Certification FAQs

What is Organic Food?

Organic food is food that is grown and processed without the use of synthetic chemicals. Organic crops are grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides for at least three years prior to harvest. Cover crops, compost and other natural fertilizers are used for maintaining soil fertility; biological control and natural pesticides are used for pest control. Organic livestock production requires that animals are fed organic feed, have access to pasture or the outside, and prohibits the use of antibiotics and hormones.

Where do organic standards come from?

To prevent the confusion of all 50 states developing separate organic standards, the differences of which could be significant, as well as international standards that must be considered, the USDA, in cooperation with the organic community and industry, has been involved in establishing a set of national organic standards. This has become critical to clarify the meaning of “organic” for everyone involved. With national standards, organic producers across the country can follow the same guidelines and meet universal standards.

Who has to be certified?

Production, processing/handling and livestock operations whose products are intended to be sold, labeled or represented as organic, 100% organic, or made with organic ingredients. The only exceptions to this are those producers or handlers with less than $5000 in annual gross organic sales.

How do I qualify to become an organic producer or processor?

For producers, the land shall have no prohibited substances applied to it for a period of three years immediately preceding the harvest of the crop.

What are the organic standards?

NICS follows the USDA’s National Organic Program Rule. You can access the rule by clicking here..

Can I certify only part of my farm as organic?

Yes, a farm can be certified field by field, but clear buffer zones must be present between organic and non-organic fields.

Will my certification be recognized by other states and private certifiers?

State organic programs and private certifiers accept certifications issued by USDA accredited or recognized certification programs. All USDA accredited state organic programs and private certifiers accept certifications issued by each other that are based on the National Organic Standards.

Can pesticides/fertilizers be used in organic crop production?

Yes, provided that they are on the National List of allowed substances for organic production. You may also check the OMRI generic and name brand list. Generic and brand names are sent on request.

Can genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) be certified as organic?

No, GMO’s cannot be certified organic.

What is a buffer zone?

It is land that adjoins an organically managed area that serves to protect the area from contamination by prohibited materials.