Organic farmers grow crops using organic agriculture practices to produce “organic products”.
In practice, this means growing food without using pesticides, chemicals, or synthetic fertilizer agents.
However, that doesn't mean that you can just start organic farming and call yourself an organic farmer, sadly.
You need organic certification first and this is what you need to know about the National Organic Program that leads to the organic certification process.
Organic Farms Need Organic Certification For Organic Practices
The good news is that you need no formal education in organic production to have certified organic farms.
In fact, most farmers will learn about crop production, organic produce, organic seeds, and USDA organic regulations while working on an organic farm. Then they take the organic methods they learn there and apply them on their own farm.
Have An Organic System Plan
The first step to meeting USDA Organic Standards is to have an organic system plan. That means a formal document that shows how your farming processes will comply with the regulations based on the unique properties of your farm.
This plan must cover all aspects of organic operations such as sustainable agriculture, tilling, harvesting, storage, transport, farm marketing, grazing, animal husbandry, etc. and you need to show how you will keep records, separate substances for on-site inspection, etc. to demonstrate that you're actually carrying out this plan.
Implement Your Plan & Get It Reviewed
Whether you're trying to meet the standards laid down in the Organic Foods Production Act or those of a certifying body, you need to put your plan into action – otherwise, how would anyone be able to tell if you are successful in your organic operation?
Get Inspection Report From A Certifying Agent
The next step is to call in a certifying agent. These are people who have incredible amounts of knowledge on the USDA organic seal and what it takes to achieve it.
Each inspection is unique to the farm that is being reviewed but you can expect the agent to want to see your organic farm plan and ensure that you are meeting the standards laid down in it.
They know exactly what is required to receive a USDA organic label and they will expect to review everything from the food science that you're using to your soil management strategy before they certify you as organic producers.
They're also going to want to see everything in action including how you process organic products and store them.
Hold A Report Review With A Certifying Agent
The report is then presented to another certifying agent who will review the report. They will ensure that the observations are consistent with what's expected from you and they will carry out additional risk assessments based on their knowledge of the USDA's National Organic Program.
They will also use your original plan to double-check all the details in the final report and take a close look at how the reviewer felt about your business and its potential to meet the standards required of it not just for inspection purposes but in the long term.
If this review is fully completed and no major areas of concern are identified then you should be able to move on to the next step in the process – if not, you may be asked to carry out further work and revision on your plan, farm, etc. before you can be certified.
Fingers Crossed, Get Your Farm Certified Organic
The final step in the process is, of course, when your farm is allowed to be certified as organic and you can start to tell the world and your customers that your products meet the exacting standards of the USDA.
However, that doesn't mean that this is where the process comes to an end. The certifying agents only certify your farm for a single year! You have to continue to update your plan and continue to improve your working standards as new best practices are identified.
And to make sure that that happens? Your lovely farm is going to be inspected each year, at least once a year.
Not only does this help keep your business on track but it gives consumers complete confidence in organic items.
Final Thoughts On How To Become An Organic Farmer
As you can see, you might not need major qualifications to turn your hand to organic farming but you will certainly need to work hard – the certification process is an arduous one and you will need to constantly up your farming game if you want to retain your certification too.