Should You Certify Your Farm as Organic?

Here are some questions to ask — and some facts about the process you might not know — to help decide whether certifying as organic is right for you.

by Jesse Frost
PHOTO: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

A lot of farmers grow or raise animals without chemicals. But in order to legally call oneself “organic” the farm must become certified by an organic certifying agency such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

However, it involves some work and expenses. And you must decide whether you’re up for following the regulations and whether certification will help your business. So today I’ll present some reasons why you may or may not want to certify your farm.

Will It Help?

Arguably the most important factor in this decision is whether certifying as organic will help you sell food. If you’re already growing “organically” without chemicals but you are able to sell everything you grow, it might not be necessary to have the organic label on your product or market booth.

That said, if you want to expand or are having trouble selling your produce, then the organic label might come in handy.

Where Do You Sell?

Farmers markets and grocery stores can be ideal places to have the organic label on your booth or produce. If you sell straight to consumers through a community-supported agriculture operation or similar program, you might not need to certify.

That said, as I discuss below, expanding that direct-to-consumer program is certainly easier with the organic label.

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Do You Want to Expand?

Finding new markets as you grow your business can be difficult in farming. But the organic label does offer new potential markets.

Wholesalers love the organic label. If you grow seed, seed companies almost require it. Companies that make a product such as organic salsa always look for new suppliers.

There is a lot of potential there. Plus being organic might signal to any customers who’d not bought from you before the expansion that you don’t use chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.

Did You Know You Needn’t Certify Your Whole Operation?

Many farmers might not realize they can certify single plots of ground as organic, for example, or only their animals. One does not have to certifying an entire property to be certified organic.

So in a situation where a market farmer also grows some conventional row crops such as corn and soybeans, that person can still certify the market garden as organic and keep growing conventionally on the other plots.

There are some restrictions for how close together those plots can be, and there’s a three-year waiting period for the label if anything has been sprayed on the market garden, but you do not have to certify your whole farm.

Did You Know It’s Fairly Cheap?

A reason I’ve heard a lot for not certifying organic is that it’s expensive. However, the USDA has offered a 75 percent rebate every year to growers who certify as organic in an attempt to gain more customers.

So although it is regularly $250, the rebate knocks that down to $62.50 per year.

Are You Averse to Paperwork?

There isn’t a lot of bookkeeping involved in the organic process, but there is some. And it does eat up some time and energy.

There is a lengthy application that must be completed every year, followed by at least one inspection. Inspectors can visit your property any time (with a small amount of notice), but mostly it will cost you a work day or two per year.

For some, that might not be worth the cost, but the application can be an easy winter project.

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