Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Questions and Answers about the New Organic Standards

Publications \ The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener \ Spring 2002 \ Organic Standards

By Eric Sideman, MOFGA’s Director of Technical Services

This growing season MOFGA will use organic standards set by the National Organic Program in its Rule. We have submitted our application to become a USDA accredited certifier. Certified farmers will be expected to follow the Rule. They have until October to become fully compliant. After October 21, farmers and processors who earn over $5,000 will have to be certified in order to market products as organic. If you gross less than $5,000, you do not have to be certified. You still do have to meet all of the same standards.

MOFGA encourages all organic producers selling crops to become certified. We will work hard to keep our low fee for small scale growers, because we feel it is a service not only to the farmers but to the customers as well. Consumers who buy from small scale growers deserve the same assurance of the organic claim as those who buy from large scale growers.

For farmers, this is the time to ask any questions and to modify any farming or processing practices that may be out of compliance. Here are some questions that I received when I spoke at the recent Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta. I will be traveling around the state to hold meetings on the subject in February and March. For dates and locations, call the MOFGA office.

General Questions

Will we be MOFGA-certified or USDA-certified?

MOFGA will be the certifier. Producers will deal with MOFGA, fill out an application from MOFGA for certification, be inspected by a MOFGA inspector, etc. The role of the USDA is that its National Organic Program writes the standards and accredits MOFGA as a certifier.

Will we be able to keep the MOFGA Certified Logo?

Yes. In addition, after October 21, 2002, you will be able to use a USDA Organic label. NOTE: YOU MAY NOT USE THE USDA LOGO OR SAY USDA ORGANIC BEFORE OCTOBER 21, 2002.

Who petitions the USDA to have a material placed on the list of materials approved for organic production?

Anyone can petition. Guidelines for writing a petition are on the NOP web site (www.ams.usda.gov/nop).

Certified growers and producers will be provided with the OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) list, which follows the NOP List of generic materials and also lists brand name formulations that use only approved materials and methods of production.

Processing Questions

Do I need to be certified if I produce less than $5,000 of processed products?

No.

Do I need to be certified if I want to label my product as “made with organic” ingredients?

It depends. If you gross over $5,000 and you want to use the term “made with organic” on the front label, then you have to use at least 70% organic ingredients, use only certified organic ingredients, and you have to get certified as a processor. If you only want to use the term organic in the list identifying each ingredient, then you do not need to meet the above requirements.

Can I call mushrooms, honey, seedlings or any other product for which USDA has not written standards yet “organic” or use them in an organic processed product?

Yes, if your certifier is accredited and has standards for such products. The USDA/NOP has just sent out a notice that accredited certifiers may maintain their certification program for such commodities while the USDA develops its standards.

Compost Questions

Do the guidelines about making compost apply to all compost?

No. The guidelines for making compost are in a subpart of the section of the Rule that deals with manure. Manure must be composted or be used according to guidelines. The guidelines are waiting periods between the application of manure and harvest of the crop (90 days for crops not in contact with soil and 120 days for crops in contact with soil, e.g., carrots, potatoes, lettuce, etc.). If you want to avoid the waiting period, then the manure must be composted according to the guidelines.

There are no regulations for uncomposted plant material. So, you can compost plant material any way you want because it does not matter if it is composted or not.

Can I put manure in my perennial beds?

Probably yes. Remember the restriction on the use of manure is a waiting period before harvest of the crop. So, just make sure you put the manure down with enough time before harvest. And, if it is not a food crop, then it does not matter.

If buying compost from someone else, should that person get his or her compost certified?

Yes, but the word is not certified. MOFGA does not have a certification program for anything but food and fiber products. The proper term would be approved for use in organic production. Anyone selling compost to certified organic producers should contact MOFGA about getting his or her product approved.

If manure is added to a vermicompost pile, how should that compost be handled?

This is not determined yet. I should have an answer by May.

Will certifiers want to see compost records?

Yes. MOFGA will inspect the compost process and will want to see records on feedstock, temperature over the first two weeks of composting, and turning records.

Seeds:

When will organic seeds be required?

They are required now, except when commercially unavailable.

How will certifiers enforce the commercial availability exception to the organic seed requirement?

MOFGA will look for verification that the grower made an attempt to find organic seed. We will not be forcing the use of varieties that are not wanted. Although the NOP has not adopted it yet, MOFGA will use the recommendation from the NOSB until we are told otherwise. The NOSB recommendation is as follows:

Recommended criteria and procedures for assessing organic seeds and planting stock

Seeds and planting stock should be handled separately from processing and livestock inputs. The NOSB recommends that certifying agents handle determinations and documentation of commercial availability through the organic farm plan requirements stated in 205.201(a)(2) and the normal verification process. The essential criteria for determining commercial availability are stated in the definition: appropriate form, quality, and quantity.

The NOSB recommends that excessive price considerations for organic seeds and planting stock should not be included at this time because no consensus has been reached to cover all regions, and because of pricing differences. The NOSB acknowledges that this may need to be reconsidered in the future if problems develop in implementation.

The NOSB recognizes that certifying agents have experience monitoring commercial availability claims for untreated seeds, including pricing and appropriate forms. The NOSB recommends that these systems be adapted to verify the availability of organic seeds and planting stock.

Because of the volume involved (many growers plant a large number of varieties and crops) and the timing of the planting cycle relative to the filing of the organic farm plan, prior approval by certifying agents should not be required. Compliance would be reviewed in the context of the organic farm plan, which is verified during the annual farm visit. A pattern of inadequate documentation and lack of good faith effort to obtain organically grown seeds and planting stock would be considered noncompliance and might result in the certifying agent requiring prior approval regarding commercial availability issues in future planting cycles.

Must organic seed be certified organic?

Yes, if you are buying it from a producer or handler who grosses more than $5,000 per year. If you are buying it from a small scale producer or growing it yourself, it does not have to be certified.

Does a producer with a gross income under $5,000 per year have to use organic seeds?

Yes. Producers who gross under $5,000 per year have to follow all of the same standards for their crop production as a producer over $5,000.

Does seed for forage crops have to be organic?

Yes, however the same exception for commercial unavailability will be honored.

Do seed companies have to be certified?

Yes, if a seed company is repackaging organic seeds they have to be certified as a handler. Both Fedco and Johnnys have indicated to MOFGA that they will apply for certification this year.

If I am growing squash or some other winter storage crop this year and do not quite meet the standards by some small noncompliance, may I still market it as organic after October 21, 2002?

If you receive certification from an accredited certifier before October 21, 2002, you may market based on that certification certificate until the renewal date. After October 21, 2002, producers will have to be in full compliance at the time of the certifier’s decision.

Do seedlings have to be organic?

Annual seedlings must be raised according to the organic standards. Some planting stock, such as potatoes, onions, garlic, etc., should be organic, but there is an exception for commercial unavailability. Crops from perennial planting stock (strawberries, raspberries, etc.) may be called organic 12 months after planting. There is still an area for interpretation with respect to perennials being raised as annuals, such as annual strawberry production and some greenhouse raspberry production. Stay tuned.

Is fish waste or conventional straw, etc., ok for field application?

Yes. Anything that is not synthetic is ok unless it is specifically prohibited, and anything that is synthetic is prohibited unless specifically permitted.
MOF&G Cover Spring 2002