Date: May 21, 2020
To: NOFA-NY Certified Organic Farms and Operations
From: NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC
RE: Status of Inspections during COVID-19: Phased Reopening and On-Site Inspection Safety Plan
Due to phased reopening of NYS economy, select on-site inspections will begin occurring alongside virtual inspections for eligible operations. On-site inspections may only be performed following the NOFA-NY On-Site Inspection Safety Plan. Please contact the certification office with any questions about how this affects your operation.
NOFA-NY On-site Inspection Safety Plan
New York State has announced a phased reopening of the economy. Regions as identified per NY Forward website that have met all 7 metrics may have an on-site inspection as long as a plan is in place following NY and CDC guidelines for reopening. NY Regional Breakdown Map – check to see which counties fall under the regional councils.
NOFA-NY has received confirmation from the NYS Assembly, NYS Ag & Markets and Broome County Executive office that it is eligible to reopen and considered Support Activities for Crop and Animal Production under the category of Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Hunting, as part of the Phase 1 Reopening plan. The NOFA-NY Office will remain working from home at this time, however with the following precautions will resume its on-site inspection program. Inspectors must have this safety plan with them during each on-site inspection.
NOFA-NY On-site Inspection Safety Plan must be provided to operator and be readily available by the inspector. Virtual Inspections will continue to be offered through the end of 2020 based on operator/inspector comfort level, operation risk in terms of meeting safety protocols below, and whether the operation in the region has met NYS metrics for reopening. Inspections in regions where metrics have NOT been met should remain virtual or be put on hold.
If an on-site inspection will occur, the inspector will complete the On-Site Inspection Safety Checklist and obtain approval from operator to conduct on-site inspection. All production areas including indoors must be verified. If an inspector or operator is not comfortable entering an indoor production area, then a virtual inspection of those areas should be performed.
- Materials needed to safely conduct on-site inspections:
- Face masks (required to be worn by both inspector and operator)
- Hand sanitizer
- Sanitizing wipes to clean surfaces
- Extra sanitized pens
- Shoe coverings (optional)
- Precautions to consider before going on inspection:
- Inspector and operator should discuss all necessary precautions and considerations prior to the on-site inspection per the On-Site Inspection Safety Checklist.
- If inspection will include indoor production areas, it should be conducted when the fewest employees are present if possible, with one person guiding following all safety and distance protocols.
- It is strongly recommended that inspectors get tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis. Check local county health department for information on free testing sites. Results should be provided to NOFA-NY. If an inspector tests positive for COVID-19, on-site inspections must not be conducted by inspector until at least two weeks after testing and NOFA-NY must notify state and local health officials.
- If operator or their employees have tested positive for COVID-19, inspector should be notified, and the on-site inspection should be considered for virtual inspection if possible. For those who do not have the capabilities to do a virtual inspection, inspection may be rescheduled once operator/employee(s) are healthy and confirmed tested negative for COVID-19.
- Avoid using public transportation where possible.
- Refrain from visiting if inspector or operator has travelled to a COVID-19 hotspot (domestic or international).
- The inspector and operator should check their temperature the morning of inspection to confirm they do not have a fever.
- If inspector or operator have any COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms, refrain from conducting on-site inspection.
- Wash hands and sanitize phones and other personal equipment before commencing inspection.
- During Inspection
- Inspector and operator required to wear face mask/covering for duration of inspection.
- Physical Distancing
- Inspector and operator should be a minimum of 6 feet apart for duration of inspection.
- When driving to fields, operators should follow in separate vehicle if possible.
- Carry hand sanitizer and/or hand wipes during the inspection and use as needed.
- Records audit during the inspection should be conducted outside if possible. Records may be required to be submitted ahead of time.
- Limit the sharing of objects and discourage touching of shared surfaces; or, when in contact with shared objects or frequently touched areas, wear gloves or sanitize or wash hands before and after contact. Common objects that are shared include:
- Animal/crop inputs and materials
Date: April 23, 2020
To: NOFA-NY Certified Organic Farms and Operations
From: NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC
RE: Status of Inspections during COVID-19 (coronavirus) and Virtual Inspection Info
Physical on-site inspections have been temporarily halted to follow local, state and national mandates and to reduce the spread of disease we are currently experiencing with COVID-19. During this time, virtual inspections will be performed for some operations. Please use the following as guidelines in understanding and preparing for a virtual inspection. If selected, you will be contacted with more details and to determine eligibility.
What is a Virtual Inspection?
- An inspection that flows exactly as a physical on-site inspection, just through a camera lens.
- All aspects of the Organic System Plan are verified and each production unit, facility, and site (including fields) should be viewed, unless inaccessible. The same records will be reviewed.
- Inspection will confirm land, facilities, and activities demonstrate the operation’s compliance.
- If all aspects are not verifiable during a virtual inspection, or if adding significant new production, a physical on-site inspection may be required later in the season. This will be determined by the certification office. Inspection fees may apply.
- FOR NEW APPLICANTS: Since an on-site inspection is required to grant certification, your inspection may be delayed until travel restrictions lift, timeframe unknown at this time. However, if urgent, a virtual inspection combined with a brief on-site visit following safety protocols can be performed to grant certification, provided there is a full on-site inspection when travel restrictions lift. Regular inspection fees may apply.
Preparing for Virtual Inspection
- Technology requirements include a mobile smart device with video capability, such as phone or tablet. Inspection will occur with visual software such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, or Whatsapp. Instructions will be provided.
- Geographic location should have satellite signal/internet access outside of Wifi range for viewing of facilities, farmstead, fields, barns, etc.
- Audit trail documents will be requested by inspector prior to date of virtual inspection. See list of potential records to be submitted below. These will be reviewed during the virtual inspection as well.
During the Virtual Inspection
- Virtual inspection should be performed with authorized representative of the operation (Main or Other Contact listed in the OSP).
- Inspector will guide the flow of inspection. Be prepared to visit all organic production areas for virtual viewing. At any time the inspector may request where the camera should point in order to ensure their views are not obstructed and to verify full compliance.
- If certain areas are inaccessible/unable to be viewed, date stamped photos/video may be submitted for consideration.
- Recordkeeping audit will be performed during the virtual inspection. All records (including those submitted to inspector ahead of time) should be on hand for review during the virtual inspection.
- Exit interview will be reviewed during the virtual inspection then emailed to be signed and returned to inspector within 24 hours of inspection.
If you are marked for hard copy correspondence, but are interested in/capable of a virtual inspection, please call or email the office to let us know!
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the certification office. Thank you for your patience during this time!
Documentation That May Be Requested Prior To Inspection
Send as legible photos/PDFs by email or text, as applicable
- Soil Tests
- Receipts for Seeds, Planting Stock, Transplants/Seedlings, Potting mixes, Inputs
- Organic Certificates for Transplants/Seedlings
- Seed Tags
- Seed Search documentation for seeds/planting stock
- Applied Amendment/Spray Record
- Harvest Log
- Organic Certificates and Receipts for Feed and Bedding
- Purchased Feed Log
- Livestock Purchase Records and Organic Certificates
- Feed Ration/DMI Forms
- Grazing Records – Dates and Fields
- Health Care Receipts
- Vet Receipts
- Livestock Medication/Health Care Record
- Organic Slaughter Sales Records
- Boarding Documents
- Temporary Confinement Records
- Handling Facilities
- Pest Control Logs & List of Approved Products by Pest Control Company
- Current Master Supplier List
- Current Organic Certificates
- Latest Process Flow
- Latest SOPs (Tracking, Organic, Storage, etc.)
- Last Mock Recall (To Assist In Mass Balance and Traceback During Actual Audit)
- Import/Export Documents
As cases of COVID-19 increase in New York State, we at NOFA-NY want to share the steps we’re taking to care for our community:
- We are still open for business. All staff are working from home until further notice. We’re a small team, so please be patient if we respond more slowly than usual.
- NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC staff will continue responding to calls and emails, and processing certification applications. Calls will be returned within 24 hours.
- On site Inspections have been halted until further notice. We are currently working with other certification agencies, inspection agencies, and the USDA to establish protocols for virtual inspections. We are continuing to accept new applications, but exact timeframe for certification approval is unknown at this time. We will have further details in the coming week as we finalize our policies. Feel free to call with questions.
- We are still able to collect mail via US postal service at this time. Note however that mail processing is slower than normal.
- Please refrain from sending packages to our Binghamton office via UPS or Fedex until further notice. Emailing our office is strongly encouraged if you have this capability. We are still sending and receiving faxes.
If you have questions about organic certification, please contact the certification office at 607.724.9851. If you have any questions about NOFA-NY Inc operations or programming, please contact Emma Ertinger at 315.988.4000 x512.
Thank you for your continued support. Challenges like this remind us of how grateful we are for our community.
Jessica Terry, Co-Director, NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC
Lauren Tonti, Co-Director, NOFA-NY Certified Organic, LLC
Bethany Wallis, Director, NOFA-NY Inc.
The USDA Organic Certification Cost Share Programs (OCCSP) provides organic producers and handlers with financial assistance to reduce the cost of organic certification. The programs reimburse producers and handlers for a portion of their paid certification costs from October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019. Once certified, organic producers and handlers are eligible to receive reimbursement for up to 75% of certification costs each year up to a maximum of $750 per certification scope—crops, livestock, wild crops and handling.
Click here for the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets’ 2018-19 Application for Organic Certification Cost Reimbursement.
This memo summarizes the rules that accredited certifying agents (certifiers) must follow when determining the eligibility and compliance of container systems for organic crop certification. In this memo, the term container system includes container, hydroponic, and other plant pot-based systems, with or without soil as the growing media. Certifiers and operations must meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990, as amended (7 USC §§ 6501-6522), and the USDA organic regulations (7 C.F.R. §§ 205.1-205.699).
The OFPA, Section 6502 defines a certified organic farm as “a farm, or portion of a farm, or site where agricultural products or livestock are produced.” Section 6504 specifies the standards for organic production:
“To be sold or labeled as an organically produced agricultural product under this title, an agricultural product shall: (1) have been produced and handled without the use of synthetic chemicals, except as otherwise provided in this title; (2) except as otherwise provided in this title and excluding livestock, not be produced on land to which any prohibited substances, including synthetic chemicals, have been applied during the 3 years immediately preceding the harvest of the agricultural products; and (3) be produced and handled in compliance with an organic plan agreed to by the producer and handler of such product and the certifying agent.”
The USDA organic regulations implement these requirements at 7 CFR 205.202, stating that “any field or farm parcel from which harvested crops are intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as “organic,” must…. have had no prohibited substances, as listed in §205.105, applied to it for a period of 3 years immediately preceding harvest of the crop.” This requirement is referred to as the three-year transition period.
The National Organic Program (NOP) has consistently allowed for the certification of container systems as long as the certifier determines that the system complies with OFPA and the USDA organic regulations. This is consistent with 7 USC 6512, which states: “If a production or handling practice is not prohibited or otherwise restricted under this chapter, such practice shall be permitted unless it is determined that such practice would be inconsistent with the applicable organic certification program.”
This memo clarifies that the legal requirements related to the three-year transition period apply to all container systems built and maintained on land.
Certifiers must consider two questions when certifying container systems:
• Eligibility: Is the land eligible for organic production?
• Compliance: Is the system compliant with the USDA organic regulations, and can it maintain compliance?
Consistent with the OFPA and USDA organic regulations, certifiers must confirm that organic crops have been produced and handled without the use of synthetic substances (with the noted exceptions of synthetic substances allowed for organic crop production on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances); and must not be produced on land to which prohibited substances have been applied during the three years immediately preceding the harvest of agricultural crops.
This means that certifiers are to assess land use histories for container system sites, just as they would for an in-ground soil-based system. If a prohibited substance was applied to the land at the farm or site within the three-year period before the first organic harvest, then the harvested crops shall not be sold, labeled, or represented as “organic” until the three-year period has passed. If the operation documents that no prohibited substance was applied within that three-year period, then the land may be eligible for container system production, just as it would be for a soil-based system.
• A container operation wishes to construct a container system on a plot of land and provides evidence that no prohibited substance has been applied within three years before the expected harvest. This land may be eligible for organic production.
• A container operation is proposed to be constructed on land that was treated with a prohibited substance within the past year. This land would not be eligible for organic production until three years had passed between the application and projected harvest.
Once certified, certifiers must assess container systems for ongoing compliance with the USDA organic regulations. No prohibited substances may be applied anywhere in the system, including on the land underlying the system, or in the system itself.
Certifiers must evaluate the compliance of the overall system, including maintaining or improving natural resources, supporting nutrient cycling, promoting ecological balance, and conserving biodiversity.
This memo applies to all new container systems that have not yet been certified under the organic program. It is not retroactive to already certified operations and sites. All currently certified container system operations retain their certification as long as they maintain compliance with the regulations.
NOFA-NY was recently notified by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) of a policy clarification regarding ready-to-use mushroom spawn for use in organic mushroom production.
Ready-to-use spawn (see definition in italics below) must be certified organic to be approved for organic use. If you have been using non-organic, ready-to-use spawn, please discontinue use, and submit a plan for sourcing spawn or certified organic ready-to-use spawn by May 1, 2019.
Additional information from the NOP on this decision is provided below:
For the purpose of this notice, the term “ready-to-use spawn” is defined as colonized substrate prepared for producing harvestable mushrooms (fruiting bodies) in situ with proper humidity and temperature control. In contrast, the term “spawn” is defined as colonized media used to inoculate substrates on which mushrooms are grown. Ready-to-use spawn may be produced in a variety of formats, including but not limited to, formed as blocks, packaged into plastic bags, or shaped into logs. For example, “shiitake mushroom logs” may consist of plastic bags containing mixtures of fibrous materials (e.g., wood chips, sawdust, wheat bran, husks), processed mined substances (e.g.,gypsum), and mushroom inoculant.
NOP Instruction 4009 in the Program Handbook stipulates a certified operation may not, “Allow an uncertified operation to produce or handle agricultural products, under contract or other arrangement, on the uncertified operation’s land or premises (i.e., at units, facilities, or sites not explicitly subject to inspection or compliance action by the NOP or a certifying agent).”
Because ready-to-use spawn includes all components to produce harvestable mushrooms, it is considered an agricultural product under the USDA organic regulations (see § 205.2 definition of agricultural product). Ready-to-use spawn used in organic mushroom production must be produced by certified organic operations (see § 205.100(a) What has to be certified). Certification is essential to ensure that an accredited certifying agent conducts annual inspections of the production facility and reviews substrates and spawn in these products for compliance with USDA organic regulations.
It may be argued that using non-organic ready-to-use spawn products, such as “shiitake mushroom logs,” is equivalent to using non-organic seed when not commercially available. The NOP disagrees with this assessment, because “shiitake mushroom logs” are not used to inoculate medium at the certified operation to produce a crop in a related manner that seeds are planted into soil to produce a seedling. Rather, the pre-inoculated “shiitake mushroom logs” contain the spawn, growth medium and nutrients required to produce a mushroom crop upon watering and are not placed in new containers or growth medium at the certified operation. Additionally, “shiitake mushroom log” producers might argue that they do not require certification because they do not handle any certified organic ingredients. We disagree with this argument because they are producing an agricultural product for use in certified organic production. To ensure equal oversight to entities involved in organic mushroom production and to ensure organic integrity, “shiitake mushroom logs” and other ready-to-use spawn products used in organic mushroom production must be produced by a certified facility.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), National Organic Program (NOP) has published a Final Rule that amends the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
The Rule will be fully implemented on January 28, 2019, except that the amendments for the substances Ivermectin, Flavors, Cellulose, and Glycerin will be implemented December 27, 2019.
Please see Federal Register for more information.
- Removed Materials:
- Rotenone to be prohibited in crop production
- New Allowed Materials (with annotation as applicable):
- Magnesium Oxide and Squid By-Products to be allowed in Crop production
- Activated Charcoal, Calcium Borogluconate, Calcium Propionate, Kaolin Pectin, Mineral Oil, Injectable Vitamins, Trace Minerals and Electrolytes, Propylene Glycol, Acidified Sodium Chlorite, and Zinc Sulfate to be allowed in Livestock production
- Hypochlorous Acid to be allowed as chlorine material for Crops, Livestock, Handling
- Potassium Lactate and Sodium Lactate to be allowed in Handling
- Other Amendments:
- Micronutrients (Crop): allows alternative methods for documenting a deficiency
- Chlorhexidine (Livestock): allows for medical uses
- Parasiticides (Livestock): To be allowed for fiber bearing animals when used a minimum of 36 days prior to harvesting of fleece or wool that is to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic. The milk withhold periods for Fenbendazole and Moxidectin to be reduced to 2 days for cattle 36 days for other species. Ivermectin to be prohibited in livestock production
- Xylazine (Livestock): allows for non-emergency uses
- Lidocaine and Procaine (Livestock): Restricted at shorter withdrawal periods: 8 days for slaughter stock and 6 dairy for dairy stock
- Methionine (Livestock): For poultry production to be restricted at the following maximum rates as averaged per ton of feed over the life of the flock: Laying chickens – 2 pounds; broiler chickens – 2.5 pounds; turkeys and all other poultry – 3 pounds
- Excipients (Livestock): allows APHIS-approved substances
- Carnauba wax and Glycerin (Handling): Re-classified as agricultural, thereby requiring the use of organic forms when commercially available
- Flavors (Handling): Restricted so that organic flavors are required when commercially available
- Alginic Acid (Handling): reclassifies as synthetic
- Cellulose (Handling): clarifies that microcrystalline forms are prohibited
- Chlorine (Handling): clarifies restriction in accordance with FDA or EPA approved levels
- Colors (Handling): replaces Chemical Abstract Services (CAS#s) with binomial nomenclature of the agricultural source of color
Certified producers importing products should be prepared to provide additional information during inspection or to the certification office to ensure they meet the NOP 4013 Interim Instruction. You are deemed an importer if you are a shipment’s importer on record (direct import) and also if you are the first United States certified organic operation taking title, receiving, or selling import products.
Proper documentation for imported products may include organic certificates, import certificates/attestation statements, purchase records, shipping documents, receiving records, and labels, along with records confirming organic integrity was maintained with respect to transport, fumigation with prohibited substances and/or irradiation.
Records should list lot numbers, volume, name of last certified operation, receiving party, etc. so that product can be traced through the supply chain. Whenever possible, documents should designate products as organic. We understand that not all governing bodies require this designation.
If you purchase organic goods from uncertified importers or brokers, Uncertified Handler Declaration Form may be required.
The NY State Department of Agriculture & Markets is still handling applications this year along with local FSA offices.
The USDA Organic Certification Cost Share Programs (OCCSP) provides organic producers and handlers with financial assistance to reduce the cost of organic certification. The programs reimburse producers and handlers for a portion of their paid certification costs. Once certified, organic producers and handlers are eligible to receive reimbursement for up to 75% of certification costs each year up to a maximum of $750 per certification scope—crops, livestock, wild crops and handling. For more information on cost share call us at 607-724-9851.
Anne St. Cyr
NY State Department of Agriculture & Markets
10B Airline Drive Albany, NY 12235
P: (518) 485-9974 F: (518) 457-2716 E-mail: Anne.St.Cyr@agriculture.ny.gov
Keeping complete and accurate records is critical to the integrity of the organic program.
An annual mandatory inspection examines the integrity and accountability an organic operation, from pest management to soil conditions to contamination prevention and more. The ability to openly audit and trace any certified organic product or crop from beginning to end is critical to maintaining consumer confidence and creates a strong foundation to address any issue with quick action.
Resources are provided to assist an operation in this important component.
Oxytocin and Procaine have been petitioned for removal from the National List 205.603, upon its sunset date of 3/15/2022.
USDA has announced the decision to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule published on January 19, 2017. The rule would have increased federal regulation of livestock and poultry for certified organic producers and handlers. The withdrawal becomes effective May 13, 2018.