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Inspections 101

We need to inspect each certified operation–farms and processors–every year.  The person who comes to your farm to is the inspector.  We hire several people part-time people to do inspections.  Occasionally, the person doing your inspection is a full-time certification staffer such as myself.  This person, the inspector, does no certifying per se, he or she is there to observe, poke around, ask lots of questions, compare your written plan with what is actually happening, and write a report that is submitted to folks in the certification office.  Granting or suspending certification are larger processes, and the inspector does neither.

If you were certified last year, renewed your paperwork and sent in fees, you are still certified this year.  Certification does not expire.  However, you may surrender your certificate.  And, we may suspend or revoke your certificate.  But we can’t do the latter without an exchange of notices by certified mail.  This is all explained in the Rule–section

If the inspector finds problems or things that are not up to the requirements of the regulation, the folks in the office (I am one of them) will write you about it.  Generally, we give you deadlines to respond and most issues are resolved.  Issues that are ignored, problems that remain unresolved, and major non-conformities with the regulation result in our sending you a non-compliance notice, by certified mail or carrier, which begins a process that may result in the loss of certification for part or all of an operation.

Farms are generally inspected during the growing season–April through September.  Sometimes an inspector comes later, but that is not typical.   If you are certified for vegetables, as many of our certified farms are, the inspector does not have to be at your farm every year as the first tomato ripens.  In fact, we think it is good to vary the arrival, some years inspecting early, when seedlings are started and fields tilled, and other years to arrive later to look at late season cover crops and winter crop storage.  The inspector’s arrival does not impact whether your tomatoes are certified or not.  If you were certified to produce organic tomatoes last year and we have not suspended your certificate (this process involves several notices), then your tomatoes are still certified this year.  That you had a terrific crop of tomatoes in the summer of 2010 is expected to be verifiable in the records you keep, and not dependent on whether an inspector saw them or not, although we do try to get inspectors to you while your fields are in peak glory.  We enjoy seeing the fruits of your labor as much as you want to show them.

The time needed for an inspection varies.  Two hours is very typical for smaller farms.  Larger farms and dairies can take at least 4 hours, sometimes more.  Poorly organized records generally mean longer inspections.

Inspectors should be looking at your fields, facilities (barns, greenhouses, washing stations, compost pads, crop storage…) and records.  And that is the order that I like to look at them when I do inspections.  I like to look at your soils, your crops, your weeds, your insects, and your buffers.  Equipment and equipment storage needs to be observed.  Where you store other stuff is also on the tour.  Inspectors needs to check out all your inputs and seeds and where they are kept on your farm.  Then there are the records.  More or less, if its part of your farm plan, there should be records for it.  For example, if you say you use a particular soil mix, then I want to see a receipt for that soil mix.  If you say you make a manure based compost according to the regulation and apply it to crops during the growing season, then I need to see feedstock records, turning records and temperature records.  If you say you waited 120 days after applying manure before harvesting your potatoes, then I need to see a calendar or log book with the relevant dates.  If you market 100 poulets, then you must have organic feed purchase records that can grow 100 poulets, and so on.  Harvest and sales records are also important.  We need to be able to balance your production with your sales.  It is also important to be able to trace a lot of a particular crop back to the field it was grown in.

The inspector is the one contacting the producer to set up an inspection.  We ask that inspectors try to schedule multiple inspections on a road trip.  That is why there may be some back and forth before firming up a time.