Skip Navigation

Ecological Science/Technical Resources - Organic Agriculture

Summary of National Organic Program Basic Principles and Standards

  • An organic operation is not an operation that uses certain substances and avoids others - it is an operation that imitates as closely as possible the structure of the natural system - managed by integrating cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources
  • Organic systems should enhance biodiversity and wildlife, and ecosystem function
  • Land must be free of prohibited substances for 3 years before organic harvest, and the organic operation must have defined boundaries and buffer zones
  • The system must maintain or improve soil quality and minimize soil erosion
  • Systems use rotations, cover crops, and plant/animal materials as the basis of fertility management
  • Properly managed to prevent contamination of crops, soil, or water
  • Applications of raw manure adhere to specific pre-harvest interval requirements
  • Organic seed should be used when available; non-organic seed cannot be treated in any way, and use must be justified by producer
  • Crop rotation is a critical component of the organic system, to support soil, pest and nutrient management
  • Must demonstrate an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan, and use allowed substances only after other techniques have been employed
  • Livestock fed with all organic feed.  Preventative healthcare utilized (no antibiotics, vaccines OK).  Producers cannot withhold medical treatment from a sick animal to keep it "organic".  Living conditions must accommodate health and natural behavior - access to outdoors, access to pasture for ruminants, clean, dry bedding.  Generally required to get 30% of dry matter intake from grazing.

The producer's Organic System Plan (OSP) will document and describe how the above principles and standards are incorporated into their production system.

The OSP must contain specific information.  The National Organic Program Handbook provides templates for the OSP for crop production and livestock production in the Appendix section.  The Idaho State Department of Agriculture - Organic Program (a local certifying agent) also provides templates for OSPs.  You will need to use a template that meets the requirements of your certifying agent.  You may use any certifying agent approved by the National Organic Program, and they maintain a current list of approved agents on their website.

List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances

Only natural materials, and synthetics on the National List, are allowed in organic production.  Be aware that some natural materials are specifically prohibited (e.g., strychnine).

The National Organic Program provides the "List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances" (see right-side menu bar at this website).  Use the document titled " National List of Amended" on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances webpage.

A producer-friendly website to search allowed substances by product name can be viewed at:

Pest Management and Practice 595 for Organic Producers

For organic producers choosing pest management, Idaho NRCS has an IPM Plan template available for their use:  This plan format is NOT required, but their IPM plan should provide similar information and have a similar level of detail as shown in the Example IPM Plan.

Although organic producers do not apply many pesticides, there are some available for their use on the Allowed Substances list.  WinPST 3.1 has the most updated database of pesticides - any of the Allowed Substances that are considered pesticides will be in WinPST 3.1.  If a substance is not found in WinPST 3.1, it's not considered a pesticide by definition, and does not need to be included in the environmental evaluation.  WinPST results for the most common active ingredients that organic producers use are available here.  WinPST only applies to field-applied chemicals - not chemicals used in traps, bait boxes, eartags, etc.

Note that plastic mulches used for weed barriers many not be made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride). 

NRCS does NOT give any recommendations on pesticides or Allowed/Prohibited Substances.


Organic Information:

Crop Specific Information:
Organic Alfalfa Management  (PDF; 522 KB)

Links of Interest


Idaho Organic Agriculture Contact

Marlon Winger, State Agronomist
Phone: (208) 378-5730