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How difficult is the record keeping aspect of being certified organic?
In my many years of organic inspection, the most profitable and productive organic farmers were those who also kept good records. The documentation you keep need not be burdensome, and should be considered part of running your operation. The historical reference these records provide is one of the most valuable management tools on your farm, helping you repeat successes and avoid repeating costly errors.
Your records will give you answers to questions such as: Which crop rotation results in lowered weed or plant disease pressure? Can you see a production increase where you purchased and applied an expensive fertility input? Which seed varieties did best in your soils and climate? Did you over produce a specific crop and not have enough of another?
For vegetable growers, keeping track of the timing of succession plantings and their harvest dates is very useful. By keeping track of your activities, inputs, harvests and sales, you will be able to have this information at your fingertips when making decisions year to year.
You are not required to keep records in a specific way. You can use a calendar by the door, a spiral book in your pickup truck, or your smart phone. The documentation must be easily understood by your organic inspector, though. So if you use code words, tell the inspector what they mean.
The records need not be excessively detailed. Every time you feed a bale of hay, you do not need to write that down. You should document how much hay you make and have on hand in the fall, and periodically take an inventory so you can track how much you are feeding. This way, if you need to buy more organic hay, you can plan ahead and probably get a better price now rather than waiting until early spring when the availability and market is tighter. This will also help the organic inspector track that you have sufficient organic forage for your organic livestock.
For items you purchase, make sure they are approved by your organic certification agency before you buy and apply them. Keep labels and invoices for all inputs and seeds as a useful reference for the future. They also happen to be part of the organic audit trail.
There are numerous computer programs you can search for on the internet to help you with your recordkeeping. ATTRA has recordkeeping forms on their website and many organic certification agencies also provide templates to help you with maintaining your activities and inputs from year to year.
Posted: Jul 2015
Answer By: Harriet Behar