Steps to Become Certified Organic
The producer or handler adopts organic practices, discontinues use of prohibited substances, and maintains these new management strategies for three years. Alternatively, if the producer or handler can prove that prohibited substances have not been used in their operation for the past three years, they may be able to move past this step without the three-year wait.
Develop an Organic System Plan (OSP). This plan is the foundation of the organic certification process. It should explain how the operation will comply with USDA organic regulations.
Submit the OSP with the application package for review by a USDA accredited certifying agent.
After the OSP is reviewed by a Certifier, the producer or handler will request an inspection of the farm/processing operation. Every operation that applies for organic certification is inspected on-site by an organic inspector. The inspector assesses the risk of contamination from prohibited materials, and may also take soil, tissue or product samples.
After the on-site inspection, a certifying agent will review the inspection report. The inspector presents his or her findings and observations of practices on the farm or facility as they compare to the organic system plan.
Upon review of the inspection report, the certifying agent will issue an organic certificate that names products that can be sold as organic by that operation. If the inspection revealed areas of noncompliance, the certifier will issue a "notice of noncompliance" and outline areas that need to be addressed before the organic certificate can be issued.
For more information, see What is Organic Certification.
To get an idea of what goes into an Organic System Plan (OSP), please see example templates for Crop and Livestock Farms (PDF) and Market Farms (PDF).
How to Choose an Organic Certifier
It might be helpful to start out by talking with other organic farmers about their experiences with their certifiers. Ask your fellow farmers some basic questions, such as: does the agency answer quickly and clearly, do they complete the certification process in a timely manner?
Next, call a few of the certification agencies that are at the top of your list, and visit their websites to learn more about their services. Make sure you understand their fee structure by requesting the information upfront, and understand what services are included as fees can vary between certifier. Some certifiers may charge an application fee, some may not. Ask if the fees will increase in the future, or if they generally stay the same year after year.
Find a Certifier:
The following table of Accredited Certifying Agents that work in Pennsylvania is current as of March 2020.