For organic farms, a buffer zone is an area between certified organic production and non-organic land. Buffer zones provide a dedicated area to prevent contamination. You’ll monitor firsthand how to gauge the effectiveness of your prevention practices.
Buffer zones should be clearly indicated on the required Farm Map.
Assessing need for buffer zones
If there is any risk of contamination from adjacent properties or activities (e.g., pesticide sprays, roadway drainage, etc.) that pose a threat to crops you intend to be “sold, labeled or represented” as organic, you need a buffer sufficient to prevent contamination.
Prohibited materials and methods
Buffer zones protect your certified organic crops and land from prohibited substances (e.g., unapproved synthetic pesticides) and excluded methods (e.g., GMO cross-pollination).
Characteristics of an effective buffer zone
There is no standard size for buffer zones. The only requirement is that a buffer zone does its job. Size matters, but so does your planting and management plan (e.g., plant type, the height of a hedgerow, plant density and bioswales). Factors such as common wind patterns, land slope, chemical application activity and stormwater drainage patterns all will inform how you set up your buffer. Simply put, it must be adequate to prevent contamination from the unintended application of a prohibited substance.
Harvesting from buffer zones
Crops can be grown in a buffer zone but they may not be sold or represented as organic. We may perform pesticide or GMO residue testing of organic crops to verify that buffer zones are adequate. You’ll need to provide clear documentation for clean out of equipment used in buffer zones and any crops harvested and stored.
Buffer zones can be used to help conserve natural resources and promote biodiversity on your farm. Learn more with our Lessons Learned series on Birds and Biodiversity.