The National Organic Program (NOP), under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, accredits private businesses, organizations and state agencies who will certify organic producers and handlers.
Why You Need Certification
In many cases, certification is the law if you plan to grow, process or sell your own organic products. It's typically mandatory if your gross sales top $5,000 a year. All online vendors of organic goods must also be certified, regardless of revenues.
Beyond legal requirements, certification simply lends you credibility. Anyone can claim that their pumpkin is organic, but consumers are savvy these days and they want some assurance. Certification is less important for some businesses than for others, however. It can be crucial for farms, but it's less important for retail stores selling organic products that are offered by farms and, in fact, certification is not required for these businesses. Nor is it required for small businesses with sales that fall under the $5,000 threshold, or for distributors or traders.
Although they may not have to be certified, these businesses must nonetheless meet certain USDA organic regulations.
Availability of Certifying Agents
As of 2017, there are 48 domestic organic certifying agencies in the U.S., as well as 32 foreign accredited certifying agents. An additional 21 are recognized by agreements between the U.S. and their countries.
Keep in mind that the number of U.S. organic certifying agencies can change frequently. Some may lose their certification accreditation. If you considered certification last year and had an agency in mind, check its USDA standing again.
What to Look for in an Agent
Unless you're planning on selling to foreign markets, closer is better. A major benefit of a nearby U.S. agency is that it can quickly assist you in getting the help you need during the certification process.
You'll also want to take cost into consideration. Fee structures can vary.
How to Find the Right Agency
NOP provides an easy-to-search listing of all agencies to help you locate the right one for you. It's one matter to locate an agent, but it's something else entirely to find the right agency and agent to meet your unique needs. Consider talking to other farmers or business owners who certify products that closely relate to what you grow or manufacture. See if you can get the honest scoop on nearby agencies from your peers.