USDA announced a new certification designed to make the transition from conventional to organic production easier for farmers. This National Certified Transitional Program will further enable U.S. farmers to meet the growing demand for organic products.
USDA will oversee accredited organic certifying agents, who will be authorized to offer transitional certification to producers. This is expected to help those transitioning to organic, lead to expanded certified organic acreage in the United States, and create consistency in documentation of operations’ adherence to organic regulations on land in transition to organic. It will ultimately support the continued growth of organic agriculture in the United States.
As it stands, farmers must undergo a rigorous transition period of three years before they can become certified organic and market their products as such. The new program will harmonize existing transitional certification programs currently operated by accredited certifying agents, and provide a mechanism for additional certifiers to offer this service. This can help farmers overcome barriers such as decreased yields during transition, as well as qualify them for federal grants previously out of reach.
Farmers will need to prove their land has been free of prohibited substances for at least a year, and must follow all other organic production standards, in order to achieve transitional certification. These standards include crop rotation, fostering and conserving biodiversity, and avoiding the use of genetic engineering. Once land is eligible for organic certification, it can only enter the transitional program once more – ensuring that transitional certification acts as an on-ramp to organic production, rather than a mechanism to create an “organic-light” label.
The new program does not include certification of products labeled as transitional – and is limited only to producers working toward organic certification. This dovetails with USDA’s announcement that it would expand the reach of the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program to include transitional certification fees.