How to become an Australian certified organic farm
There was a time not long ago when organic farming was a quaint, largely ignored niche occupied by the farming equivalent of potters and tree huggers. Or that may have been the general perception.
Whatever the case, organic farming wasn't taken seriously by the mainstream market, especially with retail prices about as unnatural as its produce was natural. Thankfully all that's changed.
Australia's organic farm turnover now exceeds $400 million and is growing at more than 20 per cent per year*. 'Sustainable' is the new buzzword filling restaurant menus and supermarket shelves. And sustainable means organic.
So what is organic farming?
Basically organic farming is vegetables, fruit or livestock grown using only natural nutrients from compost, crop residues and manures. Which means any synthetic or inorganic chemicals are a no no, even for weed control.
The road from inorganic to organic
It takes three years to become certified as an Australian organic farm. That might seem like a long time, but there is a strict process to adhere to. That process also requires a pretty resolute long term commitment from you as, effectively, you will be completely reinventing your farming wheel.
Entrenched ways of doing things will be abandoned as you phase in your new organic approach to farming and there may be some short term losses. Rest assured, it is worth it and you will soon be fully aligned with the new world of sustainable produce and ready to profit.
The three year process
Inspect, inspect and inspect again, that's how it works. Your farm is effectively in a three year probation period, so at the beginning of year one, NASAA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia) inspectors will give your farm a once over to ensure you have fully adapted to organic processes. This is called the pre-certification period and nothing you sell can be labelled organic.
In year two a second inspection will determine whether you've sufficiently met all organic standards. If the answer is yes, you will become the lucky recipient of 'in conversion' status. You can now sell produce labelled 'organic, in conversion.'
Finally, if a year three inspection gets the thumbs up, you will be officially recognised as a certified organic farmer.
Exceptions to the three year rule
While year one of the three is mandatory for all farms converting to organic, some flexibility exists from there. If, for example, you can show proof of land used according to organic standards prior to commencing the process, your time in organic probation can be reduced.
*Australian Organic Market Report, 2012
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