Organic Agriculture FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there any financial support for existing certified organic operations or for producers transitioning their operation to certified organic production?
Yes, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has an Organic Initiative through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Applications are accepted on a continued basis throughout the year. For additional information refer to the PA NRCS Programs webpage. For more information about submitting an application for the EQIP Organic Initiative, contact your local NRCS office.
What type of technical assistance does NRCS have to offer to a certified organic operation?
Technical assistance is available to help producers install conservation practices such as Conservation Crop Rotation, Cover Crops, Nutrient Management, Pest Management, Prescribed Grazing, and Conservation Cover, Field Border, Riparian Herbaceous Cover, Riparian Forested Buffer, and Windbreak. There are also many other practices that improve the condition of the soil, reduce soil erosion, protect water quality or improve pollinator habitat and grazing land health. More information about technical assistance and eligible practices can be found at the PA NRCS Technical Resources webpage.
Is there any other assistance available for producers interested in transitioning to an organic operation?
USDA-NRCS EQIP Organic Initiative
Penn State – Transition to Organic
What are the steps to becoming a certified organic producer?
It depends on nature of the operation that is applying. Every operation is unique and thus, have a different path to convert to organic production. Visit the National Organic Program (NOP) website for more information about certification and organic regulations. NOTE: USDA-NRCS does not administer the NOP and cannot certify an operation as organic.
For more information, visit: ATTRA/NCAT
What is an Organic System Plan (OSP)?
An Organic System Plan is a written management plan that covers all components of an organic production and handling system and is a certification requirement of the NOP. Such a plan must be developed, updated annually and must include:
- A description of practices and procedures to be performed and maintained;
- A list of each substance to be used in production or handling, indicating its composition, source, location(s) where it will be used, and documentation of commercial availability;
- A description of the monitoring practices and procedures to be performed and maintained, including their frequency;
- A description of the record keeping system implemented to comply with established requirements;
- A description of the management practices and physical barriers established to prevent co-mingling of organic and non-organic products on a split operation and to prevent contact of organic production and handling operations and products with prohibited substances; and
- Additional information deemed necessary by the accredited certifying agent to evaluate compliance with the regulations.
The OSP is required by the NOP administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). NOTE: the OSP is not the same as an organic transition plan and cannot be developed by the NRCS.
Can I certify part of the farm as organic?
Yes, certification may be granted to as much or as little of your operation as you request. However, there may be additional costs, record-keeping and/or documentation requirements for “mixed operations,” with both organic and non-organic production. Such operations must establish and document procedures that ensure the isolation of organic crops and products from non-organic commodities in production, handling, storage and sales. Also, organic crops and products must be protected from contamination by prohibited materials (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) often used in non-organic production. For more information about certification requirements, contact an Accredited Certifying Agents.
How do you manage weeds in an organic production system?
Organic weed management includes three levels of practices:
First, crop rotation, sanitation and cultural practices to promote crop health and competitiveness are REQUIRED. Secondly, any of the following practices MAY be used to control weeds, as applicable to the operation:
• livestock grazing,
• hand weeding,
• mechanical cultivation, and/or
Finally, IF (AND ONLY IF) the cultural and physical methods (above) are insufficient to adequately control weeds, organic producers may use a biological, botanical or allowed synthetic product for weed control. Any synthetic (man-made) product used must be included on the National List of Synthetic Substances Allowed for Use in Organic Crop Production (7 CFR 205.601).
For more detailed information, see the National Organic Standards, 7 CFR 205.206 on the National Organic Program's website.
What inputs are okay to use in an organic production system?
In order to be “ok” for use in organic production, inputs must be included in the producer’s Organic System Plan (OSP), as approved by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. The OSP must specify the conditions under which an input will be used. The producer must then document that those conditions are met, before resorting to the use of an input. Conditions may include such conditions as pests reaching a specific threshold level or a soil test indicating deficiency of a specific nutrient. Specific products used as production inputs must either be non-synthetic (natural) or be included on the National List of Synthetic Substances Allowed for Use in Organic Crop Production (7 CFR 205.601).
Where can I sell my organic products?
The answer to this question depends largely on the type and volume of products being produced. Organic marketing can be quite “entrepreneurial,” and may depend on establishing personal contacts with buyers to ascertain their needs. Many organic products are sold through direct marketing channels, at farmers markets, produce stands or via the internet. You should also talk with other producers, attend organic agriculture conferences and contact support organizations, such as the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture or PA Buy Fresh Buy Local. These actions will help you identify and establish relationships with prospective organic buyers. You can also find more information at the links below.
ATTRA – Organic Marketing Resources
Penn State Cooperative Extension – Organic Marketing