On the Road to Organic, USDA Launches ‘Certified Transitional’ Program for Farmers in Between

On the Road to Organic, USDA to Launch ‘Certified Transitional’ Program for Farmers
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In a partnership with the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced plans this week to develop a National Certified Transitional Program (NCTP). The certification program will offer growers and producers transitioning from conventional to organic farming the opportunity to market and promote their products as premiums while on the path toward full compliance with the USDA National Organic Program.

The road to becoming a certified organic producer takes most farmers three years. But in that transitional time (the length of time it takes soil to clear the certification requirements), many farmers give up using pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides and other chemicals and practices not approved under the organic label–a value add for customers looking for cleaner products. But until now, there’s been no way of knowing which products qualified for that distinction.

According to the USDA, it will work with select third-party certifying agencies to begin conducting the NCTP inspections, the criteria of which were established by the OTA more than a year ago. The agency will accept applications for the first round from accredited certifying agents through the end of February.

According to the OTA, it submitted an application to USDA last May after a year of work toward the NCTP label criteria. The program will involve agent-led inspections and uniform production standards for both crop and livestock producers.

“Farmers will need to prove their land has been free of prohibited substances (synthetic pesticides and fertilizers) 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,” OTA said in a statement. “Once eligible for organic certification, land can only enter into the transitional certification program one more time. This provision, unique to the standards developed by OTA, will ensure that transitional certification acts as an effective on-ramp to organic production rather than a mechanism to create an ‘organic-light’ marketing term.”

While the OTA will work with numerous certifying agents, food manufacturers, and retailers, the certification will only apply to farmers and producers working toward organic certification; the NCTP compliance is not expected appear on product labels.

Last spring, the Kellogg’s-owned Kashi brand and organic certifying agency QAI partnered on a “Certified Transitional” label that highlighted products in the Kashi family on their way to reaching full organic status.

In December, the USDA announced plans to reimburse transitional farmers for some of the costs associated with achieving organic certification. Eligibility begins in March.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.