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The certification process for Organic Farming

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Have you considered going organic? Ever wanted to know what steps are involved to gain the certification?
Listed below is the organic certification process as listed by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

Organic certification organisations may vary in the way they handle certification, but the following points are a general guide to the process.

First obtain a copy of the organic standards and fee structure from one or more of the certifying organisations. Some certifiers have this information available free of charge from their web site. It is important to read and understand the standards. They are the 'rules' that have to be complied with to achieve and maintain certification. If any aspects of the standards are unclear, clarification should be sought from the relevant organisation.

Contact & application
To decide which certification scheme to join, speak with other certified growers for advice or contact a number of the certifiers for more information to judge their suitability.
Obtain an application form from the preferred certification organisation. This and other relevant information is available freely from some certifiers' web sites. The completed application form, and fee if required, is returned to the organisation if the applicant agrees with the standards and agrees to comply with them.

A comprehensive questionnaire will be sent to the applicant, requesting information on the management of the enterprise to be certified. For primary production, this includes chemical use, cultivation practices, fertiliser inputs and other nutrient management strategies, pest control methods, crop types and rotations. The risk of chemical contamination from neighbouring properties and other sources is also of interest.
The questionnaire is to be completed and returned together with a map of the property clearly showing the location of areas to be certified. Some organisations require a statutory declaration to be signed, to add legal strength to the certification and licensing process.

The applicant is then contacted to arrange a visit by an experienced inspector. The inspector will usually:
help fill in any gaps in the questionnaire;
inspect the area or facility to be certified and note any problems such as major weeds and risks of contamination (e.g. spray drift on farms or fruit residue in packing lines);
examine the soil condition and management practices; and
collect samples of soil or products if required for chemical residue analysis.

Application review
The questionnaire, inspection report and soil or produce test results will then be considered by the certifying organisation which will either offer certification, or reject the application if there is good reason to do so.

Once accepted, the applicant will be offered a contract of certification. This states the obligations of the applicant and certifying organisation in the event that the contract is accepted. The contract may include conditions necessary for the maintenance of certification, information on the use of certification labels or logos and annual licence fees or levies if they apply.
Organic certification and the right to use the certifying organisation's labels or logos and to promote produce as certified, may be withdrawn if the contract is broken. This could occur for example if a product or practice prohibited under the organic production standards is used.

Certification levels
There are currently two levels of certification relevant to primary production, preceded by a 'lead-in' period:
'Pre-certification' commences once the initial contract is signed and applies for one year. This lead-in period allows applicants to demonstrate that they can manage their enterprise in compliance with the organic standards. During pre-certification, no claims can be made regarding the organic status of the enterprise or its products. This means that certification cannot be sought to cover a crop that is about to be harvested.
'Conversion to organic' is achieved when an enterprise successfully completes pre-certification and the associated audits and inspections. The length of the conversion period depends on the history of the enterprise and current management practices. It could last several years as it takes time to develop a good organic production system. Produce from enterprises in the conversion phase can carry a 'Conversion to organic' label and can be promoted as being in conversion to organic.
'Certified Organic' and ‘Certified Bio-dynamic’ are the top levels of certification and are achieved once all relevant requirements of the standards have been met for a minimum of three years. Produce can be labelled and promoted as being Certified Organic or Bio-dynamic.

Annual audit
Once certification is achieved, compliance with the standards must continue for the certified status to be maintained. Certified enterprises are reinspected annually to verify that the standards are being met.

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