Starting steps for greenhouse organic certification

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

The demand and shelf space allotted to organically grown fruits and vegetables has been growing and overall organic sales increases are generally listed at 20% per year over the past eight to ten years. We are also seeing an increasing demand from consumers for organically grown herbs, vegetable transplants and even flowers. For those greenhouses that wish to capture part of the market opportunity, there are some steps you need to follow to insure your plant products can be certified organic and you need to understand organic production practices

We have put together some starting steps. This is by no means the complete article on how to convert over to a new growing system, but it is a starting point. For additional information, contact your local MSU Extension Greenhouse Educator.

1. Start the process of finding a certifier early. You need to to have a certificate in hand before you start marketing and since the crop time is often short, you should have the certificate at the start of production. The process of application, inspection, review and final notification takes months, and with the increased demand for certification, there can be a shortage of inspectors and possible delays.

    • When not growing in ground beds or soil, there will not be a three-year transition period. A new greenhouse can be certified immediately. We are not sure of the time requirement for a greenhouse where pesticides have been used. It may be a year, perhaps less.
    • The application for certification includes providing a “farm plan” that outlines cultural methods and practices. To our knowledge, there is not currently a farm plan template for certifying only a greenhouse. The information needed is imbedded in the vegetable and specialty crop farm plan template in the transplant production section. For a greenhouse, the plan would include describing how fertility and plant health (i.e. pest management) are managed. A list of any products used would be submitted with the plan. Organic seed is required if available, and lack of organic seed needs to be demonstrated. It is reasonable to assume that many times organic seeds will not be available. A listing of organic seed suppliers is available at www.attra.org, and a new database is in development for the OMRI website. Vegetative material would have to come from organically managed stock plants.
    • A list of possible certifiers is provided in the Michigan Department of Agriculture website.

2. Learn how to handle media and fertility. This is covered in the Organic Transplant Production article written by Biernbaum. See below.

    • Option 1. Buy a certified mix. Many media companies are now offering mixes that have been certified as organic.
    • Option 2. Make a certifiable mix with organic fertilizers
    • Option 3. Make a certifiable mix using compost. (This is the preferred method.)

3. Learn about pest management options for all greenhouse diseases and insects that may impact the crops you are growing.

    • What strategies reduce these pests?
    • What spray materials are allowed and how to use them?
    • A list of allowable materials is available from www.OMRI.org andwww.ATTRA.org as resources.

4. More resources. An excellent article on Greenhouse Organic Transplant Production was written byBiernbaum.

Also, an article on the same subject is available at the ATTRA website: Plug and Transplant Production for Organic Systems - IP160

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