Transitioning your farm to Organics

Steps for transitioning your farm to Organics

1.Start by learning about organics

Find out all you can about the industry and organic farming methods. Whether you’re a new or established organic farmer, our Organic Resources page is a good place to start.

The Pivot and Grow website is an excellent source of information. These resources have been compiled by the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative, a joint Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba Organic project.

The Organic Trade Association has set up a good starting place for potential producers to walk you through the steps for getting started, called HowToGoOrganic.com.

The Canadian Organic Growers has developed a book called “Gaining Ground: Making a Successful Transition to Organic Farming” which is a must read. Their website also lists steps to consider.

Find other producers and ask how they got started and what growing techniques they use. Their insight can save you from making mistakes and provide valuable first hand experience.

Study the Organic Certification Process, Organic Standards and Permitted Substances list. Learning about organic management systems as well as tips for dealing with paperwork can make the transition significantly easier. Here is the official government of Canada version of the Organic Standard and Permitted substances List

Contact Manitoba Agriculture and talk to the Organic sector Development Specialist at 204-871-6600 for information about sales. Is there market potential for the crops you want to produce?

Use the Organic Cost of Production calculator on the Manitoba Agriculture website to figure out the organic potential for your farm. Understand that yield numbers will depend on your success in providing fertility using organic methods. Every farm is different.

Become a member of the Manitoba Organic Alliance to receive our free newsletter and stay informed of organic events, meetings and information.

2. Develop a plan

Check out our Resources section for organic techniques and tips. or visit Pivot and Grow

What crops are you planning to seed? What are your crop rotations? How do you manage your weeds? Pests? What do you do to build soil fertility? What type of equipment do you use? Where do you store your harvested crop? What steps do you take to protect your crops from contamination both in the field and in storage? How do you ensure your crop doesn’t accidentally get mixed with non-organic crop? Where do you get your seed from? Is it treated? Is it organic? Do you irrigate? What kind of living conditions do you have for your livestock? What do you feed them? How do you ensure they stay healthy? What do you do if they get sick?

It takes a minimum of 36 months to transition your land from conventional farming to organic. During the transition you will need to keep your fields free of prohibited substances, What changes will you have to make?  Can you make the change all at once or will you transition different sections of land at a time?

RECORD-KEEPING

Keeping good records is the foundation of an organic plan – and for many producers it is also the most daunting. The most important thing to remember is that you must be able to document that you do what you say you do. It can be as simple and basic as keeping a daily journal or calendar to write down exactly what you do each day – up to complicated spreadsheets that help you track things. It is crucial that you be able to track each crop from the seed that was used, to the field it was planted in, to the equipment that was used to harvest and truck it, through the storage facility to the end user. Your records will show that you did everything possible to protect the organic integrity of your crop at every stage that was within your control. If you are a livestock producer you will keep birth and feed records as well as tracking any treatments you may have used. These records must be kept for at least 5 years.

3. Apply for Organic Certification

You can find a list of certifying bodies in the Business to Business directory under “Certifier” You will want to call a few to find out their fees, what they offer, and to determine which one is the right fit for you. Most certifiers require that initial application be made during the spring months so that they can schedule a summer inspection visit to your farm.

When the organic inspector arrives at your farm for the annual inspection, they will verify your organic plan through a combination of walking your fields and barns, looking at your equipment and storage facilities and generally confirming that you are protecting the organic integrity of your products from beginning to end. They will also spend some time at the kitchen table reviewing your records to ensure they are an accurate representation of what you are doing, and that it is possible to track each product from beginning to end.

The Inspector will file a report to your Certifier and you will be issued an Organic Certificate. You will need to provide copies of this certificate to the buyers of your organic product. To keep your certificate current, you will need to reapply every year, usually by March 1st.

4. Refine your Organic Plan

Your organic plan must be updated every year to reflect changes in your management practices, any problems you may have had, and what you did to help solve those problems. Your success at organic farming depends on your interest in learning the techniques and your ability to problem solve.