Going organic - what you need to know

Page last updated: Monday, 8 May 2017 - 2:14pm

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Paperwork and inspections

Certification is granted after inspection by an approved inspector who reports to the certification body. Before the inspection, the farmer must complete a farm conversion plan questionnaire provided by the certification body.

The Department of Agriculture and Food does not certify organic products but a list of Approved Certifying Organisations can be found on the Commonwealth's Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Website, Organic Approved Certifying Organisations.

Information required includes a background to the operation, an organic management plan, maps detailing production areas, the irrigation system, storage facilities and surrounding land use. Application dates of the last prohibited inputs are also required.

The farmer is expected to work closely with the inspection body and must complete legal documents that pledge to abide by the regulations of the organisation. Certified farmers are licensed to use the certifiers organic label on their produce.

To ensure their production methods are in compliance to the standard, certified farmers are subject to an annual inspection by the certification body. The inspection includes a review of the farmer’s performance and ability to comply with the standard.

Record keeping

Records must be kept of all inputs used on the farm and all outputs including sales, wastage and any produce that might be withheld from sale such as seed and feed.

Dates, volumes, destination, unit descriptions and application rates need to be recorded. Farmers are expected to keep a diary of day-to-day farming activities and to report any changes to the site or to the nature of the enterprise to the certification agency.

Farms may convert to organic production gradually. If the farm is only partially certified, meticulous records must be maintained of both the organic and conventional enterprises.

Production of visually identical products on a partially certified farm is called 'parallel production' and is not permitted because of the risk of mixing, however limited exemptions may apply for perennial plants like fruit trees.

What is HACCP?

Organic standards can require the organic farmer to have in place a quality management program compatible with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles. Many industry sectors have developed quality assurance programs for their industries and organic farmers are encouraged to tap into these systems.

HACCP is an internationally recognised basic tool used to develop food safety and quality assurance systems. The main focus of a HACCP food safety program is to implement measures that prevent microbiological, chemical or physical contamination, before hazards occur.

The process of HACCP is to analyse every part of the business’ production, harvest and handling procedures to identify the major hazards to food safety and quality. The identified hazards are monitored and measures put in place to prevent the hazards from occurring. Some important food safety hazards to consider on an organic farm might include:

  • microbiological contamination from compost or fish emulsion fertilisers
  • quality of water used for processing or washing produce
  • pest control methods
  • contamination from outside sources, such as transport providers
  • clean-down procedures.