Part ll. Does Certification Matter?
If a farm growing to organic standards has a direct relationship with its customers, and has built trust, credibility, and a reliable market, does certification matter? What are the benefits to farmers, and how does certification contribute to supporting the transition to an organic agricultural system?
1) Certification Provides Protection From Co-opting
As the market grows, more conventional and industrial companies and farms are developing “local” and “sustainable” products with glorious labels, professional promotion plans, and prices far lower than any small, organic farmer can produce. Organic certification is crucial to differentiate product and protect farmers and consumers alike from this green washing and eroding of the local and sustainable market.
2) Certification Provides Legal Protection.
Every certified organic farm has an Organic System Plan (OSP)—unique and specific to their individual farm. As an inspected, certified, and federally registered document, an OSP is a respected and credible document in a court of law. Without certification, production claims and statements are hearsay and unconfirmed in a court of law.
1. Chemical Trespass: Minnesota organic farmers Oluf and Debra Johnson had success in 2011 when the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that an organic farm surrounded by chemical-laden conventional farms can seek damages for lost crops, as well as lost profits, caused by the illegal trespassing of pesticides and herbicides on its property.
2. Eminent Domain: In 2006 our organic farm succeeded in a legal proceeding against one of the largest privately owned company in the world, Koch Industries. Because the farm—Gardens of Eagan—was certified, we were able to prevent a crude oil pipeline from crossing our organic fields, and work with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to create and implement an organic mitigation plan providing protections to all certified organic farms in Minnesota. Certification was crucial to this success.
3) Certification Sends A Clear Message To The USDA
Farmers are growing organically and consumers are buying it. The USDA tracks the number of certified organic farms. A growing, quantifiable number of certified organic farms is a strong indicator that organic production is viable: that farmers are achieving it, that consumers want it, and that organic must be supported with research, farm support payments, insurance, and cost share funds. Certification supports the organic movement and is a crucial element in the transition to an organic agricultural system
Affordability of certification is an issue many organic organizations have worked long and hard to ensure through the National Organic Cost Share Program, authorized and appropriated by Congress through the Farm Bill. Certified entities (handlers as well as farmers) are eligible for up to 75% cost share per category for their cost of certification.
Advocate For Organic Farmers
The present 2012 House farm bill would eliminate the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program. Speak up for organic support in the 2012 farm bill. Sign up for action alerts on the Certification Cost Share Program and other issues important to organic farmers and consumers from National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition (NSAC).
© Atina Diffley 2012
Read Part l. A Brief History Of Organic Certification
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Atina Diffley is an organic consultant (Organic Farming Works LLC), educator, public speaker, and author of the 2012 memoir, Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works, published by the University of Minnesota Press. Until 2008, she and her husband Martin ran the Gardens of Eagan, one of the first certified organic produce farms in the Midwest. One of her favorite things in the world is rain.