Recordkeeping for farms

#Crop recordkeeping requirements

Your recordkeeping system demonstrates where promise and practice meet for compliance with organic standards. The annual inspection reviews every aspect — from weed management to contamination prevention — of organic crop production. Our ability to easily audit and trace all certified organic crop products maintains the integrity of your farm and enables quick action if issues occur.

What basic requirements are needed for recordkeeping?

Each farm’s recordkeeping system will be different. You must maintain documentation — your Organic System Plan outlines recordkeeping strategies, management, and storage — that demonstrates all requirements are being met. Additionally, a few core practices are needed:

  • Records are easily accessible on-site for inspection
  • Documentation must be adapted to reflect your operation
  • All records must be clear, well-organized and auditable

How long do I need to keep records for?

All records related to your organic product need to be stored for at least five years.

What records do I need to keep?

You will need to keep records of all of your major farm activities and practices. Check out the other articles in this section for examples of records required by activity, as well as our collection of recordkeeping templates.

#Audit trail exercises for crops

Organic inspectors are required to conduct at least one traceback and one mass balance audit trail exercise at each annual inspection. The audit trail evaluates your recordkeeping system as well as activities for traceability and compliance.

How does an audit trail exercise work?

For crop farmers, a complete and thorough audit trail enables a crop — e.g., broccoli for retail sale — to be traced from seed to sale. An inspector will be able to easily review a crop and its management practices, materials, equipment, harvest, transport and more.

The crop audits will see if your records demonstrate clear relationships that match on-the-ground realities (the quantity of seeds for a crop) with reported activities (the total amount of that crop harvest).

How do I build my recordkeeping system so it’s easily audited?

Depending on your operation and production needs, you might choose an online program or handwritten logs. Integrating recordkeeping into the daily routine and culture of your farm is key to success. It should be clear that updating and tracking information on your farm is well-managed and easily done.

No matter what system you use, it’s critical that recordkeeping is well understood by all employees and is clear and well-organized for inspectors and your certifier to review.

What is a flowchart system for recordkeeping?

Creating a flowchart system gives you the ability to update your recordkeeping system regularly. The process of noting seed purchased and used alongside harvest information will present a clear picture of your operation’s activities from start to finish.

What other records are reviewed during audit trail exercises?

Additional records to be reviewed for other farm actions include greenhouse activities, weed management logs, and more. You will need to keep receipts and labels for all seeds and materials, including invoices, sales logs and shipping records.

#Seed records

Organic farmers are required to use certified organic seeds and planting stock.

What records do I need to keep for seeds?

You’ll need documentation of seed supplier information, labels, and purchase receipts, clearly noting quantities at your inspection.

If there is a GMO version of your crop(s) in the marketplace, you’ll also need to keep documentation to verify the crop(s) is non-GMO. Crops with GMO versions in the marketplace include:

  • Alfalfa
  • Apples
  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Cotton
  • Papaya
  • Potato
  • Soybean
  • Sugar beet
  • Summer squash

What records do I need if performing a commercial availability search?

After following the requirements for commercial availability search, you will need to save and organize all of your receipts, labels, and packets for non-certified seeds. You will also need a supplier statement affirming all non-certified organic seeds are non-GMO — if a GMO version is commercially available — and are not treated with prohibited substances.

#Material(s) records for crops

Documentation of materials used on your farm is a critical part of your recordkeeping system. An inspection will review the materials used, how they are used, and determine the compliance of your certification.

Which materials do I need to keep records for?

You will need to maintain purchase records for all materials used in crop production such as seeds, transplants, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.

What records do I need to keep for materials?

You will need to maintain purchase records and receipts for each material used. In addition, you will need to keep records of each material applied, application location, date of application, and the amount/rate of the application. One simple approach is to file each receipt — with dates and labels — with the brand name, manufacturer and ingredient list in chronological order in a binder.

How do I document when and how a material is used on my farm?

Using maps — with color codes, material codes, etc. — is a useful way to document material(s) used on your farm. You and an inspector will be able to trace application of materials for compliance and your future production plans. All maps must include what material you applied, the date of application, and the quantity applied.

Do I need to maintain records for compost production?

You must maintain compost production records for all on-farm produced and used compost. Records should include material types and quantities, as well as logs of temperature readings and turnings, to ensure compliance with the standards.

#Commingling and contamination prevention

Your records should detail how you plan to prevent the commingling of organic and non-organic products and protect organic products from contact with prohibited substances.

Recordkeeping systems will depend on the size and scope of your operation. For example, if you have a split operation, where only some of your fields are organic, you will need a separate set of records for your organic crops. You must track organic crops from seed to farm departure, ensuring nothing has commingled with non-organic crops or prohibited substances.

What do I need to document for equipment usage?

In general, we’ll review your post-harvest handling procedures, all of the equipment used, and clean out protocols. An equipment cleaning log verifies that your crop(s) did not come into contact with any prohibited materials, non-organic crops (if applicable), or cleaning residue. It provides confirmation that equipment was cleaned and purged between non-organic usage and organic usage to prevent commingling.

What is a clean truck affidavit?

If using trucks for transportation and shipping, you must keep truck sanitation records to show proper cleaning to prevent contamination of your organic crops.

How do I document my buffer zones?

Your OSP must demonstrate steps taken to create adequate crop buffers to prevent contamination from potential pesticide drift or runoff from neighboring lands. All buffer zones must be clearly marked on your farm map. Signed agreements with neighbors, municipalities, and other organizations bordering your land should be provided here as well.

Do split and/or parallel operations need to keep extra records?

If you produce organic and non-organic crops, you will need clear traceable records to demonstrate the prevention of commingling and contamination. Documentation may be in the form of a harvest log, lot numbers or other recordkeeping that plainly traces crops from seed to harvest to storage, transport or sale.

What do I need if my water is supplied by an irrigation district?

If your water is supplied by an irrigation district that adds prohibited substances to the water — e.g., algicide — you must provide documentation to show clear communications and confirmation with the irrigation district regarding its calendar for substance additions. Additionally, you must have clear records to demonstrate there was no on-farm irrigation on those days.

#Field activities

Recording field activities is an open journal of what happens daily on your farm.

What should be documented in a field activities log?

The creation of a field activities log — notebook, binder of individual daily pages, calendar system, or online spreadsheet — provides clear and thorough documentation of what happens in the field(s). Some of the activities that should be included are seeding or transplanting, weed management, cultivation, harvesting, pest control activities, compost production, and more.

How do I ensure employees maintain up-to-date records?

Many farms either store binders at individual field sites to promote ease of use, collection, and compilation, or have a digital system to enter data immediately before or after a field activity is completed.

#Harvest and production

Harvest records demonstrate what, how much, when and where you harvested crops on your farm. Additionally, you must document post-harvest activities such as storage and transportation. The creation of a harvest log will address these major questions during an inspection or certifier review.

What information should be included in a harvest (log) record?

While the harvest log will be customized to your farm, you may want to incorporate additional recordkeeping requirements here, or maintain them separately. In general, you’ll want to maintain at least the following info:

  • Harvest date
  • Harvest lot number
  • Field ID
  • Crop/variety
  • Quantity harvested
  • Storage/sale location

What post-harvest records should I keep?

It’s important to maintain records of the harvest equipment used and clean out schedules and activities. The storage of harvested crops must be documented for container cleanout and location. And finally, the transportation of harvested crops must be recorded for commingling prevention, schedule, etc.

#Sales records

Sales records are a final step in your audit trail. These records, combined with your harvest logs, will enable your inspector to verify that the amount of organic product you are growing and harvesting match the amount you are selling.

What records do I need to keep for sales?

You will need to maintain sales records, such as farmers’ market load lists, produce stand inventory lists, grower statements, invoices, records of deliveries to facilities (including brokered or resold products) and sales summaries from wholesalers or processors.

Are there other supporting records for documentation?

Yes, all shipping records (bills of lading, receiving logs, delivery receipts) and transactions with co-packers, including certification information.

#Biodiversity records

The Organic System Plan (OSP) for your farm details planned production practices, including efforts to maintain or improve natural resources on-site.

All certified organic farms must keep records that will enable an inspector and certification reviewer to determine compliance with biodiversity guidelines. Records can include activity logs for mowing, pest monitoring, limits on livestock access to waterways, reseeding areas, grazing rotations, water test results, observation surveys, conservation maps, etc.

#Transitioning to organic records

What records do I need to keep during transition?

As a transitioning farm, you must keep records for all your activities and purchases to show compliance with the organic standards. Some records will be submitted with your organic certification application, commonly referred to as your Organic System Plan (OSP). Other records will be reviewed by an inspector when they audit your farm. It’s important to set up a recordkeeping plan early on to track information from seed to sale.

Generally, there are four main records to keep:

Farm map
The farm map must include the name or code of the parcel to be certified, the location, description, and size of any buffer areas, neighboring land uses, processing areas, location of buildings, and the presence or use of treated lumber on the farm.

History of land use and all material(s) used
Records of land-use practices and all materials applied from the start of your transition process over the last three years. If you are not the landowner, or haven’t owned the land the full three years, you’ll need to provide a signed statement or affidavit that no prohibited materials have been used.

Planned materials
A full list of all materials (e.g., seeds, fertilizers, pest, weed and disease control materials) to be used in the upcoming year.

Planned crops
A full list of all of your crops to be produced, including the field location and acreage for each crop (updates may be made throughout the year).

Your inspector will review the following information for materials used:

  • Product name
  • Manufacturer name
  • Original or photocopy of label with ingredients (if available)
  • Purchase receipts
  • Quantity and location of material applied
  • Compliance (OMRI Certificate or Certifier Approval Letter)

#Organic crop recordkeeping templates

Getting started with recordkeeping can be a big task. In addition to setting up how you want to organize your records, having good templates that cover all of the necessary information is key.

Where can I find organic crop recordkeeping templates?

The USDA has made several recordkeeping templates available for use on your farm.

Recordkeeping Templates for Organic Crop Farmers (USDA)
Templates include: field history/previous land use, land-use history verification, farm activity log sheet, farm activity calendar, planting and harvest record, crop rotation record, material application record, compost production, manure application/crop harvest, seed stock suppliers, seed treatments, harvest record, farmers market/farm stand sales, harvest plan, community supported agriculture harvest, harvest instructions, storage inventory, equipment cleaning log, clean transport affidavit, buffer zone crops, adjoining land use, and a neighbor notification letter.

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