KOGS welcomes any area farmer or processor who wishes to be certified. The certification process with KOGS is relatively simple and inexpensive but requires that you go through a number of steps that can take a number of months. So, this should be done before February in order to have time to complete the application forms before the annual deadline of 1 April.
Process Guide to Organic Certification with Kootenay Organic Growers
Know How ——–> Apply ——-> Get Verified ——-> Operate ——-> Repeat
Step 1 – Educate your self on transitioning to Organic growing
- Download and read both volumes of the Canadian Organic Standard , you will need a copy as part of your records. An understanding of these documents is a critical foundation!
- Explore the toolkits and other reference materials on the Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC) website. Pay close attention to the resources on transitioning to organic.
- Explore the information on the KOGS website and contact the KOGS administrator to enquire about a mentor, who can work with you through the certification process.
Step 2 – Prepare your application
- Determine what category(s) you fall into ~ that is farmer, livestock, poultry, or producer and download and review the appropriate initial application form(s). If you intend to run more than one type of operation, then a form for each is required. If you raise livestock but not their feed nor grow crops for human consumption, you do not need to complete the crops forms; if you raise poultry but no other livestock, you do not need to complete the livestock form. Please note that if you do raise feed for animals that you wish to have certified as organically raised, you will need to complete the crops form.
- If possible, gather together input records for all materials used in your operation over the last three years. You may want to take this opportunity to compare these inputs to the Canadian Organic Standards, as well as review the approved substances lists. Two resources are available for your reference, the Organic Inputs page, and OMRI Canada. This information will help the certification committee to determine your transitional status of 1 – 3 years.
- Calculate your land base and other resources – be specific with measurements. Develop your land base map and/or facility mapping with all significant features, such as roads, barns, fields and fences, etc. Determine the land base you would like to certify – that is full or partial. Talk to your neighbors and review your site situation to determine any possible sources of contamination, and ensure buffer zones are developed and marked on your map. Your map(s) may be hand drawn or computer generated. If the area you are seeking certification for is only a portion of your land base, then if must be clearly identified both on your maps and physically for the verification officer. Also note, if you store your product (farm or processed goods) at another location, you also need to submit a completed Independent Storage Information Sheet: download as a doc or a pdf. Additionally, if you produce both organic and conventional products (crops or processed goods), you will have to complete and submit a Split Operation Form: download as a doc or a pdf.
- If you are a crop or poultry farmer, then you require a water test with your initial application and every three years after. A local lab in the Slocan Valley – Passmore Labs, or any of the other labs listed here can assist you with this. You need to test water used in washing vegi’s or feeding chickens (must meet potable standards). Make sure you indicate to the lab that it is for organic certification and you require a microbiological test.
- If you are a crop farmer then take soil samples for each field for testing, you can find a list of agencies that test here several KOGS farmers also use Logan Labs in the US. Completing a soil test demonstrates best management practices regarding soil health (an integral part of organic farming). The soil test results will provide the background information that you need to make any amendments. You must prove that the amendment is required thru this test. Work with the lab you choose to ensure you prepare your sample correctly.
- If you intend to sell your product using a custom label it must be approved by the KOGS board, and must follow the labeling guide. You are not authorized to label your products as ‘certified organic’ when you are in transition, so make sure you understand the limitations! Contact the KOGS administrator for more information.
- Develop your logs and audit trails (if you have not already done so). Refer to the initial application for details on what is required for documentation. Determine how you are going to manage your documentation of all inputs, outputs, processing, methods, etc. The goal here is to document the entire life cycle of your products and your other farm activities. See the COABC web site for additional assistance here as well.
- Now that you have prepared your background documentation, and have become familiar with the organic standards, fill out the relevant Initial Application form(s), the certification registration form and the KOGS membership form. Make sure you fill them out completely! If you have any concerns or questions, please forward to the KOGS Administrator for assistance here or speak with your mentor .
- Calculate your payment based on your estimates and the schedule that can be found here. Fill out the KOGS membership application, the Certification Registration Form and your application form(s) that can all be found in the KOGS Resources page.
- Forward your application(s) and payment to KOGS to the address that can be found here . Ensure that you have attached maps and test results if required. Submission is due April 1st. Make sure to keep a copy of all documents for yourself.
Step 3 ~ Verification and approval
- Prepare for your Verification Officer visit – typically late May or early June, the KOGS administrator will coordinate timing with you. Ensure all relevant materials, inputs and your operation is available for their review. The Verification Officer will ask questions, review your operations and then prepare a report for the Certification Committee to review. The committee makes final decisions regarding your organic status.
- Receive response (regular mail) from the Certification Committee that will state your organic certification status, this may also include a notice of compliance if all organic standards have not yet been met. You must meet these before your final organic status will be issued.
- Make any amendments required to your operations, and prepare evidence on any compliance issues (if required), then sign and return the organic certification contract to KOGS.
- Receive your organic certificate from KOGS via the mail. This will indicate your status for the time period of August 1st, to July 31st of the following year.
Step 4 ~ operate as an organic grower or producer to the required standards.
- Ensure you keep up to date with your documentation and any logs or procedures you have committed to. Your audit trail and documentation is critical and is your proof of activities. The Verification officer next year will want to review this years records! Ask for help if you are unsure what the expectations are.
- Seek approvals in advance of producing labels or adding new inputs if not previously approved. The certification committee meets quarterly to approve label requests and resolve any other issues. Forward any requests to the KOGS administrator.
Step 5 – Repeat
- In February, the annual re-certification forms will be available and will be provided to you by the KOGS administrator. Ensure you meet the April 1st deadline to avoid late fees and to help the volunteer Certification Committee review the applications in a timely way.
Questions and answers to common questions
- When can I sell my products as certified organic? – As a new grower or producer, the Certification Committee will assign your operation to a transitional status – either Transitional 1, 2 or 3. This is based on your individual situation. While in transition you may label products as ‘Transitional to Organic’. You must submit your label request for approval by the Certification Committee in advance of using it. Don’t get them produced until you have approval or you may need to print them twice, a costly mistake!
- How do I know if an input is ok to use? If you can’t find the input you would like to use on the organic inputs list or OMRI Canada lists, then you may also contact the manufacturer of the product to get a detailed list of contents, and the manufacturing method and compare this to the organic standards. In these cases, contact KOGS for final approval before using any items not on the lists. Many products that you find for sale with the word ‘organic’ on them are not permitted (yes, very confusing….!) This is often due to the way the product is made – for example chemical extraction of an organic product is not allowed.
- Where can I find organic seeds and do I have to use them? Yes you must use organic seeds and other stock, unless you cannot buy an organic option. In this case – you must PROVE that you cannot find it – that is, you must document your search for that specific variety. The COABC website has an excellent resource that can assist you in your search for organic options – it can be found here. Another great resource is the Canadian list that can be found here.
- When is it ok to use a non organic input? In very rare cases you may use a non- organic input, such an example would be as required by a Veterinarian for the health of an animal. In any case, always contact the KOGS administrator in advance to ensure your approach is acceptable. Please note that taking action without consent could cause an operation to lose all or part of their organic status.
- Why can I only sell in BC if I certify with KOGS? All regional certification bodies, such as KOGS are only able to certify for BC sale. The COABC website provides you with information as to how you can certify for out of province sales, find that information here.
- How much is my product worth? The COABC site provides a detailed listing of current prices (seasonal based), that can be found here. However, if you would like to know more for your crop planning, work with your KOGS mentor for assistance.
- I want to take a year off, can I retain my certification status? Yes, however you will be required to maintain your KOGS membership, fill out your annual renewal and indicate your request along with how you intend to manage your operation to ensure that an audit trail is maintained. You will be charged an administration fee in addition to your membership fee. Contact the KOGS administrator for more information.
- What is the low risk program and when can I apply for it? The low risk program is for certified farms that have been in good standing with no conditions for at least three years. Members of this program do not require a verification officer visit every year, but only based on audit. This leads to a lower cost to the farmer. Sprouts and microgreen operations are not able to apply for the low risk program. Please contact the KOGS administrator or your mentor for more information on this program.
- Why do I need soil and water tests? The water test ensures that you have clean water that meets drinking water standards in BC – as it relates to washing produce and processing products. The soil test provides you with the justification that you need to add any soil amendments to your operation. For example, if you have a Boron deficit on your farm, you need to prove this and apply the correct amount. This provides the audit trail you need for the Verification Officer.
- Why do I need logs and audit trails? This provides the Verification officer and the certification committee with the proof that you are operating within organic standards.
- Where can I find more information on other questions I have? Start with the COABC web site here. If you have other specific questions of KOGS, please contact the administrator.