, supporters of Nick’s Organic Farm have .
, Patch talked to Deanna Baldwin, program manager for the Maryland Department of Agriculture Food Quality Assurance program, about what it takes for a farmer to have his production certified organic.
Patch: Why is there a need to certify organic farms?
Baldwin: Prior to 2002, a farm could label their product as organic without any oversight or compliance with standard requirements unless a State had an organic program. Consumers really had no idea what standards if any a producer was following when buying products labeled organic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations in 2002 requiring all farmers labeling their product as organic to follow the same standards. The NOP requirement for certification of organic farms provides assurance to consumers that products labeled organic are being produced following the national standards.
Patch: What is the certification process like? Is there a time line involved, and how long -- from start to finish -- would the process take?
Baldwin: Prior to obtaining certification, a farm must have three consecutive years without application of any synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or any other prohibited substances applied to the fields. The organic farm then applies for certification to a USDA accredited certifier. (The Maryland Department of Agriculture is an accredited certifier.) The application process requires the submission of an organic system plan which details how the farmer will meet the requirements of the NOP regulations. The plan must include substances to be used to produce organic crops, methods of improving soil quality, seed and plant sources, crop rotation plans and methods of preventing contamination of organic crops.
Patch: Why the three-year time period?
Baldwin: The three-year time period was established in the NOP regulations to reduce residues from any prohibited substances.
Patch: What is the most difficult part of getting an organic farm up and going?
Baldwin: The three-year transition period can be difficult because the farmer must follow all of the provisions of the NOP regulations but cannot charge the premium organic price for their product.
Complying with the NOP regulations requires extensive recordkeeping of all steps in the production of the organic crop. Developing this recordkeeping system is also very difficult for some of the organic farmers depending on the complexity of their operation.
Patch: Can an organic farm go up anywhere? Are there places or qualities that are better or worse for organic farm placement?
Baldwin: Yes, an organic farm can go up any place a traditional farm could go up, assuming there’s no local zoning issues.
Organic farmers are required to prevent inadvertent application of prohibited substances or methods to their crops. If their farm is adjacent to land where synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used, they must prevent drift from prohibited substances to organic crops by the use of buffer zones, natural barriers, etc.
It is easier to establish an organic farm in an area where no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used.
Patch: How many farms has Department of Agriculture certified as organic?
Baldwin: The Maryland Department of Agriculture currently has 85 farms certified as organic.
Patch: Does the Maryland Department of Agriculture think organic farms are an important part of local agriculture? Why or why not?
Baldwin: Maryland Department of Agriculture supports all forms of agriculture across the state. Any type of well-managed agricultural land provides many more environmental benefits than developed land.