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Modern consumers want foods that are healthy and grown in a sustainable, environmentally friendly manner. Between the internet, social media, and labeling requirements, it’s fair to say that these socially conscious shoppers know more about what goes into their food—and how those inputs impact their health and the environment—than ever before.

When given the choice between organic and nonorganic products, consumers increasingly reach for organic. This is particularly true of Millennial and Gen Z consumers, who have repeatedly shown a willingness to pay a premium for products that align with their values. While many sectors of the economy have struggled in a post-pandemic world, the organic sector remains robust, with no signs of slowing down. Economists predict that demand for organic products will grow more than 11% by 2030.

This ever-increasing demand for organic products, paired with a growing array of resources for operators transitioning to organic means that converting a conventional operation to organic is more attainable than ever before.

The Organic Certification Process

All operators seeking initial organic certification must complete a similar six step process regardless of which certification agency they partner with. This process ensures that organic operators remain in compliance with organic regulations and helps maintain the integrity of the organic supply chain.

The certification process can feel intimidating at first, but knowing what to expect can help alleviate much of the stress you might initially feel. Half of the certification steps are completed by you, the operator, and half of the certification steps are completed by your chosen organic certification agency. The steps are laid out below:

Step 1: Adopt Organic Practices

Prior to submitting a certification application, you should adopt organic practices. Each operational scope (crop, livestock, processors/handlers/wild crops) has specific regulations which must be followed.

Crop Producers

Current organic regulations require a transition period of 36-months/3 years for crop producers transitioning a conventional operation to organic. The transitional period ensures the land is free from all prohibited substances. During the transition period, crop producers should:

    • Use organic, non-GMO seeds
    • Abstain from the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers
    • Create buffer zones to help prevent drifting of synthetic spray inputs from neighboring farms
    • Develop (and implement) a crop rotation plan
    • Plant cover crops to aid in weed and pest prevention

Livestock Operators

Livestock operators can convert their operation to organic in one to three years. To successfully transition to organic, livestock operators must:

    • Raise livestock on certified organic land
    • Use 100% organic feed
    • Provide unrestricted, year-round access to outdoor space
    • Abstain from the use of genetic engineering, antibiotics, and growth hormones

Processors and Handlers

Individuals and facilities who label or represent products as organic—like butchers, bakers, distillers, packagers, and more—must be certified organic. Labeling requirements vary, but in general, to successfully transition a processing facility to organic, processors must:

    • Use ingredients which are certified organic
    • Abstain from synthetic pest control measures
    • Demonstrate cleaning, storage, and packaging procedures that prevent the accidental commingling of organically certified and non-organically certified materials/products

Wild Crops

Organic regulations governing wild crops are similar to organic regulations governing cultivated crops. However, for a crop to be considered wild, operators must abstain from watering, feeding/fertilizing, and otherwise managing the crop.

Additionally, wild crops must be harvested in a manner that does not cause harm to the natural environment.

Mentorship Programs

Many transitioning operators benefit from guidance during this stage of the certification process. The Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP) offers a comprehensive mentorship program that pairs experienced organic farmers with transitioning farmers. Operators outside of the United States are not eligible for this program. However, many certification agencies offer their own mentorship and transition programs, and these programs are open to operators around the world.

Fields and farm buildings

Step 2: Submit an Application

You should begin your application near the end of your transition period. Many certification agencies have transitioned to online application systems. When you are ready, contact your preferred certification agency to request application materials or to set up your online account.

The application will require you to develop a comprehensive Organic System Plan (OSP). Requirements for your OSP will vary based on your operations scope.

You should plan to submit your application 3-6 months BEFORE you wish to harvest and/or sell organic products. This is particularly important for crop producers whose fields must be inspected prior to their first organic harvest.

A man reviews an application file.

Step 3: Application Review

After receiving your application, your chosen certification agency will verify that the information you provided is sufficient and that your operation complies fully with organic regulations.

Your certification agency might reach out to you during this stage of the certification process with questions or requests for additional information. It is important that you respond to all communication promptly and thoroughly. Failure to reply to questions and requests during this stage in the process will delay the certification process.

Step 4: On-Site Inspection

After confirming your submitted application complies with organic regulations, your organic certification agency will schedule an on-site inspection.

Inspections are a pivotal part of the certification process, whose purpose is to ensure your written Organic System Plan aligns with your on-operation practices. While on-site, the inspector will:

    • Observe on operation processes and procedures
    • Verify that procedures in your OSP are practiced with fidelity
    • Identify areas that could compromise organic integrity
    • Report findings to certification agency

In order to conduct a thorough and complete inspection, the inspector will:

    • Visit all fields on your operation, including those in transition and those which are conventionally operated
    • Examine equipment and storage
    • Review records (audit trail)
    • Conduct a traceability audit
    • Review inventory balance

It is important to be prepared for your inspection. You should have all records available and ensure access to all locations within your operation.

Be aware that the length of your inspection will vary based on your operation’s size. Inspections of small farms may be completed in a few hours, while inspections of large multi-building processing facilities may take several days.

Step 5: Inspection Report Reviewed

Your chosen certifying agency will review the inspector’s on-site report and compare the inspector’s findings with your initial application.

Be sure to reply promptly to any questions or requests your certification agency might have at this point in the certification process. Failure to respond to requests for additional information may delay a certification decision OR lead to certification being denied.

 

Chickens outside in nature

Step 6: Certification Issued or Denied

After reviewing all files associated with your application, your certification agency will determine if your operation meets all requirements for organic certification. If you obtain organic certification, you will be required to submit annual updates to your OSP and have yearly on-site inspections.

Maintaining Certification

Obtaining organic certification is a big deal. Take pride in the knowledge that you have completed a process that can be stressful, arduous, and time consuming. Then, it’s time to get back to work. 

Remember that maintaining organic certification requires annual updates to your Organic System Plan (OSP), and an annual on-site inspection. But don’t worry. These annual reviews are a cake walk compared to the journey you just completed. 

Learn more about organic agriculture and the organic certification process.

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Every operator’s path to organic certification is different. Learn more about about the different paths to organic certification in our “Operator Spotlight” series.
Ryan Albinger: Parallel Production

Ryan Albinger: Parallel Production

Ryan Albinger initially transitioned his entire operation to organic. However, as his farm grew, his needs changed, and he decided to farm newly acquired parcels of land using conventional methods. Parallel organic and conventional production methods, Albinger argues, offer economic and social benefits.

read more
Allan Kettle: Organic Farming in Alberta

Allan Kettle: Organic Farming in Alberta

Allan 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.

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CONFIRM SUBMISSION

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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CONFIRMAR LA SOLICITUD

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

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¡Gracias por enviar su solicitud de certificación orgánica! OCIA espera trabajar con usted.

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