possible. The Brooklyn based coffee roster and chain of cafes does this by sourcing coffee beans from around the world, focusing on acquiring beans that reflect growing seasons of different coffee producing regions.

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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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