Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

By Jaco Schravesande-Gardei, MOFGA Certification Services LLC

MOFGA Certification Services currently certifies approximately 500 organic farms and processors. The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) administers and enforces the standards that organic farmers and processors must  follow. The original NOP rule is about 48 pages long, with many additional pages of explanation, so people are sometimes confused about what "certified organic" means.

You can test your knowledge of organic certification by taking this short quiz. If you have further questions about certification, please contact MOFGA Certification Services LLC at 207-568-4142 or, or visit

1. When did Congress pass the Organic Foods Production Act requiring the USDA to develop the NOP standards?

    •    1990
    •    2002
    •    1993

2. Who needs to be certified?

    •    Producers who gross more than $5K per year from the sale of organically     marketed products
    •    Producers who sell to a processor or handler who uses an organic label
    •    Anybody who markets his or her product as organic

3. Manure used for fertility must come from certified organic livestock.

    •    True
    •    False
    •    Depends

4. Is biodegradable mulch approved for use on certified organic farms?

    •    Yes
    •    No
    •    Maybe

5. Can certified organic livestock be given vaccines?

    •    Yes
    •    No

6. For how many years must land be managed organically (with no prohibited substances applied) to be eligible for organic certification?

    •    One
    •    Two
    •    Three
    •    Four

7. What is the out-of-pocket, annual cost for certifying a vegetable farm if the projected gross income from the sale of organic produce is $5,000-$10,000?

    •    $75
    •    $600
    •    $150

8. Can conventional and certified organic production occur on the same farm?

    •    Yes
    •    No

9. Which ingredients are not considered when calculating the percentage of organic ingredients in a product?

    •    Salt
    •    Water
    •    Salt and water

10. At what age must dairy calves be pastured daily during the grazing season?

    •    6 months
    •    1 year
    •    4 months

1. A. 1990. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 required that USDA develop national standards for organic products, and the final rule establishing the NOP was first published in the Federal Register in 2000 and is codified in the Code of Federal Regulations at 7 C.F.R. 205. The core mission of the NOP is to protect the integrity of the USDA organic seal.

2. A and B. Operations or portions of operations that produce or handle agricultural products that are intended to be sold, labeled or represented as "100 percent organic," "organic," or "made with organic ingredients" or food group(s) – e.g., grains – need to be certified organic. Farms and handling operations that sell $5,000 or less per year of organic agricultural products are exempt from certification but must abide by NOP standards and may label their products as organic.

3. B – False. Animal manure, both organic and conventional, is approved for use on organic farms, subject to certain restrictions, such as a manure waiting period. The manure waiting period states that manure must be applied and incorporated at least 90 days before harvest if the edible portions of the crop do not touch the soil, e.g., apples. The manure must be applied and incorporated at least 120 days before harvest if the edible portions of the crop do touch the soil, e.g., carrots. These rules were meant to ensure that disease organisms will not contaminate human food. No restrictions exist for applying manure to feed crops, such as alfalfa.

4. B – No. Plastic mulch is widely used for organic crop production because it controls weeds, conserves soil moisture, increases soil temperature, improves crop yield and quality, and it is inexpensive and readily available. However, its use is often questioned because it is rarely recyclable and generally is made from non-biodegradable materials. Biodegradable mulches have been available for a few years, but none have been proven to meet NOP standards.

5. A – Yes. Disease and parasite prevention is important, and vaccines are allowed. Other allowed medical treatments include vitamins, minerals, probiotics, herbal remedies, approved drugs and electrolytes. Certified organic farmers cannot routinely use drugs to treat diseases and parasites. Farmers must list all health care materials in their annual update, which a MOFGA certification specialist and an inspector review annually. Animals are not allowed to suffer and, if sick and approved treatments are not working, must be treated with conventional materials and removed from the organic herd.

6. C – Three. Land must not have had prohibited substances (non-approved pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, etc.) applied for at least three years before the harvest of an organic crop.

7. A. $75. The annual fee for this income category is $600, but the NOP Cost Share Program reimburses producers for 75 percent of their certification expenses (with a maximum allowable of $750) annually. To further offset the cost of certification, MOFGA offers a rebate for farms that gross less than $10K per year in organic sales. After these two reimbursements, the producer will pay $75 out of pocket.

8. A. Yes. Farms can raise both organic and conventional crops. If they raise one crop organically and another conventionally, this is called a split operation; if the same crop is raised organically and conventionally, this is called parallel production. Managing a split or parallel operation requires extra care to ensure the organic integrity of the crops because of the risk of spray drift, contaminated equipment, or accidental sprays of conventional chemicals on organic crops. Recordkeeping is even more important on these kinds of operations!

9. C. Water and salt are excluded when calculating the organic percentage of a product. Neither water nor salt can be certified as organic.

10. A. 6 months. Dairy calves may be confined up to 6 months of age. After that they must be on pasture during the grazing season and can no longer be housed individually. During that six-month period, confined calves must have freedom of movement within their confined area; they cannot be tethered in a way that prevents lying down or moving about freely.