University of Vermont

UVM Fruit

Tree Fruit: Organic Basics

About the USDA/National Organic Program (NOP)

Components of Program

There are 5 important components to the USDA NOP Organic Certification Program that producers considering becoming ‘certified organic’ should be aware of. They are:

  • Mandatory Certification
  • Practice based Standards
  • Required Organic System Plan
  • Use of Approved Substances
  • On-site Inspection

Mandatory Certification- Any producer who wants to label their product organic, must be certified in order to use the word ‘organic’ to describe how the product was grown. If a producer has less than $5000 worth of sales, they may use the word organic if they follow the NOP Guidelines, but they are not required to be certified.

Practice Based Standards – The NOP standards are found on their website. It is important to note that the USDA NOP Organic Certification Program applies to the practices used to grow the product. From the NOP website -“USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Organic food differs from conventionally produced food in the way it is grown, handled, and processed.”

Required Organic System Plan- Every producer must have a written plan that describes farm production and handling systems. The NOP requires the following to be included in an organic system plan:

  • A description of farming practices and procedures
  • A list of all input substances
  • Monitoring practices and procedures
  • A description of the record keeping system
  • Practices and barriers to prevent co-mingling with conventional produce and contact with prohibited substances
  • Any additional information needed to document NOP compliance.

Use of Approved Substances Only- The NOP has a list of approved substances that are allowed to be used in the growing of certified organic produce. Not all naturally occurring substances are approved, for example, arsenic and tobacco dust are prohibited. Conversely there are some synthetic substances that are approved for use in an organic production system, for example copper sulfate, lime sulfur, horticultural oils. It is important to check on any substance that you wish to use in your system plan. You can find the list of approved substances at . The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) maintains a list of approved substances (see links below). IMPORTANT: If there is any doubt about a substance that you wish to use, you should check with your certifying agency for up to date information.

On-site Inspection- Your certifying agency will require an on-site inspection. The inspector will review your organic system plan, maps, fields, storage spaces and recordkeeping. The inspector reports their findings to the certifying agency who makes the final decision about your certification.

For further information on becoming a certified organic producer check with your local certifying agency

Last modified March 31 2014 04:57 PM