ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

How long do I have to wait for certification?

Posted September 14, 2006

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

I plan to grow organic coastal hay. The acreage I plan to use was not used for six years, until last summer when we cut and baled 16 acres. How long must I wait before 100-percent certification (no chemicals or pesticides have been used)?

Franklin Wagner

Dear Franklin,

Thanks for the email and the question on getting your land certified. There are several things you should keep in mind as you go through this process. The first step will be for you to select a certifying organization. You can browse The New Farm's Guide to US Organic Certifiers to find a certifer right for you or visit the USDA's National Organic Program website ( This certifying organization will be your link to the national program and the guidelines laid out in it.

Generally speaking, your land must be free from any prohibited materials or practices for a time period of 36 months. That means from the last time any prohibited materials were applied to the land until the time you can get it certified must be at least 36 months. You indicate that it has been six years since anything at all was done to the land. Your certifier will most likely ask you to sign an affidavit to that effect to document this fact. If you were not the landowner over that period, the previous landowner can attest to this fact in his own signed and sworn affidavit.

My suggestion is that you look up the USDA's web site on the organic rule and familiarize yourself with the standards that pertain to your operation. Even though the document is quite lengthy, the portions that will pertain directly to your operation will be less than 15 pages. Select an appropriate certifier and begin the process of working out your Organic System Plan. And in no time at all, you’ll be certified and moving on.