The Organic System Plan
(The Farm Plan)
For information about organic certification, visit the USDA's National Organic Program Web site.
What is The Organic System Plan?
Every certified organic producer is required to have an organic system plan, also commonly called a Farm Plan. The Farm Plan serves several purposes:
1. Improve Management. The Farm Plan helps producers to anticipate events and plan management strategies in advance. In addition, the Farm Plan can help predict the cash expenses and income during the season, thus helping to achieve economic sustainability.
2. Conserve and Optimize Resources. The Farm Plan helps producers use their human and natural resources most effectively.
3. Legal Contract. The Farm Plan is a legal contract between the producer and the certifying agency. A breach of this contract can result in a denial or loss of certification.
Who needs to know about The Organic System Plan?
Anyone who is interested in the certification or use of certified organic products.
What should organic foods producers have in their Organic System Plans?
The Farm Plan demonstrates to the certifier how the producer plans to meet the NOP standards, and is completed before the farm is inspected. There are several excellent published resources to help producers design a Farm Plan (below). It is the responsibility of the producer to ensure that any action or material input is approved by the NOP and the certifying agency. Even if an input is approved for use by the NOP, the application of that input can cause problems with certification if the producer does not first get approval from their certifying agency. Farm plans can be amended, but it is much better to spend the extra effort up front and design a solid farm plan. For each category below, include information to answer the “what”, “why”, “how”, “when” and include how that practice will be monitored. The lists below should not be considered a complete list of the information that is needed, but rather serves as examples of the level of detail required.
The NOP requires that producers include the following information in the Organic System Plan:
1. Describe Practices
· Producers should clearly describe practices in detail.
· Describe crop rotation plans: each rotation used and how often.
· Describe a soil fertility management program: how nutrient toxicity will be prevented and how soil fertility will be monitored.
· Note soil conservation practices, including methods for preventing soil erosion and monitoring soil conservation.
· List water quality practices, including methods to minimize water contamination such as buffers or borders, protect water quality including management of irrigation and run-off water, and how the effectiveness of the methods will be monitored.
· Indicate weed management plan, including problem weeds, weed control methods, and evaluative methods to measure and monitor success of plan.
· Explain pest management plan, including work with a pest control advisor, whose contact information should be available. The plan must include methods for controlling pest damage to crops, a record of all pest control products used and intended for use, the frequency of pest monitoring, and methods for monitoring the effectiveness of the pest management program.
· List equipment names for planting, tilling, spraying, and harvesting.
· Livestock operations should describe how animals will have access to the outdoors, measures to reduce stress and preventative strategies for maintaining livestock health.
2. List Inputs
· A list of each substance used, including its ingredients, source, and where/in what context it will be used. A map is helpful to keep track of inputs. All ingredients, including inert ingredients, must comply with the NOP rule.
· Save all organic seed and inoculant labels.
· List all compost and manure ingredients, and laboratory analysis reports.
· List sources of animal feedstock, including a demonstration of availability. Producers should predict how much feed and forage can be produced on-farm, and how much will need to be purchased. A back up plan is also required in case of crop failure.
· Animal vaccinations, inoculants, drugs, or other treatments in anticipation of common problems or disease outbreaks should be documented.
3. Monitor Practices
· Practices should demonstrate the environmental quality is maintained.
· Record plant tissue test results to document nutrient deficiencies and demonstrate if micronutrient applications are needed
· Record how livestock nutritional needs are met and how health is maintained, for example fecal exam schedule to document the need for internal parasites.
· Demonstrate good maintenance records for all equipment and tools used.
· Must note the problem crop diseases, prevention strategies used, a record of inputs used and intended for use, the evaluated effectiveness of the program, methods for monitoring effectiveness of program, and the frequency of disease monitoring.
· If compost is made on-farm, then temperature should be recorded regularly.
4. Describe Recordkeeping System
· The NOP requires that organic producers maintain a transparent and traceable recordkeeping system.
· Keep the name of the agency that certified any organic suppliers, including those of seeds and seedlings.
· Label all organic soil mix ingredients, fertility products, foliar sprays, and pest/pathogen inputs for inspection.
· Show through detailed records of all activities and transactions of the operation that the farm has met all NOP standards; records must be accessible to the inspectors.
5. Describe Contamination Prevention
· If producing both organic and non-organic foods, demonstrate that the growing areas, seedlings/plants, harvest and storage areas, and input practices (including watering) are separate and non-contaminating. Also list in detail all crops and products; where they are stored, grown and applied; and the total acreage dedicated to conventional production.
· Describe how transportation of the organic products takes into account steps to protect the integrity of the products and protect against contamination.
· Specify how crop storage will segregate contaminating non-organic material from organic products, and how storage units are cleaned, pests (rodents and insects) are controlled and prevented, and any stored crop inputs are used or planned to be used.
· Explain how contamination with non-organic material will be prevented in processing, packaging, and shipping materials.
· Show steps taken to protect crops from contamination during harvest and describe use and material of product containers and explain any potential contamination problems that may occur with the harvest of crops.
· Specify adjoining land use, location, type of buffer area, width of buffer, use of any crops in the buffer area, safeguards used to protect crops from contact with buffer and buffer crops during harvest, other safeguards used to prevent accidental contamination, signs posted, and the methods and frequency of monitoring for crop contamination.
6. Provide Additional Information as Requested by the Certification Agency
· Any additional information required by the certifying agent may be required. If there are any doubts, it is best to include the information in the Farm Plan. This way, the producer and the agent can work together before the inspection takes place.
For more information about designing an organic system plan, please see the resources listed here or contact your local UF-IFAS County Extension office.
Resources from Other Universities or Federal Agencies
- NCAT's Organic Crops Workbook
- NCAT's Organic System Plan Templates for Certifiers
- Organic Farming Compliance Handbook
- Biodiversity Conservation: An Organic Farmers Guide (from Wild Farm Alliance)
- Crop Rotations on Organic Farms, North Carolina State University
- Return to Organic Production