Area farmers and gardeners ask about organic rules

17 years ago

A remarkable change in agriculture is the growth of the organic market. And the adoption of certification standards in the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) has more clearly defined what constitutes organic production for marketing and labeling purposes.
    “Certified organic” means that a certification agency (accredited by USDA) has verified that the product meets NOP standards. Maine’s certification agency is the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), a non-governmental organization that has been certifying organic farms since 1972.
The NOP permits a “split” operation – an operation producing or handling both organic and non-organic (conventionally-produced) products. The producer must maintain separate records, sufficient buffer zones, and prevent contact with prohibited substances.
Production records must be kept for five years. The certified organic grower’s records should show vendors, brand names, and quantities for ingredients (inputs) and organic product sales. The field from which organic products are sold must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for a period of three years preceding harvest of agricultural products. The product must be produced without use of synthetic chemicals.
Examples of synthetic materials include the fertilizers ammonium nitrate and ammonium phosphate, and the pesticides diquat and mancozeb. Examples of non-synthetic materials (allowed in organic production) include manure, compost, bone meal, colloidal phosphate, “Sul-Po-Mag,” calcium carbonate, and wood ashes.
Non-synthetic pesticides such as spinosad, pyrethrum, and copper sulfate are allowed in organic crop production — if other pest and disease management measures are insufficient. Copper sulfate may only be used in a manner that minimizes accumulation of copper in the soil.
Based on Cornell University reports, copper gives “fair to good” control for late blight, but must be applied often and thoroughly. Under a heavy copper spray program, toxic topsoil levels could be reached in just a few decades.
Organic producers manage soil fertility through rotations, cover crops, and application of plant and animal materials. Soil tests are needed to assess soil nutrients.
Of the organic farm and garden soil tests processed by the University of Maine Soil Testing Service in 2006, 38 percent were excessive for phosphorus. Phosphorus can “migrate” in spring and storm runoff and produce excess algae in our streams and lakes.
Farmers producing crops organically will face new demands. Certification may create some additional paperwork, but should not be viewed as a barrier to what may be a rewarding enterprise.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service has prepared a circular “Producing Organic Potatoes in Maine.” Click on Fact Sheets at
    Steve Sutter of Presque Isle is a Certified Organic Farm Inspector.