USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service implemented a National Organic Program in 2002
as a way to support organic farmers and processors and provide
consumer assurance. USDA harmonized the differing standards among
dozens of State and private certification organizations that had
emerged by the late 1990s, and continues to update rules on organic
production and processing.
- USDA requires organic farmers and food handlers to meet a
uniform organic standard and makes certification mandatory for
operations with organic sales over $5,000. About 50 State
and private certification programs in the U.S., and over 40
foreign programs, have been accredited by USDA.
- The 2008 Farm Act includes a new provision-the Organic
Transition Support provision-which makes conservation practices
related to organic production and transition eligible for Environmental Quality
Incentives Program (EQIP) payments, subject to a $20,000 annual
limit and an $80,000 cap over a 6-year period.
Steps for Organic Certification
The steps to become a certified organic farming or handling
operation include picking an organic certifier, following national
organic standards, keeping records of practices and materials used,
and having an annual inspection. A 3-year transition period is
required for land used in organic production unless records prove
that no prohibited substances were used in or near the production
area during the previous 3 years.
An applicant must submit specific information to an accredited
Information must include:
- The type of operation to be certified;
- A history of substances applied to land for the previous 3
- The organic products being grown, raised, or processed;
- The organic system plan (OSP)--A plan describing practices and
substances used in production. The OSP also must describe
monitoring practices to be performed to verify that the plan is
effectively implemented, a record-keeping system, and practices to
prevent commingling of organic and nonorganic products and to
prevent contact of products with prohibited substances.
USDA's National Organic
Program--Provides the complete regulatory text of the national
organic standards and the contact information for USDA-accredited
State organic contacts.
Certification Provides Consumer Assurance
"Certified organic" means that agricultural products have been
grown and processed according to USDA's national organic standards
and certified by USDA-accredited State and private certification
organizations. Certifying agents review applications from farmers
and processors for certification eligibility, and qualified
inspectors conduct annual onsite inspections of organic operations.
Inspectors talk with operators and observe their production and
processing practices to determine if they are in compliance with
organic standards that, for example, virtually prohibit synthetic
pesticide use in crop production and require outdoor access for
animals in livestock production.
Technical Assistance Expanding
Congress has increased Federal research funding on organic
farming in recent years, and U.S. universities and Federal
agricultural experiment stations have broadened their organic
research and education projects. For example, according to the
Organic Farming Research Foundation, 18 States had land-grant
institutions with research acres under certified organic management
in 2003, up from 6 States in 2001 (see State of the States
a listing of projects in each State). Organic farming systems
trials-in experiment stations and onfarm settings-seek to answer
basic research questions about yields, profitability, and
environmental impacts, as well as to address farmer-defined
management and production obstacles to adoption of organic
National and Regional Links for Information
Cooperative Extension System's eOrganic, a collaboration of Land
Grant Research and Extension, NGO, and government partners--offers
articles on organic production and
marketing, including an introduction to the organic certification
process and a discussion of organic inputs--and
links to local Extension offices.
ATTRA (National Sustainable Agriculture Information
Service)--Publishes online technical bulletins on the steps for organic
certification, organic production
and marketing methods, and State-level
organic enterprise budgets .
USDA's Alternative Farming Systems Information Center
(AFSIC)--Offers resource lists, directories, bibliographies,
databases, and research tutorials on organic production, marketing,
and foods, including a directory
of marketing resources, and bibliographies on organic
livestock production and the evolution
of organic and sustainable agriculture.
USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
program--Offers an online bulletin on the organic transition
process and other reports on ecological production
USDA's Market News Service (AMS)--Provides price reports on organic poultry
and eggs at the national level and organic grains in the Upper Midwest
and Eastern Corn
Belt (use the main AMS page to access the latest
biweekly reports). Some organic fruits and
vegetables in terminal market and shipping point price reports
are also available. AMS also publishes monthly estimates of total
U.S. sales of fluid milk
products, including whole and reduced-fat organic milk.
Rodale Institute--Publishes an online news bulletin, The
New Farm, with organic farming perspectives and research
updates, as well as a comparison of organic certifiers. Consolidates
current USDA and other organic price information.