16, 2005: As you are planting your fields this season,
pay attention to what your neighbors are planting as well.
How are they managing their land? Be mindful of where they
are using chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other prohibited
substances, since their practices will largely determine where
you need to maintain buffers.
During the inspection for organic certification, the inspector
reviews your management of buffers to insure they minimize
the risks of contamination for your organic crops. Appropriate
buffers must also be maintained in pastures and outdoor access
areas used for organic livestock, if needed.
One of the requirements for organic certification is to have
“distinct, defined boundaries and buffer zones such
as run-off 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
A buffer zone is defined as “an area located between
a certified production operation or portion of a production
operation and an adjacent land area that is not maintained
under organic management. A buffer zone must be sufficient
in size or other features (e.g., windbreaks or a diversion
ditch) to prevent the possibility of unintended contact by
prohibited substances applied to adjacent land areas with
an area that is part of a certified operation.” 
In other words, you need to maintain buffer zones along field
borders where your neighbors apply synthetic chemicals (or
other prohibited substances). This includes farm fields, conservation
areas, residences, and commercial operations.
The federal rule does not specify that a buffer zone be a
specific width, but 25 to 30 feet is generally accepted by
certifying agents as adequate to prevent most contamination
from a neighboring field. Buffer zones can be planted to a
crop that is managed organically but is sold as conventional.
A buffer can be planted to grass, or better yet, a permanent
tree and shrub planting, which can provide habitat for birds,
wildlife, and beneficial insects. Significant height in a
buffer has the added benefit of protecting your fields and
organic crops from contamination by aerial movement of pesticides
and from wind erosion.
If you choose to plant your buffer to a crop, the crop is
treated as conventional. If sold, you must keep a record of
the sale, such as a weight ticket or invoice. Even if you
allow your neighbor to mow the buffer for hay, you must keep
a written record of the hay harvest (name, date, location
of buffer and crop harvested). Certifying agents can give
you examples of buffer record forms. You can also download
an example of a buffer record from ATTRA’s website,
You should also mark all buffer zones on your farm map.
What about an area where your neighbor is not using prohibited
materials? Your certifying agent may require you to have your
neighbor sign a statement that they are not using prohibited
substances in areas adjoining your fields. Once you have written
proof that no prohibited substances are applied on adjoining
land, the certifier can grant you the option to raise organic
crops without buffer zones in affected areas.