Certification process

#Before you apply

Before getting started, here a few considerations to keep in mind:

Evaluate when your operation wants to start selling products as organic.
The certification process takes an average of 8-12 weeks — sometimes longer depending on the volume of applicants in a given year — from the time an application is received until the operation is certified. It’s important to prepare and time your application submission based on your needs. Please be sure to review our application instructions.

Determine whether certification is mandatory, optional, or unavailable for your operation.
In some instances, organic certification is not mandated by the USDA National Organic Program. However, these instances exemptions are rare and voluntary participation improves the integrity and transparency for organic product supply chains from farm to finish.

Decide which certification service(s) make sense for your operation.
OTCO offers a wide range of sustainability-focused certification services that provide opportunities for producers in different industries as well as at different stages of transition.

Understand which category — or scope — of certification your operation falls under.
In some instances, an operation may require multiple certification scopes in order to grow and process organic crops.

Familiarize yourself with the certification standards.
For example, review the standards for the USDA National Organic Program, NSF/ANSI 305 for personal care products, GOTS for fibers and textiles, and others — prior to application.

Review the OTCO procedures manual for a deep dive into our process and policies.


Application timing:
All new applicants must have their operation inspected prior to harvesting organic crops or running organic products. We recommend submitting your application at least six (6) weeks before you intend to harvest or run organic products.

Review the OTCO Fee Schedule to understand costs.
Be prepared to pay the certification fees at the time of application submission to ensure proper handling of your file.

#Organic System Plan (OSP)

What is an Organic System Plan?
The Organic System Plan, or OSP, is the foundation for your application for organic certification. It is the building block of the organic certification process and is the primary document (a collection of documents, really) by which a producer demonstrates compliance with the applicable organic standards on all aspects of their operation.

Your OSP will be comprehensive, spelling out exactly what you do, how you plan to do it, everything you anticipate using, and how your records will verify your practices. The OSP is your in-depth action plan.


When thinking about your timeline for certification, remember to set aside ample time to plan, organize and verify your OSP. The certification process typically takes about 8-12 weeks once your application has been received, so plan accordingly. Please be sure to review our application instructions. Got questions? Ready to get started? Contact us at <http://www.privatedaddy.com/?q=ZHBxTGVGcXhwPg9Na1ddHg1DCn5FME5kUkM-3D_19> and our staff will assist you.

How to apply:
Please review our application instructions, which offer a few options for completing an application for our offered certification services.

Things to consider when completing your OSP:
The OSP is not stagnant — it evolves and updates as your operation changes. Our staff will work with you during the Initial Review to address needed corrections. Don’t worry about achieving perfection, but do focus on providing sufficient details and covering some of the big basics:

For farm and livestock operations: For processor and handler operations:
Provide an aerial map of your operation Make sure that your process flow chart covers your entire process — from ingredients being received until final products are shipped
Provide the last three years of land history if seeking organic certification, or one year of land history if seeking transitional certification Be prepared to submit an organic certificate for each ingredient supplier as well as all necessary documentation for any approved non-organic ingredients used
If you are a livestock operation, you’ll likely need to apply for both livestock and crop certification


#Initial review

After receipt of your application and application fees, our staff begin the “initial review” of your Organic System Plan (OSP). You’ll receive an email — sent to the application’s primary contact — letting you know the initial review is in process, the name of the certification officer conducting the review, and the reviewer’s contact information.

What to expect during the initial review:

  • Our staff review your application to determine possible compliance issues. If they have questions or discover potential compliance concerns, we’ll contact you.
  • It’s common for your certification officer to have questions about your OSP. We often request additional documentation to determine your operation’s compliance. This is part of the normal process — however, during the initial review period, it’s important that we can reach you to continue forward movement on your application.
  • Please regularly check your email, voicemail, and mail.
  • After completion of the initial review, you’ll receive an official letter via email or snail mail that will provide details regarding information needed at your inspection and other reminders as necessary.


In basic terms, the purpose of the organic inspection is to:

  • Verify your OSP is an accurate report that describes the operation
  • Verify that your operation’s staff are implementing and following the OSP
  • Identify any violations of the certification standards under review


In an effort to keep inspection costs low, we work to find regional inspectors and bundle your inspection with nearby operations to minimize travel and lodging costs. Learn more about inspection scheduling process.

OTCO’s inspectors are trained to provide a critical, confidential and objective analysis of all aspects of an organic operation. Preparation and organization — reviewing your OSP, reviewing records, providing adequate access — can be the difference between a good and bad inspection process. Each inspection is built on a few basic steps, described below:

  • Physical inspection
    All facilities, sites, land parcels, and etc. included in your certification will be inspected. The inspector will require complete, immediate access to your operation. This includes areas used for conventional production, storage, recordkeeping, etc.
  • Inspection of records
    The inspector will review and audit your operation’s records. All records associated with organic production must be organized and immediately available to the inspector. For a list of common records reviewed, please see crop, livestock, and handling records inspected.
  • Audit trail exercises
    The inspector will work through each phase of your operation – ordering, receiving, processing and distribution to name a few – to ensure all documentation is traceable, timely and transparent. Audit trails provide clarity on how recordkeeping practices match to the reality on the ground.
  • Exit interview
    The inspector will conduct an exit interview with an authorized representative to review areas of concern and, if necessary, request additional documentation. During the exit interview, the inspector will review and confirm the accuracy and completeness of observations to ensure report accuracy.

#Final review

The final review is the last step in the certification process. An additional certification officer will provide a secondary review of your OSP, inspection report, test results (as applicable), and all other requested documentation to determine if your operation is in compliance.

Certification decision

During the final review, we will issue one of the following decisions:

Decision Type 1: Approved

  • Your operation has passed the certification process without the need to make any changes or corrections

Decision Type 2: Approved with reminders

  • Your operation has passed the certification process without the need to make any changes or corrections
  • We noticed a few minor issues — typically clerical errors — that will be addressed during next year’s inspection, please apply corrections as soon as possible

Decision Type 3: Approved upon resolution of noncompliance

  • The reviewers have determined one or more issues that must be corrected before your operation can be verified as being compliant with the regulations.
  • You will be notified of the issues that were discovered and given the opportunity to resolve noncompliances via the corrective action as long as the noncompliances do not:

    • Compromise the health or safety of workers
    • Compromise the organic integrity of the product
    • Result in excessive contamination of product
    • Involve intentional violation of the organic standards
  • After the noncompliance(s) is/are resolved, the certification decision will be updated to either “approved” or “approved with reminders.”

Decision Type 4: Denied

Acknowledgment of certification

A successful final review concludes with the acknowledgment of certification. You will be sent a certificate which identifies the name of the certified operation, its address, the scope of certification, the validity period, and the applicable standards to which compliance was evaluated.

Get Forms & Documents

Download the documents and forms you need.

Access Blank Forms

Still need help?

Our team is here to assist you.

Contact Support