TALKING SHOP: Washington Tilth Producers Conf., Nov 7-9 Bellingham, WA

Part 3 of 3: National Organic Program updates and clarifications
Washington State organic program rep Miles McEvoy reviews the rules on mating disruption pheromones, compost, compost tea, livestock feed and international compliance … and voices a few concerns.

By Don Lotter

S p o n s o r B o x
Meet the Washington Tilth Producers

Mission/members: Tilth Producers, a Chapter of Washington Tilth Association, is the organic and sustainable farm organization of Washington State. A membership organization of over 400 Washington growers, Tilth Producers fosters and promotes ecologically sound, sustainable agriculture in the interest of environmental preservation, human health and social equity.

Founded: In 1974 off the back of a letter and vision of Wendell Berry, the group has suffered through highs and lows. Today it is regrouped and refocused on its mission: unite the community of people concerned with food, agriculture and the environment. For the complete history>

Mail: P.O. Box 85056, Seatle, WA 98145

Contact info:

Nancy Allen,
Administrative Director
(206) 442-7620
Fax: (206) 524-7702

Want more Washington Tilth?

Part 1
Microbes: THE hot topic at the Washington Tilth Producers’ annual conference
Our researcher and reporter, Don Lotter, wandered the halls and seminar rooms of the conference, gathering details on everything from a really inexpensive compost tea brewer to the growing of fungi that first attract, then later kill insect pests.

Part 2
Smart tools for small farms... and other gleanings from
the Washington Tilth conference

Correspondent Don Lotter brings back tips on flame weeders, mustard cover crops, seed production and restaurant sales from four different workshops at the conference


Posted December 17, 2003: In a packed conference room during the recent annual conference of the Washington Tilth Producers, Miles McEvoy of the Washington State Department of Agriculture Organic Food Program (WSDA-OFP) presented a National Organic Program (NOP) Final Rule update and answered dozens of questions from the audience. (The WSDA-OFP is a USDA National Organic Program-accredited organic certification body.) Not all the news he passed on was good news.

The Final Rule is the term given to the NOP guidelines and rules for organic certification, which officially went into use in 2002. McEvoy discussed the ramifications for Northwest farmers of recent changes in the Final Rule, and offered clarifications on issues that have been confusing to growers.

Additions to NOP Final Rule

Changes to the USDA National Organic Program Final Rule are published in the U.S. Federal Register. On October 31 and November 5, 2003 two NOP entries were made in the Federal Register having to do with Materials List substances. One entry was for processing materials and one was for crop production materials. Regional organic certification organizations will have the necessary information on these changes. Although they are written in “legalese”, the Federal Register NOP entries can be viewed by going to the “Today’s News” section of the NOP website (

The effects of these changes to the NOP Final Rule will depend on the region and type of organic operation. The main ramification for Washington state growers is the approval of mating disruption pheromones.

NOSB snubbed. Author’s note: Several materials recommended by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory board to the NOP, were not approved. An ongoing issue throughout the evolution of the NOP Final Rule has been the NOP refusal to fully implement the recommendations of the NOSB. The NOSB is made up of volunteer members from the organic farming, support, and consumer sector, while the NOP is part of USDA and, in the end, does what the USDA bids.

The NOP zero tolerance problem. Another issue that McEvoy raised is that the NOP is going with a zero tolerance policy on what the WSDA-OFP has considered to be minor non-compliance issues having to do with the use of inert ingredients in various products.

Clarifications of the rules

Treated wood. Wood treated with chromium arsenate can’t be used as new or replacement items that come into direct contact with certified organic soil, plants, or animals. The issue of “direct contact” was discussed. A fence in a pasture is considered not to be in direct contact, since it is a border. A farrowing pen, a trellis, or a raised bed structure is considered to be in direct contact.

When WSDA-OFP asked the NOP for clarification on this issue, they were told to “read the rules.” Existing treated wood structures that are allowed (legacy items) cannot be moved to another part of the farm. Other substances like copper are also prohibited. There is apparently a natural product from Canada that would be allowed, but no information was given on it.

Compost. The chlorpyralid herbicide problem has receded since restrictions on chlorpyralid use were put in place. The problem has been that plant materials that have been in contact with chlorpyralid and still have the residues on them, pass through the composting process and kill plants that come into contact with the compost. There have been no reports of chlorpyralid contaminated composts for two years, so testing of composts for chlorpyralid is no longer mandatory in the state of Washington.

Compost teas. According to McEvoy, the NOSB Compost Tea Task Force will come out in the next couple of months with their much-awaited recommendations for NOP rules on compost teas. Some, most, or all of these recommendations will then be taken by the NOP and put into the Federal Register as a change to the NOP Final Rule at some future date.

The most significant recommendation that is expected is on the use of sugar compounds. If molasses or other sugars are used in compost teas, a common practice for getting increased microbial counts, those compost teas will be considered to be raw manures and will fall under the raw manure harvest restriction. This restriction prohibits application of these amendments 90/120 days before harvest, depending on the crop type.

Author’s note: The molasses-amended-compost tea-as-raw-manure view is a controversial one and is based on a highly conservative interpretation of research. Compost tea researchers, led by Dr. Elaine Ingham of Soil Food Web Inc., say it is pretty darn hard, if not impossible, to get E. coli to multiply in molasses-amended compost tea made from composts. There are no cases of this ever occurring, and only one questionable research report to base the ruling on.
Editor's note, 4/20/04: Contrary to the author's opinion expressed above, ongoing research remains inconclusive regarding the safety of teas brewed with simple-sugar amendments. The Compost Tea Task Force ultimately decided to err on the side of caution, based on the best information available, in its recommendations to the NOP released this month. For more on these developments, click here.

The WSDA-OFP attempted to clarify compost tea rules in its guidelines. However, NOP auditors had these compost tea guidelines removed, saying that WSDA-OFP was promulgating rules rather than implementing the NOP Final Rule. Therefore WSDA-OFP will not put out specific restrictions on compost teas, instead they will publish guidelines on how to properly produce compost teas. They are waiting to see if the NOP is going to provide clear restrictive guidelines on compost teas.

For more from the conference on compost tea advances, see the first article in our Washington Tilth series.

Livestock feed. It was one year ago that a Georgia congressman, representing chicken producers, managed to push through Congress a bill allowing the use of non-organic animal feed if organic feeds were not available to organic animal production operations. The amount of negative feedback from the organic community on this change to the Rule caused it to be relatively quickly repealed. So we are now back to the 100% organic feed requirement. Included in the repeal was the ruling that wild-caught fish be considered organic. This ruling was pushed through by Alaska representatives for the salmon industry.

Cost-share program. Up to $500 for up to 75% of the cost of organic certification is available via the federal cost-share program. This needs to be re-approved by Congress, therefore, farmers need to pressure their congressional representatives on this.

Unannounced farm inspections. McEvoy said that unannounced farm inspections by WSDA-OFP will be much more prevalent in the coming year. At least one serious non-compliance incident came to light this year, in which a grower was fraudulently using a pesticide. “A lot more testing of samples for prohibited pesticides will be done,” says McEvoy.

International compliance. The program for complying with Japanese and European (EU) organic standards is becoming more rigorous. Accreditation of U.S. certification organizations by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) is necessary to be approved for trade with the EU.

Four things that are approved in the U.S. are not approved for organic use in the EU – sodium nitrate, giberellic acid, Mycoshield (a Syngenta product for suppression of bacterial disease in stone fruits), and factory farmed manures.

WSDA-OFP is applying for IFOAM accreditation and is having a lot of problems with it. Oregon Tilth (OT) administrators were so frustrated with the process, and with what they saw to be double standards, that they have withdrawn their application for IFOAM re-accreditation. OT saw other certification organizations getting away with things that OT was prohibited from doing by IFOAM, things that would be a major problem for their farmers to change. OT is one of the early organic groups in the U.S., and no slouch of an organization.

Miles McEvoy can be reached by email at the WSDA-OFP:


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