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What is Organic Agriculture?

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In 1995, the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) defined organic agriculture as "an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, or enhance ecological harmony…. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people." Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier must inspect the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet the USDA organic standards. Detailed records are required and reviewed by the certifier. It takes three years of organic management before a farm product can be “certified” as organic. Please note that the labels "natural" and "eco-friendly" which have been used to describe agricultural products may imply that some organic methods were used in the production of the product, but this labeling does not guarantee complete adherence to organic practices as defined by law.

IMPORTANT: It is the grower’s responsibility to ensure that any crop production practice or material used in the orchard is acceptable in their particular state’s organic certification program. Some materials deemed organically acceptable on the National List may not be acceptable in some states. Contact your certifier to know what is acceptable and to ensure compliance with regulations in your state.

The New England Tree Fruit Management Guide uses the symbol “§” to indicate materials that are considered organic options under at least some state certifying programs. Again, before using any product or production practice, consult with your certifying agency. Many newer materials, especially biopesticide materials with broad crop and pest uses have not been tested for efficacy on every crop-pest combination, so experimentation on small plots is suggested before adopting their use to the whole orchard.

Detailed recordkeeping is critical in organic production to receive certification and to maintain it. Contact your state certifier to find out what is required.