The US Department of Agriculture’s new National Certified Transitional Program will use standards developed by the Organic Trade Association that take into account each stage of the supply line to oversee and approve accredited agents offering transitional organic certification to producers.
While some companies already offer such certification, their standards vary widely. Under USDA’s National Certified Transition Program, however, these programs will be harmonized “through a consistent set of rules,” according to OTA citing USDA. The program also will provide a clear mechanism for additional certifiers to offer their services to producers, OTA adds in a same day release.
Beyond providing consistency, the new program aims to help producers moving towards organic and encourage others to follow suit by empowering them to charge a premium over conventionally grown crops. During the transition period, many farmers experience decreased yields compared to when they used conventional techniques, but they cannot yet charge the full premium of certified organic to compensate. This creates a financial hardship for farmers in transition and discourages others from pursuing organic farming.
With a certification from a USDA Process Verified Program approved agency, farmers could more easily facilitate long-term contracts with suppliers and manufacturers by assuring the buyers that their product meets all organic production standards other than the full three-year transition period.
Certification also could help famers qualify for some federal agricultural grants that have been out of reach without proof of transition.
To qualify for the certification, farmers will need to prove to certifying agents that their land has been free of prohibited substances for at least one year and they meet other organic product standards, including crop rotation, fostering and conserving biodiversity and avoiding genetic engineering, according to OTA.
USDA, in turn, will require certifying agents to pass audits and use uniform transition production standards for crops and livestock, the trade group explained.
To protect against abuse of the transitional certification by farmers who pursue a premium with no intention of becoming fully certified organic, land will only be allowed into the transitional certification program once after it is eligible for organic certification.
The USDA program will not include marketing labels for transitional products. This part remains a work in progress for OTA and other stakeholders, according to the trade group.
Companies interested in becoming USDA Accredited Certifying Agents have through Feb. 28, 2017, to apply for the first round.