Certified organic farmers do an odd thing –
they pay people to visit their farms with a critical
eye to assure they are adhering to every aspect
of the USDA’s national organic standard.
The farmers should already be trying to produce,
harvest and market their organic crops, livestock
and related products by these rules. The on-farm
review of fields, facilities and records by an
approved inspector sent by the farmer’s
accredited organic certifier is the critical point
in confirming that the farmer and the farm meet
the organic standards – and can prove it
to anyone who needs to know.
The visits are pivotal for applying farmers to
become certified, and for certified farmers to
keep that certification. For the good of organics,
we want to help build the foundation for effective
inspection visits. We’ve asked Jim Riddle
to provide an inspector’s inside view to
help farmers understand an inspector’s role,
responsibilities and limitations.
In the months ahead, Riddle will elaborate on
many items to help farmers understand regulations
that apply to them, and how to document their
Jim Riddle has been on hundreds of farms in the
inspector role, and he’s been inspected
himself during his time as a farmer. His leadership
in bringing professional training to inspectors
helped to earn greater acceptance of organic farming
in the U.S. He serves as vice-chair of the National
Organic Standards Board, which advises the USDA
on organic agriculture policies and regulations.
He has been an organic farmer, gardener, inspector,
educator, policy analyst, author, and consumer.
Jim Riddle serves as vice-chair of the USDA’s
National Organic Standards Board and organic policy
advisor for NewFarm.org. He was the founding chair
of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association
2, 2005: If requesting organic certification for
the first time, this is the time of year to develop your Organic
Farm Plan. Request a questionnaire from your certifying agent
and start by answering the questions. Sections in the questionnaire
are grouped by topic, i.e., fertility management, crop management,
records, maintenance of organic integrity (buffers, equipment,
crop harvest, crop storage, and conventional farming practices
for a split operation), and more. After you fill out the forms
you will need to provide maps of all fields requested for
Be clear on what fields, type of crops and acres of each
crop you want certified. (If crop plans change due to weather
events, etc., the number of acres, crops planted, and locations
can be updated during the inspection.) Assign unique identification
numbers to each field then use these numbers in your plans.
I have seen some farmers give consecutive numbers to a set
of fields at one farm, then give the same set of numbers to
fields at another location. That creates problems. It makes
it difficult to keep records of activities in individual fields.
To differentiate fields, farmers often use a letter code
preceding the numbers. For example, my home farm fields start
with the letters, JR (field numbers are JR1, JR2…).
If I was renting fields from my neighbor, Bob Adams, those
fields could be numbered BA1, BA2, etc.
In addition to field ID numbers, vegetable growers may need
to assign bed numbers within a field to be able to record
activities in individual beds.
Maps of all fields are required as part of your Organic Farm
Plan. When inspecting, I use these maps with the field history
sheets to verify that organic crops are being grown and to
identify adjoining land uses (i.e., woodland, conventional
crops) and needed buffers. Maps should include an accurate
representation of field layout, field ID numbers, and adjoining
land uses. Show wildlife areas and conservation practices
that you are maintaining. Indicate neighbors’ residences,
conventional fields or pastures, land in CRP or fallow, and
other types of land uses. Your certifying agent and inspector
will appreciate these details.
I have included some examples of farm maps that we developed
as part of our Organic Farm Plan.
|Map #1 FSA map,
Map # 1 is the FSA map, showing the larger fields
and lay of the land in general.
NOTE: If you use Farm Service Agency (FSA) maps, be
sure they are legible. Last year, I received beautiful
color-coded maps from the FSA. Each field is delineated
with yellow lines. These maps show woodlands, wetlands,
section lines, a compass indicating “north”
direction, as well as accurate field boundaries. I just
had to write in my field numbers and some adjoining
|Map #2: Template
map of the Wiscoy Organic Produce--vegetable production
|Because we use beds in the “vegetable garden,”
we also use a more detailed “bed map,” as
shown in Map #2. We copy this template map and use a new
copy each year to keep track of the crops planted, as
some beds are double cropped and/or cover cropped in the
course of the growing season. Numbering the beds also
helps us keep track of where and when compost is applied
and other activities.
|Map #3 Wiscoy
Organic Produce Facilities -- Map of garden, garage and
|Map #3 is a detailed map, showing post-harvest handling
areas, such as where we dry garlic and onions, our greenhouses
where we grow our seedlings, and other areas we use in
the course of operating an organic vegetable farm.
While creating maps can be a daunting task, just remember
to make sure everything is clearly identified and too much
information is always better than not enough and both you
and your certifier will be happy with the results.