Seed and plant stock
#Sourcing certified organic seed and plant stock
As a certified organic farm, you are required to use organically grown seeds and planting stock if the variety — or its equivalent — is available.
How do I find certified organic seeds?
In addition to reviewing your seed suppliers, several seed search engines can help find available seed varieties. The AOSCA Organic Seed Finder, Organic Seed Alliance, OMRI Seed Search, and Pick-a-Carrot Seed Search are good places to start.
Do I always need to use organic seedlings?
Yes, annual seedlings must be grown organically. The only approved use of non-organic annual seedlings is for re-planting in cases of natural disasters as recognized by the USDA.
What about seeds for sprouting?
Organic seeds must be used for edible sprouts without exception.
#Commercial availability search
In your search for certified organic seed or planting stock, you might run into situations where there is none commercially available.
What if I can’t find my seed or planting stock certified organic?
When searching, you must determine the availability of an equivalent variety — seeds or planting stock with your organic system’s required growing habits, disease and insect resistance, days to maturity, etc.
What if I can’t find suitable certified organic varieties, period?
If you can’t find seeds or planting stock in the appropriate form, quality, or quantity, then you may be eligible to use a non-organic version. Your search must include results from at least three trusted and reasonable sources. Cost is not an acceptable reason for commercial unavailability.
What do I need to document to demonstrate that I can’t find certified organic options?
We require thorough records of your search efforts and findings. This may include a detailed phone log, printouts of emails or other correspondence with seed companies, etc. You must be prepared to provide an explanation on unmet qualities for your desired organic version of seed or planting stock. Your records must be organized and available for review during your annual inspection.
What about annual transplants (seedlings)?
All annual transplants (seedlings) must be certified organic. When purchasing annual transplants growers must verify and maintain current National Organic Program (NOP) certificates from suppliers and have purchase invoices showing the transplants purchased are certified organic.
#Using non-organic seed
When certified organic seed is not commercially available, you may be able to use non-organic, untreated (e.g., no application of a prohibited substance such as a fungicide) seed to produce an organic crop.
What do I need to do to be eligible to use non-organic seed?
You must document your unsuccessful commercial availability search from at least three trusted and reasonable sources for review and OTCO approval prior to using non-organic seed. All inputs used on the seed, such as pelleting or coating, must be approved by OTCO prior to use.
What does untreated mean for non-organic seeds?
A seed must not have any applications of prohibited substances (e.g., fungicide).
What will happen if I use treated seeds?
The short answer is: never used treated seeds without first verifying the treatment is approved by OTCO. Even unintended use of seeds treated with prohibited materials will prevent certification or cause the loss of certification of those production areas. The impacted production area(s) will be removed from certification for three years.
Are any seeds or planting stock always prohibited from use, even when organic versions are not available?
Genetically engineered seeds and seed inoculants are never allowed for use.
Are there any seeds that must always be certified organic?
Organic seeds must be used for edible sprouts without exception.
Learn more about C-R View Dairy Farm’s best practices for seed sourcing in our Lessons Learned series on recordkeeping.
#Using non-organic plant starts
When certified organic planting stock is not commercially available, you may be able to use non-organic, untreated (e.g., no application of a prohibited substance such as a fungicide) planting stock to produce an organic crop. Substances used by a non-organic planting stock supplier before the harvest, sale and use in organic production are not considered “treatment.”
What’s the definition of a plant start in certified organic farming?
A plant start is defined as “any plant or plant tissue other than annual seedlings, but including rhizomes, shoots, leaf or stem cuttings, roots, or tubers, used in plant production or propagation.” Annual seedlings are separate from planting stock and must be certified organic.
What do I need to do to be eligible to use non-organic plant starts?
You must document your unsuccessful commercial availability search from at least three trusted and reasonable sources for review and OTCO approval prior to using non-organic plant starts.
Are there any planting stocks that must always be certified organic?
No, planting stock does not have the same requirements as annual seedlings.
How long must perennial planting stock be organically managed before sale as organic?
For organic crop production
If you are cleared by OTCO to use a non-organic variety following a commercial availability search you can harvest the crop for organic sale that same season. Perennial planting stock includes bramble canes (e.g., blackberries, raspberries, etc.), asparagus crowns, fruit trees, and strawberry plugs that will be left in the field for longer than a year.
For plant stock production
If you are cleared by OTCO to use a non-organic variety following a commercial availability search it must be organically managed for at least 12 months before it is eligible for sale as organic planting stock.
Is any planting stock always prohibited from use, even when organic versions are not available?
Genetically engineered planting stock is never allowed for use.
Cleaning seeds requires implementing contamination prevention practices. The equipment used and complexity of cleaning and handling makes this a high-risk production area.
When do cleaning measures need to be implemented for seed cleaning?
All mixed-use equipment — machines used with non-certified organic seeds — must be cleaned, inspected and documented. Your cleaning process must demonstrate that non-organic seed or contaminants are not able to come into contact with organic seed when cleaning begins.
What techniques help remove possible contaminants?
Dry cleaning — brushes, brooms, air, etc. — are all suitable techniques to ensure that non-organic contaminants have been removed.
What about hard to reach areas of seed cleaning equipment?
An adequate equipment purge — a small portion of organic seed run through the equipment (that is diverted to non-organic sales) — cleans the unreachable areas.
What records are needed for seed cleaning contamination prevention?
Document the cleaning of equipment for annual inspection and verification. Write down the dates, cleaning methods, and even take pictures for further verification that proper cleaning was done.