Answers to Your Questions: JULY

Developed by The New Farm® Answer Team

JULY 9, 2003: Here are some of the certification-related questions you’ve asked us recently, along with responses from our answer team.

1. I am planning to purchase an existing organic farm. I have never been certified, but the farm I am purchasing has been certified for 5 years. Can the farm’s certification be passed on to me?

Even though the farm you are purchasing is currently certified, you need to complete an Organic System Plan and be certified by an accredited certification agency in order to sell organic products. (If you sell less than $5,000 of organic products annually, you need not be certified, but you must comply with NOP organic production standards in order to market your products as organic). To expedite the process, if you have permission, you can draw on the previous owner’s organic plan for ideas, and possibly use their maps and field history sheets. (Make sure that all information is still accurate.) You might also be able to work with the seller and the certifying agent for the seller’s certification to remain in effect while your paperwork is being processed.

On the other hand, if the farm is incorporated, and you become part of the corporation, then all licenses and/or certifications would remain in force. The operation would need to be re-inspected and the certification and Organic System Plan updated, but a new certificate would not need to be issued. At any rate, you will need to be inspected and approved before the operation is certified in your name. Check with your certifier for the exact procedures to follow. Since the farm is currently certified, the process should be relatively seamless.

2. The farm I plan to purchase has 5,000 bushels of certified organic soybeans in a grain bin on the farm. Can I purchase the soybeans with the farm, and still sell them as certified organic?

Good question. Buying, storing, and re-selling the soybeans would make you a “handling operation”. Here’s why. The NOP defines handling operation as “any operation or portion of an operation (except final retailers of agricultural products that do not process agricultural products) that receives or otherwise acquires agricultural products and processes, packages, or stores such products.” If you buy the bin full of soybeans, you would be “acquiring” and “storing” organic products. In addition, the NOP defines handle as “to sell, process, or package agricultural products, except such term shall not include the sale, transportation, or delivery of crops or livestock by the producer thereof to a handler.”

Since you were not the producer of the soybeans, and you would take physical possession and store the crop, you would be acting as a handling operation in this instance. As such, you should conclude your own certification prior to selling the soybeans. That way, certification can be passed on, and new certificates or transaction certificates issued, without any problems. Make sure to keep a copy of the grower’s organic certificate, along with an invoice or receipt for your purchase of the soybeans. It would also be good to get a copy of the grower’s bin register or storage record for your file. Start your own bin register for the grain bin, and include the purchased soybeans as starting inventory. Make sure to assign a lot number when you sell the soybeans, and use bills of lading and clean transport affidavits when the soybeans are sold. Keep copies of your sales invoices and scale tickets.

3. How do I get my honey certified organic? It's from Mexico.

Though there are no specific apiculture standards in the national organic regulation, the USDA’s National Organic Program issued a policy statement on May 2, 2002, indicating that honey and other agricultural products can be certified organic. Some accredited certification agencies offer apiculture certification. If the honey is to be sold as “organic” in the United States, it needs to have been certified by a USDA-accredited certification agency. You will find a list of accredited certifiers at For additional guidance, you should read the National Organic Standards Board’s Apiculture Task Force Report from September 15, 2001, which can be viewed at

4. I am planning on getting two fields certified organic next year. One of the fields borders a subdivision. I know that I need a buffer zone for fields that border conventional crop production. Do I need a buffer zone where my field borders suburban lots?

NOP section 205.202.c requires that “any field or farm parcel from which harvested crops are intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as "organic," must have distinct, defined boundaries and buffer zones such as runoff diversions to prevent the unintended application of a prohibited substance to the crop or contact with a prohibited substance applied to adjoining land that is not under organic management.”

If suburban landowners are applying prohibited materials to land which adjoins your organic field, then you would need to maintain a buffer zone to prevent the prohibited materials from contacting your organic crop. On the other hand, if the landowners all agree not to apply prohibited materials near your field, you might not need a buffer zone. (Your certification agency would need to accept such an arrangement.) You would need to get the landowners to agree annually in writing, (on forms commonly called “adjoining land use affidavits”), and you should maintain copies of the affidavits in your file.

5. I’m a dairy farmer. What can I use for fly control in the barn and in the milk house?

In order to be certified organic, you must implement preventative practices and proactive management to control flies and other pests, both in the barn and in the milk house. Approved strategies include: 1) augmentation or introduction of predators or parasites of the pest species; 2) development of habitat for natural enemies of pests; and 3) non-synthetic controls such as lures, traps, and repellents. Good manure management; pasture rotation; clean, dry bedding; moisture control; and release of fly parasites are all part of successful fly management systems. In addition, many dairy farmers use walk-through fly traps to remove flies from cows when they enter the barn or milking parlor. Many also use sticky strips or tapes, and some use bug zappers and jar traps baited with attractants. If an insecticide is to be used in the barn or milk house, the material must either be derived from natural sources or be on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. If you have questions about any methods or inputs, be sure and ask your certifier before use.

6. I see a lot of products advertised as “organic” fertilizers. As a certified organic farmer, am I required to use organic fertilizers?

There is a great deal of confusion about use of the word “organic” on fertilizers and other products. Fertilizer labeling is currently regulated by state officials, and most use the term as in organic chemistry – a compound that contains carbon. Be aware that fertilizer products labeled “organic” may contain synthetic urea, other synthetic plant nutrients, or sewage sludge, all of which are prohibited for use in organic production. Binding agents and pelleting materials may also be synthetic, and not listed on the ingredients label. As an organic farmer, you are required to use fertilizers approved for use in organic production. These include: compost; uncomposted plant materials; animal manures (with certain restrictions on timing of application/harvest); wood ash; mined substances such as limestone, potassium sulfate and gypsum; fish products; micronutrient products; and other fertilizers on the National List. The Organic Materials Review Institute’s brand name list includes many products that have been reviewed against NOP standards, and is available at Once again, when in doubt, check with your certifier before purchasing or applying a material.

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