Transitioning farmland to organic
#Three-year transition process
A period of three (3) years is required to transition from conventional agriculture — or any land without adequate land history records — to certified organic production.
A prohibited material is any agricultural input that is used in any aspect of organic production or handling that is prohibited by the USDA National Organic Program.
This transitional time is calculated from the date of the last use of a prohibited material up to the harvest date of the first organic crop. If the land is free of prohibited materials for three or more years, it is eligible to be reviewed for organic production requirements immediately.
Preparing for your first certified harvest
You may plant a crop destined to be sold as certified organic prior to its organic certification eligibility date. In order to harvest the crop as organic, all of the following criteria must be met:
- Crop’s harvest date is after the full 36 months from last prohibited material application
- Land was inspected by an organic inspector
- Receive organic certification from OTCO prior to crop sale
#Using materials or inputs during transition
For 36 months leading up to organic certification, producers must only use materials that are allowed in organic production according to the USDA National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. This includes all fertilizers, pest and disease controls, seeds, seed treatments, livestock treatments, cleaning agents, and any other materials used on the farm.
Determining if a material is allowed for use
In general, synthetic materials are not allowed for use in organic production unless approved and found on the National List. Similarly, many non-synthetic materials are allowed for use unless prohibited and found on the National List.
Start with the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) and the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) to search approved-for-use lists to find a material. While we’ve outlined a clear process for finding, adding and documenting materials for use in organic production, our main recommendation is to always check with OTCO — contact our Farmer Hotline at (503) 378-0690 ext. 102 — prior to using any material to prevent inadvertent use of a prohibited substance.
#Recordkeeping during transition
As a certified transitional farm, you must keep records for all activities and transactions to demonstrate compliance with the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) standards throughout your transition process. Some records must be submitted with your certification application, commonly referred to as your Organic System Plan (OSP). Additional records must be available to inspectors when they visit an operation. It is important to establish a recordkeeping plan early on, describing your process of tracking information from seed to sale.
Generally, there are four critical records to maintain:
- Farm map — 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) applications — Records of all land use practices and all material applications from the start of your transition process (e.g., last application of a prohibited material) over the last three years, including a signed statement or affidavit that no prohibited materials have been applied or used
- Planned materials — Comprehensive list of all materials (e.g., seeds, fertilizers, pest, weed and disease control materials) to be applied to crops during the upcoming year
- Planned crops — List of all of your crops to be produced, including the location and acreage for each crop (updates may be made throughout the year)
Your inspector will want to review the following information for any material used:
- Product Name
- Manufacturer Name
- Original or photocopy of label with ingredients (if available)
- Purchase receipts
- Quantity and location of material applied
- Compliance documentation (OMRI Certificate or Certifier Approval Letter)
#Technical and financial support
Transition to Organic Network (TON)
TON is a national email listserv for farmers, processors, buyers, agricultural service providers and other food system stakeholders. Members exchange questions and resources for the transition process, building relationships with each other to stay informed about opportunities.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to producers who are transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture. Programs include:
- The Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative (EQIP)
The EQIP program provides technical and financial assistance (up to $20,000 per year) to help transitioning producers implement conservation planning and practices such as establishing buffer zones, improving soil quality while minimizing erosion, and more.
- Conservation Activity Plan (CAP) 138
A CAP can be developed for producers to identify conservation practices needed to address a specific natural resource need. Producers are eligible to apply for NRCS financial assistance through the EQIP program to implement the recommended conservation practices.
Oregon Tilth offers voluntary transitional certification services for farm operations in the process of transitioning land to organic. Transitional certification acts as a stepping-stone for operations that do not meet the three-year land history requirements for organic certification.
You must submit an Organic System Plan and affirm that your land is free of prohibited materials for a minimum of one year. For the next two years of transition, you must renew the transitional certification and undergo an inspection annually.
Understand the process
Transitional certification helps you become familiar with the organic certification and inspection processes and minimizes the risk of non-compliance issues when applying for organic certification in the future.
Access to markets
Certain companies or buyers may offer a premium price for products labeled as Certified Transitional, creating access to new markets and customer bases.
Transitional certification introduces you to the necessary documentation and recordkeeping required for organic certification. It will help with future planning and ensure completion of the certification process prior to your first organic harvest.
Customer development and engagement
Transitional certification provides verification that you are bringing customers goods and services that meet their expectations and needs.
#Labeling transitional products
During the transitional time period, all agricultural products must not be labeled, sold or represented using the word “organic” in any form.
You must be certified transitional by OTCO in order to label a product as “Certified Transitional” and follow our procedures for labeling and logo use for transitional services. Certification is not required to label a product as “transitional.”