A farm can’t become organic overnight. It takes time–three years to be exact–for soil to be considered organic (and for a farmer to price their crops accordingly). During this time, a farmer must comply with costly organic regulations, while not being able to price their crops at higher organic rates. This expensive combination of increased expenses without increased revenue (not to mention the high cost of receiving an organic certification) leaves farmers in the difficult position of knowing that organic practices are better for our environment, and quite frankly wanting to sell higher priced organic crops, but not knowing how to get there. The USDA may have a solution.
USDA National Certified Transitional Program (NCTP)
On January 11th, the USDA made this transition easier with the introduction of the National Certified Transitional Program (NCTP), which will support farmers in their transition toward becoming an organic farm. Using standards developed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), accredited agents will oversee the transition and enable farmers to sell their produce, meat and dairy at higher prices even before receiving their organic certification. With this support, we will likely see more farmers adopting organic farming and production practices, including decreased pesticide use and the avoidance of genetically engineering.
How NCTP works
The transitional certification truly represents a pathway to organic certification. Farmers will only be able to apply for the certification once their soil has been free of pesticides and fertilizers for at least one year, and they are engaging in other organic practices such as crop rotation and more to preserve soil. A farm will not be allowed to maintain a permanent “transitional” certification. Rather, the certification will only be used as support in their journey toward becoming organic. This is to prevent a farmer from adopting a secondary (or modified) version of organic that can be confusing to consumers.
Will I see an NCTP label in my supermarket?
While transitional programs have existed with corporate support, this is the first time a set of standards for transition have been written by the USDA. It is important to recognize however, that the USDA has not presently developed a transitional organic label. That said, such a label does currently exist as it has been produced by Quality Assurance International (QAI) and can be found today at your local supermarket.
Don’t forget your small, local farmer
While the rising popularity of organic produce is undeniable, so is the increased interest in local goods. Whether at your farm stand or your local supermarket, you can find the produce, meat and dairy produced where you live by nearby farms. In many cases, these very small farms are engaging in organic practices. However, a small farm (with less than $5,000 annual income) is exempt from requiring the organic certification. Please keep this in mind when you are considering whether to support your small local farmer. Ask questions to learn about their growing practices and support their efforts to grow organic produce and protect your environment.