How to Become Certified Organic
Certifiers are responsible for making sure that USDA organic products meet all organic standards. There are five basic steps to organic certification:
The farm or business adopts organic practices, selects a USDA-accredited certifying agent, and submits an application and fees to the certifying agent. Nearly 80 agents are currently authorized to certify farms and businesses to the USDA organic regulations. Most USDA-accredited certifying agents are allowed to certify farms and businesses anywhere in the world. Farmers, ranchers, and processors may choose to work with any USDA-accredited certifying agent.
The certifying agent reviews the application to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations.
An inspector conducts an on-site inspection of the applicant’s operation.The certifying agent reviews the application and the inspector’s report to determine if the applicant complies with the USDA organic regulations.
The certifying agent issues organic certificate.
To maintain organic certification, your certified organic farm or business will go through an annual review and inspection process. If your operation is not located in the U.S., see our International Trade page to learn about your options for organic certification.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Much Does Organic Certification Cost?
Actual certification costs or fees vary widely depending on the certifying agent and the size, type, and complexity of your operation. Certification costs may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Before you apply, ask your certifier for a fee structure and billing cycle. Typically, there is an application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment on annual production or sales, and inspection fees.
Once you are certified, the USDA Organic Certification Cost-Share Programs can reimburse eligible operations up to 75 percent of their certification costs.
Is There a Transition Period?
Yes. Any land used to produce raw organic commodities must not have had prohibited substances applied to it for the past three years. Until the full 36-month transition period is met, you may not:
Sell, label, or represent the product as “organic”
Use the USDA organic or certifying agent’s seal
USDA provides technical and financial assistance during the transition period through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Or, access a variety of funding options, conservation programs, and other programs and services for the organic sector on the USDA Organic Portal.
Organic Certification Cost Share Programs
USDA provides organic certification cost share opportunities for organic producers and handlers. Beginning March 20, 2017, organic producers and handlers can visit over 2,100 USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices to apply for federal reimbursement to assist with the cost of receiving and maintaining organic certification.
FSA will offer two organic certification cost share programs to assist certified organic operations in defraying the costs associated with organic certification. Organic operations may receive up to 75 percent of their certification costs paid during October 1, 2016 through September 30, 2017; not to exceed $750 per certification scope. The Request for Applications will be available in March 2017.
Program options include:
National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP): The NOCCSP is available to producers and handlers (e.g., all four scopes of certification) in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, the American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the United States Virgin Islands.
Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Organic Certification Cost Share Program: The AMA is available to certified organic producers (only crop and livestock operators) in 16 states designated by Congress which include: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.