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How long does it take to transition my land to organic if using organic practices?


Farmers who have been utilizing organic practices for years, but have not been certified, might not have to wait a full 36 months between when they decide to transition to organic and when they can harvest their first organic crop. This is commonly referred to as “fast tracking” land.

It is important to understand that land being fast tracked must comply with all the same rules as any other transitioning land. The land must have been free of prohibited substances and managed in accordance with the National Organic Program (NOP) for 36 months or more.

Farmers who think their land is immediately eligible will need to prove the land’s eligibility to a certifier. The operator (or previous operator) can sign a declaration explaining the land’s use during the previous 36 months, showing that no prohibited substances have been used. The most important fact to include in this declaration is the date when the last prohibited substance was used. Often, this will be the date that a field was last sprayed with an herbicide, pesticide, or synthetic fertilizer.

A common example of “fast tracked” land is grassland expiring from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to transition into organic pasture land. Because the landowner can provide documentation of how long that land has been under a CRP contract and any waivers for managing undesirable species (through mowing or spot spraying), they can clearly demonstrate how long the land has been free of prohibited substances. The landowner can write a short explanation of the land’s previous use, include support documentation (such as an NRCS contract, waivers, or a receipt from a custom applicator), and submit this all to the organic certifier. Many organic certifiers have forms that can be used to complete this process.

The certifier will then do the necessary due diligence to verify that the land has been free of prohibited substances. The certifier may contact farmers or landowners for additional information. Once the certifier is satisfied, the certification agency can help the farmer move forward through the certification process. Often, farmers have fallow land, hay ground, pasture, small-scale vegetables, or other low-maintenance fields that they manage without the use of prohibited substances. These are all likely candidates for fast tracking. However, it is important to make sure that the land’s history does, indeed, qualify for organic transition. Some farmers believe that they are following the National Organic Program (NOP) rules, but without inspections and a certifier checking in, it is possible they’ve been applying a prohibited substance to their land without knowing it’s prohibited.

If you have questions about whether or not your land might be eligible for certification, you can start by reading Marbleseed’s Guidebook for Organic Certification to better understand organic production rules. You can also contact the Marbleseed Organic Specialists at 888-906-6737 with your questions, or contact a certifier about a particular substance that has been applied to your field.

Posted: Jun 2016
Answer By: Lauren Langworthy