Local Food & Product Regulations: Certified Organic Back »

Photo by Lance Cheung

Written by Sierra Blachford under the direction and review of Ty Eschenbaum, SD State of South Dakota Value Added Marketing Specialist, South Dakota Dept. of Agriculture; Christina Zdorovtsov (Former SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist); and Joan Hegerfeld-Baker (former SDSU Extension Food Safety Specialist).

Organic Certification

According to the United State Department of Agriculture National Organic Program, “Organic is a labeling term that specifies that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through accepted methods using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity." It is illegal to use the term "certified organic" unless it has undergone certification by a 3rd party; and that "organic" cannot be used unless all organic standards (including required organic plan and records) have been followed.

Under the National Organic Program, the following are not approved practices for organic-certified products:

  • Synthetic Fertilizers
  • Sewage Sludge
  • Irradiation
  • Genetic Engineering

The cost of certification and fees varies widely depending on the certifying agent and the size, type and complexity of the operation. The cost may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. The USDA provides cost share program that can reimburse up to 75 percent of the certification.

What Products Can Vendors Market as Certified  Organic?

The USDA organic regulations recognize four categories of organic products:

  • Crops: A plant that is grown to be harvested as food, livestock feed, fiber, or used to add nutrients to the field.
  • Livestock: Animals that can be used for food or in the production of food, fiber, or feed.
  • Processed products: Items that have been handled and packaged (i.e. chopped carrots) or combined, processed, and packaged (i.e. soup).
  • Wild crops: Plants from a growing site that is not cultivated.

How do I Become Certified?

To become certified, growers must apply with a USDA-accredited certifying agent. The agent will request the following information:

  • A detailed description of the operation to be certified.
  • A history of substances applied to land during the previous three years.
  • The organic products grown, raised, or processed.
  • A written Organic System Plan describing the practices and substances to be used.

Organic Certification Process:

  • Producer or handler adopts organic practices; submits application and fees to certifying agent
  • Certifying agent reviews applications to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations
  • Inspector conducts an on-site inspection of the applicant’s operation
  • Certifying agent reviews the application and the inspector’s report to determine if the applicant complies with the USDA organic regulations
  • Certifying agent issues organic certificate

Annual Recertification Process:

  • Producer or handler provides annual update to certifying agent
  • Inspector conducts an on-site inspection of the applicant’s operation
  • Certifying agent reviews the application and the inspector’s report to determine if the applicant still complies with the USDA organic regulations
  • Certifying agent issues organic certificate

Exemptions & Exclusions from Certification for Agricultural Products

  • Vendors whose annual gross agricultural sales of organic products totals less than $5,000 may market those products as “organic” without being certified
  • All vendors must follow all organic standards in producing those products, including using only OMRI-approved fertilizers and sprays, implementing a farm plan that builds soil fertility and conserves resources, and keeping sufficient records to document their organic practices.  
  • Vendors cannot use the label “Certified organic” or the certified organic seal, unless certified by an approved 3rd party organic certifier.
  • Processed products made from organic products that are not certified cannot be labeled organic if processed in another handling operation.
  • Refer to the USDA Organic Publication “Organic Labeling at Farmers Markets” located in the resources section following this chapter. 

Contact Information:

Cost Share Program – National Organic Program
Kimberly DeSchepper
South Dakota Department of Agriculture Grants & Loan Specialist
523 E. Capitol Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501
Phone: 605.773.5436 Email Website
National Organic Program
1400 Independence Ave. SW
Room 2642-South, Stop 0268
Washington, D.C.  20250-0268
Phone: 202.720.3252
Fax: 202.260.9151
Email Website


USDA Grants and Funding Opportunities

  • Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) supports efforts to solve critical organic agriculture issues and problems through research and extension activities
  • Organic Transitions Program (ORG) strives to improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers, as well as those who are adopting organic practices, through research, extension, and higher education.
  • Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) provides grants and education to advance agricultural innovation that promotes profitability; stewardship of the land, air and water; and quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and their communities.

South Dakota Farmers Market Online Guidebook

This article is a portion of the South Dakota Farmers Market Online Guidebook.

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