Transitional organic certification for US farmers

organic farming

A new transitional certification programme for products from farmers who are in the process of becoming organic has been launched in the US.

Using standards developed by Organic Trade Association (OTA), the National Certified Transitional Program (NCTP) will provide certification and oversight to producers who are in transition to organic. It is expected that this will help ease the transition process to organic, allow farmers to sell their products as certified transitional at a premium price and help encourage more organic production.

“This program will help those transitioning to organic agriculture, encourage domestic production of organic products, and ultimately support the continued growth of organic agriculture in the United States,” says Elanor Starmer USDA’s agricultural marketing service administrator.

Demand for organic products has continued to grow by double digits every year and in 2015, total organic product were at a record high of US$43.3 billion, up 11% from the previous year’s record level, according to the OTA. Demand far exceeds the domestic supply of organic ingredients, so the OTA has been engaged in multiple efforts to boost the growth of domestic organic acreage.

Farmers will need to prove their land has been free of prohibited substances for a minimum of 12 months and must follow all other organic production standards to achieve transitional certification, including crop rotation, the fostering and conserving of biodiversity, and the avoidance of the use of genetic engineering.   Once eligible for organic certification, land can only enter into the transitional certification programme one more time. According to the OTA, this provision will ensure that transitional certification acts as an effective step towards organic production rather than a mechanism to create an ‘organic-light’ marketing term.

The new programme does not include certification of products labelled as ‘transitional’ in the marketplace and is limited only to producers working towards their own organic certification. The OTA plans to work with certifiers, food manufacturers, and retailers to develop market-driven guidelines for proper use of the term ‘transitional’ on consumer packaged goods.

This is part of a package of measures to stimulate organic production in the US. Late last year, for example, the USDA announced it would expand the reach of the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program to include transitional certification fees.