Organic Orchard Management
In order to sell fruit using the organic label, orchards must be certified, unless their gross sales are less than $5,000 per year. The Organic Foods Protection Act of 1990 required the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop uniform national organic standards. From this legislation, arose the National Organic Program (NOP), which through a 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) developed regulatory codes that must be followed for selling any products labeled as organic. Since 2002, all organic farming and processing operations are certified by a USDA Accredited Certification Agency (ACA) to assure consumers that all NOP regulations are being followed.
The NOP maintains a list of ACAs on their website (www.ams.usda.gov/NOP). The choice of certifiers is often dictated by cost, experience with the crops being produced, and familiarity with the targeted marketing outlets. Organic producers with gross sales less than $5,000 per year do not need to be certified, but they do need to follow all NOP regulations in order to use the organic label.
The USDA defines organic as a labeling term that refers to an agricultural commodity produced in accordance with the NOP. In other words, the USDA views the term organic primarily as a marketing category. However, in order to access the organic market, the USDA specifically states that an organic production system must be managed to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.
Accredited Certification Agencies should be able to provide a template for the Organic System Plan (OSP). Additionally, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, (formerly ATTRA), has produced a guide to organic certification that includes templates for developing an OSP as well as several other related resources (attra.ncat.org/topics/organic-farming/).
Under NOP Section 205.202, “any field or farm parcel from which harvested crops are intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as “organic,” must have had no prohibited substances, as listed in §205.105, applied to it for a period of three years immediately preceding harvest of the crop.” This three-year period is referred to as the transition period. Orchards on land to which no prohibited substances have been applied for three years, can be certified immediately but in accordance with 7 CFR §205.204(a)(4), if planting stock is from an uncertified source it must be maintained under organic management for one year after planting before it can be “sold, labeled or represented as organically produced.” During these transition periods, growers will likely assume greater operating expenses, without earning organic price premiums. Newly established orchards, however, will not have much of a crop to sell during this period so losses will be minimal compared to an established orchard transitioning from conventional to organic management.
Accredited Certification Agencies and Other Resources
- Utah: ag.utah.gov/organic-certification
- Colorado: ag.colorado.gov/plants/organic
- Idaho: agri.idaho.gov/main/about/aboud-isda/ag-inspections/organic-certification-program
- Montana: agr.mt.gov/Organic-Program
- National Organic Program: www.ams.usda.gov/nop
- OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute): www.omri.org
- Organic Farming Research Foundation: www.ofrf.org
- Organic Trade Association: www.ota.com
- Organic Crop Improvement Association: www.ocia.org
- Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program: westernsare.org