Introduction to organic certification
Whilst there is plenty of information available to assist farmers in converting their land and managing it organically, the process of getting certified often seems quite complicated and confusing. This leaflet answers some of the common questions asked about conversion, inspection and certification.
Why does the farm have to become certified?
The labelling and marketing of organic food and feed products is controlled by EC Regulationʼs (EC) No. 834/2007 and (EC) No. 889/2008. Any person or organisation intending to produce or process these organic products must be subject to an inspection and certification procedure by an approved inspection body. Anyone contravening these Regulations could be subject to prosecution by Trading Standards.
What categories of production or processing need to be certified?
The following operations must be subject to the inspection and certification process:
• Farm production including arable and horticultural crops and livestock producing food intended for human consumption;
• Processing involving food preparation, prepacking and storage. This includes on-farm processing such as dairy products, butchers shops, etc.;
• Organic products imported from countries outside the European Union, known as third countries;
• Animal feeds production;
• The re-labelling of products at any stage of the distribution chain.
Who or what has to be certified?
Each production unit has to be registered and inspected. The area of land is specified down to the individual fields, OS/RLR numbers and areas. Only products from those fields may be marketed as organic. Each production enterprise, such as, cereals, dairy cattle and milk, vegetables etc must be licensed and only products from those enterprises may be marketed as organic. A named individual has to be responsible for the management of the organic unit.
Where the processing of products takes place on the farm, these must be included in the inspection and certification process.
Where the farm’s products are stored or processed at other premises, the premises used must also be inspected. This can include the drying or storage of organic cereals at another farm or grain store and the cold storage and washing of potatoes off site.
How do I convert my farm?
At present, it is not necessary for the whole farm to be converted to organic production, only an area sufficiently large to achieve a sustainable organic unit.
During the conversion process, only those materials and practices permitted in the standards may be used. An organic system will operate successfully by using those materials and practices that are permitted. The majority of soluble fertilisers and synthetic pesticides are not permitted.
Where fertilisers have been extensively used in the past, their cessation is likely to result in a drop in yield until the organic system starts to take effect. This has to be allowed for and, to spread the loss of yield or income it may be advisable to convert the farm in stages rather than all at once.
How is land converted?
The conversion period is normally 2 years (or 3 years for perennial fruit or vegetable crops) but this can be reduced by up to 4 months (20 or 32 months) if records and a visual inspection prove that there has been no use of artificial inputs for the 4 months prior to the date of application.
Conversion can be done in stages or the whole farm can be converted at the same time. Many farms, particularly mixed farms have successfully converted the whole farm in one go. Alternatively staged conversion over a period of perhaps three or four years has the advantage of providing time to learn new techniques, finding out which system suits the farm best and spreading risks by testing the market slowly.
How are livestock converted?
Livestock can either be converted at the same time as the land used to feed them (known as simultaneous conversion or sim-con) or can start organic management once the land has completed its conversion (sequential conversion).
For livestock in sim-con, cattle born 12 weeks after the start of conversion and lambs born to ewes tupped on in- conversion land can be traded as organic after the land has completed conversion.
For livestock kept on land in sequential conversion the conversion periods as detailed below apply;
- Dairy cattle must be managed to the organic standards for 6 months before the milk can be sold as organic. The milk can not be sold as organic before the land achieves organic status;
- Beef cattle must be managed to the standards for 12 weeks, calves born after this period will have organic status;
- Ewes and Sows must be tupped/mated on organic land for their offspring to have organic status; • Flocks of laying birds on farm before the land became organic must be managed to the standards for 6 weeks from the day the land became organic before the eggs have organic status;
- Table birds introduced at less than 3 days old onto an organic unit must undergo 10 weeks of organic management before qualifying as organic.
Livestock cannot be sold as ʻin-conversionʼ but can be sold as in ʻsimultaneous conversionʼ when approved to do so by the certification office.
How do I sell my crops during the conversion period?
During the first 12 months of the conversion period, all crops must be sold as non-organic; • Crops harvested after the first 12 months of the conversion period may be marketed under the label –
ʻProduced under conversion to organic farmingʼ.
There is a strong market for conversion cereals and legumes for stock feed and a developing market for conversion fruit and vegetables. Farm shops can also sell the produce of the farm under this label.
When are my crops organic?
- Crops that were sown or planted into land that has achieved organic status can be sold as organic;
- Perennial fruit and vegetable crops can be sold as organic after the plant has been through 36 months of conversion;
- Grazing and forage crops harvested after the land becomes organic can be sold as organic.
An Introduction to Organic Farmers & Growers Ltd
Organic Farmers & Growers Ltd (OF&G) is a registered company, limited by shares, that was originally established in 1973 to assist producers and processors to market their organic products. It no longer has an active role in marketing but has helped to develop, and has links with, a number of marketing initiatives in the fresh produce, cereal, meat and dairy sectors.
As its main service, the company operates an Inspection and Certification Scheme to carry out the work required under the EC Regulations (EC) No. 834/2007 and (EC) No. 889/2008. The Scheme is accredited with Defra and UKAS and operates to the Defra Compendium of Organic Standards and inspection requirements.
OF&G Ltd inspects UK production, processing and importing operations and also certifies a number of overseas production and processing facilities.
How do I become registered with Organic Farmers & Growers Ltd
Request an Application pack
Contact the telephone number given below to obtain an application pack. This contains a letter of introduction from the chairman, information on organic advisory services, the fees sheet and the appropriate application form.
Send in your Application Form
Return your completed application form with the appropriate fee. OF&G will then send you a conversion plan form along with a copy of the OF&G Control Manual of standards.
Complete the Conversion Plan
The next stage in the process is to complete the conversion plan forms and send them back to the certification office. The relevant standards must also be studied and understood before an application is made. If you have any questions, contact the OF&G certification office on the telephone number above.
Undergo an Inspection
Following our assessment of your conversion plan, an inspector will contact you and arrange to visit the farm and carry out the inspection. The inspection will take from two hours for small operations, up to a full day for large complex operations.
Agree to any conditions set by the Certification Office
The inspector will write a report, which is evaluated by the certification office.
Where it is felt necessary, conditions may be imposed to bring the system into line with the standards. These conditions are notified on a Compliance Notice that you are expected to agree to by signing and returning along with any requested documentation to the Certification Office. Where no problems occur, the Compliance Notice will be used to notify you of the decision but it will not have to be signed and returned.
Be issued with a Certificate of Compliance
Once all the above stages have been completed, the farm will be registered as a ʻLicenseeʼ and a Certificate of Compliance will be issued along with a Schedule to the Certificate.
The Certificate can be displayed to demonstrate to customers that the operation is registered. Customers frequently ask for a copy of the current Certificate to confirm that the farm is licensed to produce the organic products it is supplying, so a copy should also be kept.
The Schedule specifies the fields, which have been certified, their OS/RLR reference numbers and areas, whether in conversion or remaining under conventional management and the date the conversion commenced.
Once the farm has become registered as an OF&G licensee, Defra will be notified that the process has been completed and the farm will be entered onto the National Register.