Have a question about organic certification not listed here? Please feel free to contact the VOF office at info@vermontorganic.org or 802-434-3821.

Who develops the organic standards?

National standards for organically-produced agricultural products are created by the National Organic Program (NOP) with input from the National Organic Standards Board and the public. The NOP is a regulatory program housed within the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 authorized USDA to establish the NOP and develop organic regulations.

Who certifies my operation?

The USDA is responsible for accrediting organic certifiers, and does not do any organic certification itself.  Certifiers interested in becoming a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent (ACA) must apply to the NOP for accreditation. Vermont Organic Farmers, LLC is a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent owned by NOFA-VT.

The accreditation process is relatively similar to that of organic certification for farmers and processors.  Following approval, ACA accreditation is valid for 5 years; at the end of this period the ACA must renew their accreditation.

How do I apply for certification?

You can find out how to apply for certification here and see the full process here.

How much does certification cost?

Your certification fee is based on your anticipated gross sales of organic products, with anyone grossing under $15,000 paying the base fee of $530. Click here to learn more about how your fee is calculated, what other fees might apply to you, and the federal programs that can reimburse up to 75% of your certification fees.

How often will my operation be inspected?

Following the initial organic inspection, your operation will be inspected annually. This annual visit will include the on-site inspection of each production unit, facility, and site that produces or handles organic products and that is included in your operation.

Is my certifier allowed to make an unannounced visit or inspection of my facility?

Yes, the NOP standards state that additional inspections may be announced or unannounced at the discretion of the certifying agent or as required by the Administrator or State organic program's governing State official.

Who will my inspector be?

The organic inspector is an independent contractor or a staff member of the certifier who inspects your operation on behalf of the certifier.  As defined by the NOP organic standards, organic inspectors are not permitted to: 1) make certification decisions, 2) offer consultation or advice to help you overcome identified barriers to certification, or 3) accept gifts, favors, or payments other than the prescribed fee.

What happens if an operation violates the USDA organic regulations?

If the USDA or your certifying agent suspects that your farm or business is violating the USDA organic regulations, USDA or the ACA may investigate and conduct an additional on-site inspection.  Penalties, should the operation be found to be violating organic regulations, may include suspension or revocation of an operation’s organic certificate or financial penalties with a maximum of $11,000 per violation.

Are there any cost-share or financial aids to help with certification costs?

The Farm Bill includes the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program.  USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) recently announced that they are reducing reimbursement rates for the Organic Certification Cost Share Program. Congress set the current reimbursement rates in the 2018 Farm Bill at 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope. FSA has lowered the rate to 50 percent of eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope. 

FSA also announced the new Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP), which will provide pandemic assistance to cover certification and education expenses to agricultural producers who are certified organic or transitioning to organic.  FSA will cover 25% of certification fees up to $250 for 2022. 


What is residue testing? Will samples be taken of my organic products?

The NOP requires certifiers to perform residue tests (such as pesticides, GMO, antibiotic residues, etc.) on 5% of their clients’ certified organic products annually.  This requirement was established to maintain and verify organic integrity.

How do I participate in the NOP rule-making process?

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is a Federal Advisory Committee comprised of fifteen members.  These members represent sectors of the organic community (ex: farmers/growers, environmentalists/resource conservationists, consumer/public interest advocates, etc.).  The NOSB meets two times a year in a public forum to discuss issues regarding organic standards and materials review.  These meetings invite both advanced written and in-person oral public comments to gain perspective on recommendations. Final recommendations are submitted to the NOP.

Are there special considerations if utility poles go through or are adjacent to the fields or sugarbushes that I use for organic production?

VOF-certified organic producers must either implement a buffer between utility poles and areas used to produce organic crops or maintain documentation from the utility that manages the poles that verifies that herbicides will not be used to control vegetation around the poles. Utilities do not typically manage vegetation around poles that run through fields. VELCO (Vermont Electric Power Company) operates Vermont’s bulk, high voltage transmission system. There are 17 electric distribution utilities in Vermont that are responsible for delivering power from the bulk transmission system to end-users. While many of the smaller municipal utilities only use mechanical means to control vegetation, some use a combination of mowing and herbicides. Their territories do not always follow town or county boundaries. To determine which utility or utilities manage the utility poles in or next to your fields, you can view an interactive map here

Producers can contact the appropriate utility company or companies and request an “Herbicide Public Notice Coupon,” which will then be attached to the closest electric service account. Documentation verifying that the Herbicide Public Notice Coupon was submitted and received by the utility should be maintained by the product for inspector verification. Prior to the application of herbicides, a utility will contact all account holders that submitted a coupon in writing at least 30 days prior to the application of herbicides in the area. A representative of the utility will also contact the account holder to discuss property boundaries and water supplies prior to application.

If your utility company only uses mechanical vegetation control around utility poles, you should maintain documentation verifying this.

VOF has verified that the following municipal utilities only use mechanical means of vegetation control and do not apply herbicides: Hardwick Electric Department, Morrisville Water & Light.

If documentation verifying that herbicides will not be applied to the utility poles, a buffer must be maintained as described in the most recent VOF Guidelines booklet.