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5 Steps to Organic Certification

The certification cycle can be broken down into the five steps. Click each step below to learn more. We also offer a printable document that explains the 5 steps in English and Español

Obtaining and maintaining organic certification is an ongoing process.  It starts when an operation creates and implements an organic system plan, which is reviewed and inspected by an accredited organic certifier on an annual basis.  

According to the USDA Organic Regulations, applicants must compete an Organic System Plan (OSP) to apply for certification.  The application for certification is the OSP. An OSP covers all aspects of your operation. It describes your operation’s production practices and ability to comply with the regulations. It is essential for receiving and maintaining organic certification. 

To obtain an application from QCS, you can download a free copy from our document library; or contact QCS and ask for a printed or free electronic copy.

Once approved, the organic system plan functions as an agreement with QCS about how the operation will comply with the regulations. Return your completed application with applicable fee payment forms and fees to QCS to begin the review process.

Watch the brief video below to hear organic producers share their experiences completing their Organic System Plan.

During initial review, a QCS certification reviewer will look over your Organic System Plan application for completeness and determine if it demonstrates the ability to comply with USDA Organic Regulations.  QCS will contact you if further information is needed to clarify, complete, or modify the plan. Prompt responses to QCS’ information requests will ensure timely consideration of the application. If QCS determines that the plan demonstrates the ability to comply, the application moves next stage of the certification process—the inspection.

After the initial review, a certified inspector will contact you to schedule an on-site inspection of your operation at a time that is mutually agreed to.  The inspector assesses the accuracy and implementation of the Organic System Plan by observing the physical operation and related records, and evaluating risks to organic integrity. It’s best to set aside several hours for the inspection. The inspector will summarize their observations at the end of the inspection in an exit interview. They’ll then submit a standard written report to QCS for final review. You’ll also receive a copy of the inspection report.

Watch the brief video below for examples of what an inspector will look for at a crop operation. You can also view our printable Are You Ready for Inspection? document to learn how to prepare for your inspection.

Once the inspection is complete, a QCS certification reviewer will conduct a final review of the Organic System Plan application and inspection report before making the final certification decision.  If additional information is needed to demonstrate compliance, a reviewer will contact you with a reasonable deadline for submission. Operations having minor issues of noncompliance are given the opportunity to address them.  Organic certification is granted when the final reviewer determines a compliant OSP is in place on paper and in practice. 

Once you have been certified, you can market and sell your products as organic. Organic certification is based on the implementation of the Organic System Plan agreed to and approved by QCS. Maintaining certification is an ongoing process and not a single event. Certified operations must update the OSP when there are changes in policies, procedures, products, or inputs; and must inform QCS of any incidents that impact the organic integrity of the operation or the products it produces. Annually, certified operations must provide an updated OSP, undergo on-site inspection, and pay applicable fees.

Watch the brief video below to learn more about renewing your certification.

The Organic Integrity Learning Center is a free online educational platform created by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). It offers courses on a range of topics regarding organic certification. Click the button below to create a free account, register for courses, and start learning!

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