USDA's new transitional certification program to drive organic growth -

USDA's new transitional certification program to drive organic growth

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USDA's new transitional certification program to drive organic growth

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has announced a new partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help guide farmers transitioning into certified organic agricultural production. Organic4colorsealJPG

Using standards developed by OTA, the National Certified Transitional Program (NCTP) will provide oversight to approved Accredited Organic Certifying Agents offering transitional certification to producers.

The group said the announcement was an "important step" in helping to expand certified organic acreage in the U.S., and would help ease the transition process to organic, allow farmers to sell their products as certified transitional at a premium price and help encourage more organic production.

The organization designed the certified transitional program to create a consistent mechanism for certifying agencies to document operations' adherence to organic regulations on land in transition to organic status.

The new program provides certification and oversight to producers who are in transition to organic. It does not provide standards or criteria for labeling products certified under the program.

"The transitional certification program developed by OTA reflects perspectives from across the supply chain, and will provide an on-ramp to producers while safeguarding organic as the gold standard of food label claims," OTA farm policy directly Nate Lewis said.

Meanwhile, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service administrator Elanor Starmer said the program will those help those transitioning to organic agriculture, encourage domestic production of organic products, and ultimately support the continued growth of organic agriculture in the country.

In a Notice to the Trade published by the USDA, the department said the new program "will facilitate the investment in transitional agriculture through a consistent set of rules."

Farmers must undergo a rigorous and sometimes challenging transition period of 36 months before they can gain organic certification and market their products as certified organic.

This newly created program at the USDA will harmonize existing transitional certification programs currently operated by Accredited Certifying Agents and provide a mechanism for additional certifiers to offer this service to new clients.

The program is recognized by the USDA Quality Systems Assessment Program, housed within the Agricultural Marketing Service branch. USDA will accredit organic certification agencies that comply with the National Certified Transitional Program criteria, enabling those agencies to conduct certification of producers operating in accordance with the OTA-developed standards.

Demand for organic products has continued to grow by double digits every year, far exceeding the domestic supply of organic ingredients.

The OTA has been engaged in multiple efforts to boost the growth of domestic organic acreage and sees a harmonized transitional certification program overseen by the USDA as a "critical piece of this complicated puzzle."

An application was submitted to the USDA in May 2016–after over a year of work on behalf of its members through a Transitional task force--to create the transitional certification program, thereby building the foundation for a potential market for transitional products. 

A transitional product market can offer premiums to farmers in transition and assist in the financial barriers that transition poses.



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