What is an organic system plan?
Everyone seeking organic certification–whether they are applying for initial certification or renewing their certification for the seventeenth year–must submit an Organic System Plan (OSP). The OSP is the foundation of the organic certification application, and it provides certification agents and reviewers with a thorough understanding of how an operation complies with organic regulations.
Organic system plans vary based on an operations size, scope, and location. However, all OSPs include:
- Resource management practices
- List of inputs
Specific operational scopes have additional documentation requirements which we’ll cover later in this post. But first, it’s important to understand that an organic system plan isn’t a bureaucratic hoop operators jump through on the way to certification.
What is the purpose of an OSP?
The primary purpose of an organic system plan is to facilitate communication between organic operators, certifying agents, and reviewers.
But for operators, the OSP serves several additional purposes.
An OSP encourages operators to anticipate the future needs of their operation through a methodical, evidence-based approach. This approach allows operators to:
- anticipate future operational needs
- make informed short- and long-term decisions
- effectively utilize human, physical, and natural resources
- more accurately budget for future expenses and expected income
The benefits of an OSP don’t end after its initial creation. That’s because an organic system plan is a living document. What does that mean? Put simply, an organic system plan is meant to evolve as an operation evolves. The evolution of the OSP allows operators to continue effectively communicating with certifying agencies and inspectors while also continuing to reap the benefits derived from the original plan.
What is included in an OSP?
What you include in your organic system plan will depend on the scope of your operation. Some operations have only one scope, but it is possible for an operation to have up to four scopes. Organic regulations currently have scopes for:
- Wild Crops
Organic System Plan Requirements
All organic system plans must include a description of the products produced, inputs and materials used in the production process, records tracking harvest/production quantities and sales, and maps of fields/facilities. Each scope has additional documentation requirements, outlined below.
Crop operations include cultivated crops that might include, but are not limited to:
Crop Organic System Plan Requirements
Organic system plans for crops must include detailed information about:
- Crops planted + seed source
- Soil-building practices
- Bio-diversity plan
Livestock operations include animals that are raised following organic practices. They include, but are not limited to:
- Dairy farms
Livestock Organic System Plan Requirements
Organic system plans for livestock operations must include detailed information about:
- Animals raised on operation
- Health care
- Non-pasture feed sources
Processing operations include any activity that alters the form of an organic product. Processing operations and activities include, but are not limited to:
Processing Organic System Plan Requirements
Organic system plans for processing operations must include detailed information about:
- Clean-down procedures
- Transportation records
- Ingredient sourcing/list
Wild crop operations include any operation where a crop is collected that has not been intentionally cultivated using irrigation, inputs, etc. Operations include, but are not limited to:
- Maple Syrup
Wild Crop Organic System Plan Requirements
Organic system plans for wild crop operations must include detailed information about:
- Types of wild crops harvested
- List of rare, threatened, or endangered species in harvest area
- Geographic area of harvest crops
- Authorization of right to collection on any unowned land
- Harvesting plan outlining how habitat and biodiversity will be preserved, and explanation of hiring and training of collectors
Before selecting an organic certification agency, you should ensure that the agency is able to offer certification for the scope(s) of your operation. Although most agencies can certify all scopes, some agencies specialize in specific areas.
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?
- Healthy Soil: Cultivating healthy soil requires establishing ecological balance and increasing biological diversity. But how can you establish healthy soil on your farm?
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.
- Allan Kettle: In the mid-1990s, Allan Kettle decided to organically certify his Alberta farm. For Allan, the decision to pursue organic certification was easy. Allan’s father, who operated the farm before him, had never used synthetic fertilizers or sprays. Allan continued those practices when he took over the farm.
- 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.