What it takes to become NOP* certified organic with USDA+

*National Organic Program             + United States Department of Agriculture

The NRCS now has a book to help you with your certification process. You can find the handbook here: National Organic Farming Handbook.

The organic certification process must be completed annually. This includes paying the fees, completing the application to the USDA certification agency of your choice and maintaining records of the organic practices used on the farm to be certified.

Farm records include: Farm map, track records of all purchases, inputs, practices and harvests.

Suggestions: Create a reliable template and keep records especially during the first year following USDA Organic Practices. This will make future certification easier.

  1. Follow the USDA Organic Practices for 3 years, beginning from the date non-organic practices were stopped.
  2. Create an organic farm plan; the goal is to build organic matter and maximize soil coverage with crops.
  3. Keep records indicating the organic practices have been followed.
  4. Contact a USDA-approved organic certifying agency and obtain information and application.
  5. Submit application to certifying agency, including farm plan and documentation of practices.
  6. Make an appointment with certification agency to send an inspector.
  7. Inspector will come to farm when crop is in soil; inspection will take 3 to 8 hours depending on farm complexity.
  8. Make required adjustments, if necessary.
  9. Submit certification fees to certification agency (state registration fees no longer required in Michigan).
  10. Upon verification, receive organic certification for farming produce and sell with USDA organic label.
  11. Apply for USDA Cost-Share in winter months (directed by Michigan Dept of Ag) and receive up to 75% or $750 which ever is less of your NOP organic certification fees.

Recognizing Fraudulent Certificates

Falsely representing products as certified USDA organic violates the law and federal organic regulations.  Using fraudulent documents to market, label, or sell non-organic agricultural products as organic is
punishable by fines of up to $11,000 for each violation.

Practice caution when purchasing products from suppliers. Contact your certifying agency to insure they are permitted in NOP organic systems. Anyone suspecting a violation of the regulations can report a complaint to the NOP Compliance and Enforcement Division.

USDA GAP Certification

Follow the USDA Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices Audit Verification Checklist. To receive GAP certification, be able to pass all tests with at least an 80 percent. This test comes during the GAP inspection. This includes your farm and your records to verify you have followed the prescribed practices. The USDA GAP and GHP Audit User’s Guide will also help.

To assure safe food without a USDA GAP Certification, use Michigan’s Safe Food Risk Assessment — a voluntary and confidential food safety program for small, direct-market producers.

Certification Resources

To start the organic certification process, use one of the following links as both a resource and a step toward crop certification.

National Certification

International Certification (to sell organic produce, crops and goods beyond the U.S.)

Online Certification Tool

MyOTCO is an online certification tool allowing clients 24-7 online access to certification information including Certification requirements, Applications for certification, Organic System Plans, Inspection reports, and tracking of renewal or application status.

Visit the Oregon Tilth website for more information and to sign up.

Additional Resources

An eater’s guide to understanding certified organic labeling
Many people don’t understand what the word “organic” means when buying either fresh or packaged foods. The label has some very important differences from other food that you buy but it may not mean exactly what you think.

Webinar: Getting Started with USDA Organic Certification
The MSU Extension 2015 Beginning Farmer Webinar Series offers 2-hour seminars, including “Getting started with USDA organic certification.” All the materials offered for download during the ‘live’ webinar can be downloaded from the recorded webinar as well. Review the recording online at any time, and contact Vicki Morrone with questions about other downloadable content from the series.

Organic Assistant
Explore certified organic products in your area using the Organic Assistant product and services database. Its website offers consumer and industry-based resources connecting all parts of the organic industry, from producers to processors and wholesalers to retailers for the consumer to locate organic products easily.

How to Go Organic
The Organic Trade Association provides an online collection of resources on to help the transition to organic.

Organic Labeling Videos
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture released a series of videos to help consumers cut through the confusion of organic labeling. Meg Moynihan, the MDA organic specialist, explores current labeling and explains the details of what constitutes organic.

USDA: Is Organic An Option For Me? – PDF
This brochure provides an overview of the USDA organic regulations and how USDA supports agriculture. It includes information on getting certified, funding opportunities, and educational resources. Full PDF available for download.

Preparing for an Organic Inspection: Steps and Checklists – PDF
This document provides checklists of the documentation needed for organic certification. It will help organic producers or handlers organize their paperwork for an upcoming organic inspection.

Getting to Organic: Michigan Farmers Transition to Organic Agriculture – PDF
This MOFFA report features stories from five farmers in Michigan describing their path from conventional agriculture to organic certification and an organic farm system.

Transitioning to Certified Organic in Michigan – PDF
This brief but comprehensive resource aims to educate farmers and those interested in learning about the organic certification process. Certification steps, frequently asked questions and additional resources are provided.

Organic Crop Production Overview – PDF
This publication provides an overview of the key concepts and practices of certified organic crop production. It also presents perspectives on many of the notions, myths, and issues that have become associated with organic agriculture over time.

Organic Tree Fruit Certification – PDF
MOSES reviews organic orchard production providing a resource on certification and management of organic tree fruit including soil fertility, production inputs, and pest and disease management.

Resource Guide to Organic Vegetable Production – PDF
This ATTRA guide provides a summary of in-print and online sources with a focus on practical approaches to organic and sustainable vegetable production.

Organic Farm Plan – PDF
This form will help farmers develop the mandatory Organic System Plan to request organic crop certification that complies with the National Organic Program.

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