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Organic 101: Ensuring Organic Integrity through Inspections

Organic inspector Elizabeth Whitlow at an organic vineyard inspection.  Every organic operation involved between the farm and market is inspected to verify compliance with the USDA organic regulations. Photo courtesy ccof.org.

Organic inspector Elizabeth Whitlow at an organic vineyard inspection. Every organic operation involved between the farm and market is inspected to verify compliance with the USDA organic regulations. Photo courtesy ccof.org.

This is the fifteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

USDA certified organic products are produced and sold around the world, many originating from over 17,700 organic operations right here in the United States. The USDA organic label assures consumers that products have been produced through approved methods and that prohibited substances, like synthetic pesticides, have not been used. I am often asked how the USDA verifies organic claims, and whether organic operations are inspected.

In order to sell, label, or represent products as organic in the United States, operations must be certified. The National Organic Program, part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, accredits private, foreign, and State entities called certifying agents to certify and inspect organic operations.

So how does this all work? First, the operation would apply for certification through a certifying agent. The certifier will ask for information including a history of substances applied to land during the previous three years, and an Organic System Plan describing the practices and substances to be used. The certifier reviews applications to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations, and then an inspector conducts an on-site inspection. Read more »

Soldier-Turned-Farmer Uses Rotational Grazing to Make His Minnesota Ranch Successful & Sustainable

Pete Berscheit uses rotational grazing on his Minnesota farm to improve production while helping the environment. NRCS photo.

Pete Berscheit uses rotational grazing on his Minnesota farm to improve production while helping the environment. NRCS photo.

Pete Berscheit has wanted to farm since he was five. But with three brothers interested in farming, he didn’t think the fourth-generation family farm in Todd County, Minn. would be large enough to support everyone.

So instead of farming, Berscheit joined the Army at 17, where he served for 20 years. Toward the end of his Army career, repeated deployments were starting to take a toll on his young family, and in 2008, he and his wife, Rosemary, decided to return to their roots.

Berscheit and his family bought a place to support a small herd of 40 Black Angus cow and calf pairs, fulfilling his nearly lifelong dream of becoming a farmer. The farm is about three miles from where he grew up in central Minnesota. The farm was a good location and was a good fit for raising a family and starting his ranch. Read more »

A Thorough Discussion about Protecting America’s Forests

Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Arthur “Butch” Blazer moderating a panel on forest health at the 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Arthur “Butch” Blazer moderating a panel on forest health at the 2014 Agricultural Outlook Forum. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

Agroforestry.  When you think of a forest, you don’t think of it in terms of a crop, but in many cases that’s what it is.  The house you live in, the nuts and fruit you eat all comes from trees.  Trees, with their root systems protect soils and soften the effects of wind.  They help hold water.

The Forest Products industry contributes 4.5 percent of U.S. manufacturing’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), produces $200 billion in products a year, provides jobs for nearly 900,000 people and is one of the top ten manufacturers in 47 states. No forests, no nuts, no windbreaks, no topsoil. Read more »