Baystate Organic Certifiers focuses solely on certification of organic operations and is a National Organic Program accredited organic certifying agent owned and operated by Massachusetts Independent Certification, Inc. (MICI). MICI is a non-profit business dedicated to sustainable agriculture and food certification organized as a 501(c)3 corporation. MICI is dedicated to providing affordable certification services to farms using sustainable agriculture practices and to food processing and handling operations that purchase sustainable agriculture products.
Baystate Organic Certifiers is accredited by the National Organic Program to certify organic crop, livestock, and organic wild crop production as well as organic handlers (processors). General information on certification and the certification process is below.
TOP QUESTIONS & ITEMS:
- Who has to be certified?
- The $5,000 Exemption
- How do I get certified?
- Application Deadlines
- Renewing Certification
- Ordering Hardcopies of the Program Manual & Application Forms
WHO HAS TO BE CERTIFIED?
The National Organic Standards require that any grower, livestock producer, or product handler or processor that markets their products as organic must be certified by an accredited certifying agent. Farmers and organic businesses may apply for certification to any accredited certifying agent that certifies in their state. Certification fees and certification procedures vary between certifying agents, so a farmer or business contemplating certification may want to check out several certifying agents before deciding which agent to apply to.
THE $5,000 EXEMPTION
Per section 205.101 of the National Organic Standards, farms and businesses whose gross agricultural income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less annually are exempt from the requirement to be certified. However, exempt farms and businesses must comply with all of the applicable organic production and handling requirements of the Organic Standards and the products from exempt operations shall not be used as organic in processed products produced by an organic handling operation.
HOW DO I GET CERTIFIED?
Applicants for certification should familiarize themselves with the certification procedures of Baystate Organic Certifiers (BOC) and the organic standards of the National Organic Program. This information is contained in the Baystate Organic Certifiers Program Manual which may be downloaded from this website, or which can be ordered from our office. All applicants must submit an application packet (the Organic System Plan) which describes their operation in significant detail, and pay the certification fee for the year. Application forms may be downloaded from this website or ordered from our office.
Once an application packet is received it is checked to make sure all of the required information is present and a confirmation letter is sent to the applicant along with a receipt for the certification fee if the fee is paid in full. The application packet is then sent to a Certification Administrator or Specialist for technical review. The reviewer makes sure that the application packet meets the requirements of the National Organic Program. If it does not, the applicant is contacted to provide additional information.
Once the technical review is complete, an onsite inspection is scheduled at a time that is mutually convenient for the applicant and the inspector. The inspector usually spends 2-4 hours at an operation, verifying that all of the information in the application is correct, and the operation is in compliance with the National Organic Standards. At the end of the inspection, the inspector reviews any questionable items or noncompliances with the applicant, then the inspector submits their report to BOC.
A Baystate Administrator or Specialist reviews the inspector's report and any additional information from the application packet, plus the initial technical review, and makes a certification decision. Certification is either granted, granted with conditions, or denied.
In extreme cases, BOC will deny organic certification to an applicant if there are major noncompliances with the National Organic Standards at the applicant's farm or business.
The entire certification process can take as little as 4 weeks to complete for an operation that is prepared for certification, and has made arrangements for expedited certification. On average, the process takes 8-10 weeks from receipt of a complete application until a certification decision is made. If you need expedited organic certification, contact our office and we will work with you to see if meeting your deadline is feasible. We do not have additional charges for expedited certification at this time.
Growers and Livestock producers may submit an application for certification at any time throughout the year. However, the certification inspection must take place at a time when the certified crop or livestock may be observed. Therefore, certification may be delayed in some cases until an appropriate inspection may take place. Handlers and processors may submit their applications at any time of the year and do not have to submit their application for any deadline. Handler and processor applications are typically processed in the order they are received.
BOC does encourage growers and livestock producers to submit applications for one of our 3 deadline dates: February 15th, March 15th, and May 1st. Growers and livestock producers who submit applications for these deadlines will receive a certification decision by May 1st, June 1st, and July 1st respectively.
In addition, growers and livestock producers who submit applications for these deadlines may split their certification fee into two payments. 50% or more must be paid at the time of the application. The other remaining percentage must be paid on August 1st for operations that apply for the February 15th deadline, or on September 1st for operations that apply for the March 15th or the May 1st deadline,
Organic Cost Share Reimbursement payments must be made by September 30th each year in order for the payments to be eligible for reimbursement.
Certification must be renewed annually and all application information updated. Renewal application packets are mailed at least one (1) month before an operation's renewal certification date. Renewal applications are due normally one year after the date than an initial application was submitted for certification. That means that if you submit your application on February 15th one year, the renewal application and renewal fee payment will be due on February 15th the next year.
There are two exceptions to this policy. First, spring farm renewal applications are grouped into one of three dates – February 15th, March 15th and May 1st. Second, handler renewals are scheduled no later than June 1st and fall renewals do not begin until October 1st. No renewal applications are due between June 1st and September 30th in any given certification year.
Extensions are not granted for filing renewal applications. An automatic extension has been built into our Fee Schedule giving our certified operations three weeks to submit their renewal application before they are charged a late fee.
ORDERING HARDCOPIES OF THE APPLICATION FORMS
Hard-copies of the application forms can be obtained by contacting Eric Hanson at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (401) 835-2210.
There are three major grower categories of certification: Crop Production, Wild Crop Production and Livestock Production. There are also sub-categories of both Crop & Livestock Production. The Program Manual and Application Forms for New Crop, and Livestock Production can be downloaded below. Make sure you read the category descriptions carefully when downloading forms. Forms are in both Microsoft Word (.DOC) and Adobe Reader (.PDF) format. NOTE: only one Fee Worksheet needs to be filled out, no matter how many categories of production you are certifying.
ORDERING HARDCOPIES OF THE PROGRAM MANUAL
Hardcopies of the Baystate Program Manual may be ordered by sending a check to our main office (1220 Cedarwood Circle, North Dighton, MA 02764). Price including shipping is $25 per manual. Any questions, please contact Lauren Sandstrom (917) 957-0979 or Jillian Zeigler (607) 245-6386.
Section 205.103 of the National Organic Standards specifies that certified operations must maintain records concerning the production, harvesting, and handling of agricultural products that are or that are intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as 100% organic, organic, or made with organic ingredients. Records must fully disclose all activities and transactions of the certified operation in sufficient detail as to be readily understood and audited.
It is the responsibility of the certifying agent to determine if an operation's recordkeeping meets the standards. However, the certifying agent cannot mandate or otherwise require a certain type of recordkeeping system. It is the responsibility of the certified operation to set up and maintain a recordkeeping that works for the operation. Some new applicants have trouble setting up a recordkeeping system. ATTRA (Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas) has developed documentation forms for recordkeeping that meet the requirements of the National Organic Standards.
Free copies of these forms can be obtained by calling 1-800-346-9140 or by visiting the ATTRA website at www.attra.ncat.org. Besides recordkeeping forms, ATTRA has many other free publications that deal with organic farming and organic livestock management.
The National Organic Standards prohibit Baystate Organic Certifiers from conducting organic consulting for its clients. If you are looking for assistance completing the organic application forms, and you live in Massachusetts, you can get assistance from the NOFA-MA. Outside of Massachusetts, you can contact the Organic Trade Association for a list of consultants that are members of the trade association. See our Links & Labels page.
Eric Hanson of Baystate Organic Certifiers works with new farms and businesses interested in organic certification and can answer your questions or recommend someone who can answer your questions. Contact Eric at: email@example.com or (401)835-2210.