National Organic Standards Board

Mark Bradley
Associate Deputy Administrator
Room 4008-South Building
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250-0020
Phone: 202-720-3252
Fax: 202-205-7808

ISU Organic Agriculture Program

ISU operates an Organic Agriculture Program to provide research information and extension presentations for Iowa citizens. Field Days, workshops and classes on organics are held throughout the year. For more information:

Dr. Kathleen Delate, Associate Professor
Depts. of Horticulture & Agronomy
106 Horticulture Hall
Ames, Iowa 50011-1100
Telephone: 515-294-7069
Fax: 515-294-0730


Certification - The First Step

The first step in making the transition to certified organic production is contacting your certification agency. By joining your local organic certification association, you will benefit by participating in various meetings, Field Days, and visits to organic farms.

Many farmers can transition certain sections of land (such as CRP) immediately into certified organic status, if no synthetic chemicals (including Round-Up® and fertilizers) have been applied for the previous three years. During the three-year transition to certified organic production, records should be kept on all substances applied to the land. Your inspector will visit the farm in the third year (or the year you anticipate selling as organic), and review all records and crops, storage bins, and equipment used on the farm to assure compliance with organic standards.

You will be issued a certificate upon completion of inspection and approval by the certification board. Fees will be assessed based on an inspection fee (average $250/year) and anticipated acreage/livestock costs. For more details on certification costs, visit your certifier’s website, such as Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS).

Certification - Required Practices for Crops

To sell a product as "organic" the crop must have been raised on land to which no synthetic chemical (any fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides or fungicides) inputs were applied for three years prior to its harvest. In addition, no GMO crops are allowed in organic production (e.g. Roundup-Ready® soybeans and Bt-corn®). "Split operations" or conventional and organic fields located on the same farm are allowed, but special care, including a border (many farmers use 30 feet, but this may not be adequate depending upon your particular neighboring field and the chance for GMO/pesticide contamination) between organic and conventional fields, is needed in mixed operations (see ORGANIC SOYBEANS section below). Only naturally occurring materials are allowed in production and processing operations and all treatments must be noted in farm records. A sample of allowable materials are listed on the Organic Materials Review Institute’s webpage.

A crop rotation plan must be in place to protect against pest problems and maintain soil health. No more than four out of six years should be in row crops, and the same row crop cannot be grown in consecutive years on the same land. Legumes (alfalfa, red clover, berseem clover, hairy vetch), alone or in combination with small grains (wheat, oats, barley), must be rotated with row crops (corn, soybeans, amaranth, vegetables) to ensure a healthy system - see SOIL HEATH in ISU Extension Publication PM1880 (pdf). A typical six-year rotation in Iowa would be corn (with a cover of winter rye)-soybeans-oats (with an underseeding of alfalfa)-alfalfa-corn-soybeans. Horticultural crops must be rotated with a leguminous cover crop at least once every five years to maintain soil health.

Other practices specifically disallowed for organic production include the use of "biosolids" or sewage sludge, due to concerns with bacterial and heavy metal contamination. Irradiated products are also prohibited because irradiated elements do not occur in nature. Examples of products used in organic crop production are described in the EXAMPLES FROM THE FIELD in ISU Extension Publication PM1880 (pdf).

Certification - Required Practices for Livestock

Organic livestock, like organic crops, must be fed 100% organic food or feed in their production. Synthetic hormones and antibiotics are disallowed in organic livestock production. The natural bacteria present in vaccinations are permissible. Synthetic parasiticides are disallowed; instead, organic farmers rely on natural parasiticides, such as diatomaceous earth (DE).

Purchasing parasite-free stock, and providing access to ample pasture, water, and nutritional feed should allow for healthy organic livestock production. Livestock must be provided access to pasture in order to be certified organic. Alternative health therapies, such as botanical remedies and manipulation, are used by some organic livestock producers.

More information on certification