Organic production - general information

Organic production is not an enterprise in the normal sense, but an integrated production system. Each individual organic farm develops its own system based on many familiar, normal production practices, which are then guided and controlled by approved organic standards. Organic standards have been developed to provide producers with clear rules as to how organic food should be produced to meet consumers’ demands

EU organic legislation and certification

EU Regulations EC834/2007, EC 889/2008 and EC 1235/2008 control organic production and marketing within the EU.

Food sold as organic anywhere in the EU must be certified as produced under an approved organic standard.

Producers, processors and packers must all be registered with the EU as organic operators.

This certification is the consumers’ guarantee that food has been produced to approved organic standards.

It does not give any guarantee as to freedom from pesticide residues, nutritional value or any other ‘quality’.

Organic standards

Each EU member state has an obligation under the EU Organic Regulations to ensure that organic food produced in its jurisdiction meets the baseline standard set by EU legislation.

Member states also approve independent control bodies and their standards as meeting EU organic standards.

Independent organic standards

The standards adopted by the independent control bodies all meet EU standards.

However, any particular set of independent standards may have its own additional requirements over and above these.

Housing space requirements for different categories of livestock is one major area, but there are others.

It is therefore very important to choose a set of standards that meet your needs.

Changes in organic standards

EU organic legislation is continually evolving, resulting in the on-going adaption of independent organic standards so that they maintain their EU approved status. Operators themselves also have to implement any changes.

In addition, independent control bodies may also make their own changes to their standards additional to those required to meet the EU organic standard.

Control bodies

Within the UK approved control bodies carry out certification of producers, processors and packers of organic food. Certification involves the issuing of an annual licence to sell organic food.

Within Northern Ireland the main control bodies actively carrying out certification at present are:

Soil Association
Tel: 0117 9142412
Organic Farmers and Growers
Tel: 01939 291800
Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA)
Tel: 00 353 43 42495
Organic Trust
Tel: 00 353 1 8530271
Bio-Dynamic Agricultural Association (Demeter)
Tel:01453 759501
 

The logos shown above often appear on certified produce and its packaging.

An EU Organic logo is now mandatory on pre-packed organic produce, though independent logos are still be allowed.

Inspection

To become a registered organic producer, your farm must undergo an initial inspection based on previously submitted information and records, plus a detailed organic conversion plan.

Then, after initial certification and the first licence have been granted, an annual inspection is carried out to renew the licence.

Independent control bodies and the UK Government also reserve the right to carry out adhoc inspections during the year.

Certification costs

Each control body sets its own rates for inspection and licensing. These are usually in the region of £250 - £600 plus VAT per annum.

It is important to choose a set of standards that meet your needs, one of which may be price.

Conversion

Organic certification is not a simple one-off procedure, and it does not involve ‘testing’ of land.

Land has first to undergo a ‘conversion’ period during which it is managed to organic standards, but food grown on it may not be sold as organic.

Detailed conversion plans have to be submitted to control bodies, incorporating animal health and environmental management plans.

Once land has finished conversion, produce may normally be sold as organic.

Crops and forage

Crops and forage grown during the first year of conversion are normally utilised on-farm, and there is little market for them from other organic farms.

In simple terms crops and forage sown in land during its second year of conversion may be classed as ‘in-conversion’. This is again usually utilised on-farm, but there may be a limited market for it.

Sown after a second full year of conversion, crops may be classed as fully organic (also known as ‘symbol’ standard) when the certifying bodies' symbol or logo may be used as an identification mark indicating its organic status.

Livestock

Livestock already on a farm at the start of conversion can never be sold as organic.

Milk from dairy cows and meat from the progeny of breeding stock can be sold as organic following the specified conversion periods, usually at least two years.

With careful planning it is possible to sell organic stock from a farm about two years after the start of conversion. The actual time span will depend on the type of livestock and the production system.

Conversion planning

A very important part of converting a farm to full organic status is a realistic conversion plan which allows conversion to proceed as rapidly as practicable.

A sound conversion plan will :

  • produce a practical, balanced organic system
  • build the organic infra-structure and rotation for the farm
  • build up clover levels in swards
  • establish suitable herds, flocks and breeding policies
  • minimise financial pressures during the conversion
  • steadily build producer confidence

Keeping records

Full records of all production activities, inputs, purchases and sales must be kept and made available for the annual inspection. Accounts must also be made available.

It is very wise to start comprehensive record keeping right from the start of conversion.

Inadequate records can lead to loss of organic status and thus premium prices.

Conacre

Most organic production is based on owner occupied land. Conacre can be used providing it is taken under a longer-term agreement, and the owner approves its use for organic production.

However, to receive any support schemes, land must be subject to a lease.

Contractors

Contractors can be used in organic production providing that all organic standards are met, particularly in relation to hygiene and bio-security.

Organic production assistance

DARD, through CAFRE and other Branches offers prospective organic producers a package of assistance including:

  • conversion planning assistance
  • business management information and advice
  • education and training
  • marketing information and advice
  • organic Farming Scheme information and advice (when scheme is in operation)

Organic Farming Scheme

DARD has offered an Organic Farming Scheme in the past as part of its Northern Ireland Rural Development Plan 200713.

For further details of Scheme opening, contact your local Countryside Management Adviser.

The scheme is intended as an encouragement to conventional (nonorganic) producers to convert to organic production.

Countryside Management Scheme – organic option

An on-going post-conversion payment is also expected to be available for fully organic improved and semi-improved land, through the Countryside Management Scheme.

This option is intended to provide a small but significant element of financial security.

You have to be in the new Countryside Management Scheme to be eligible.

Market Information Fund for primary producers

The market information fund is aimed at individual farmers and groups of farmers. It aims to improve the flow of information on market developments to Northern Ireland farmers

Funding is available for:

  • attending conferences and organised study tours held outside Northern Ireland
  • speakers fees and expenses for conferences held within Northern Ireland
  • purchasing market information

More useful links

Local organic suppliers

Websites of organic suppliers in Northern Ireland

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