Answers to Your Questions: MARCH

Developed by The New Farm® Answer Team

MARCH 7, 2003: Here are some of the certification-related questions you’ve asked us recently, along with responses from our answer team.

1. What are the organic certification requirements for the production of potted herbs, annuals and perennials for resale? Are any commercially produced potting soils available for organic production? There are no chemicals approved in my state for the production of potted herbs so can liners be purchased from non-certified producers for organic production of container plants? --Barbara Steele

In order to be sold as “organic”, potted herbs, annuals and perennials must be produced according to the National Organic Standards. This means that all soil mix ingredients must be natural, or else on the National List of allowed synthetic materials. The soil mix may contain ingredients such as soil, sand, compost, peat, vermiculite, or perlite. The mix may not contain synthetic fertilizers or synthetic wetting agents. The NOS does not directly address the type of materials allowed for the pots, but you should make sure that the pots do not contain and have not been treated with synthetic fungicides, preservatives, or fumigants.

2. I live in Washington state. Would like to know how to become a Certified Organic Grower without breaking the bank account. Thanks. --Linda Dyjak

Step 1: Make sure you have good markets for what you’re growing.
Step 2: Check out this program: As part of the 2002 Farm Bill, Congress created a National Organic Certification Cost Share Program which reimburses organic producers and handlers 75% of their inspection and certification fees, up to $500/year. Washington State has signed a cooperative agreement with the USDA where the state will receive $350,000.00 to reimburse qualified operations for costs incurred for certification to the National Organic Program. Please contact Miles McEvoy, Washington State Department of Agriculture, at 360-902-1924 to obtain program information and application forms.

3. I am an organic inspector and got this question from a farmer: “I am growing oats in my buffer strip. Can I harvest this for oat seed and use it to plant organic oats the next year?” What do you think? --Joyce Ford

If a buffer zone is necessary to protect an organic crop from contamination, due to prohibited materials applied to adjoining fields, then the crop harvested from the buffer zone is not organic. Organic producers are required to source organic seed for organic crops, when the seed is commercially available in organic form. The only time that seed grown in a buffer zone could be used to produce an organic crop is if the producer could document that the equivalent variety is not available in the form, quality and quantity needed.

4. What is the current status with the Japanese Ag Service prohibition of calcium lignin sulfonate? I applied an OMRI approved fertilizer w/ potassium sulfate and granular rock phosphate to my soybeans planted in May '02. I first heard about the lignin sulfonate issue in the May/June issue of the Organic Broadcaster. As I understand, there are few soil correctives that don't contain the material in pelletizing process. How did this come about? Was this a demand made by the JAS? Are there acceptable alternatives for the industry to use instead of lignin sulfonate? --Robert Stucznski

The agreement with Japan stipulates that organic products must be grown without the use of lignin sulfonate, alkali extracted humic acid, or potassium bicarbonate, in order for those products to be exported to Japan. Check with your certifier before you purchase and apply a material. This is especially true, if you intend to purchase pellitized fertilizers, and you intend to produce crops likely to be exported to Japan.

5. My brother-in-law has had about 50 egg layers and is considering going organic. The question is: without raising his own chicks, is there a source for organic pullets? --Joe Liccese

Organic poultry must be managed organically from the 2nd day after hatching. There are sources of organic pullets, but most grow the pullets for operations with 1000 or more layers. It may be difficult to find 50 organic pullets. Check with your regional certification agencies, state departments of agriculture, Extension Agents, and sustainable farming associations to find out if organic pullets are available in your region.

6. Where can I find info regarding housing for swine and poultry that meets organic rules & regs? --Ray Poli

The NOS requires that producers establish and maintain livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including:

  1. Access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its stage of production, the climate and the environment;
  2. Access to pasture for ruminants;
  3. Appropriate clean, dry bedding. If the bedding is typically consumed by the animal species, it must be organic; and
  4. Shelter designed to allow for:
    • Natural maintenance, comfort behaviors and opportunity to exercise;
    • Temperature level, ventilation and air circulation suitable to the species; and
    • Reduction of potential for livestock injury.

You can find good information on livestock housing by visiting, or by checking out our pig page for great profiles and information on successful pastured hog operations, including details on housing.

Certification Archives

For a full list of your questions and our answers as well as some highlighted articles, visit our certification archives or click on the desired category below.


    1. General
    2. Certification
    3. Crop Production
    4. Livestock Production
    5. Handling
    6. Labeling
    7. Allowed and Prohibited Substances