Converting to Organic: FAQs
Speaking with farmers and growers who have made the decision to convert their farms to organic is one of the best parts of my role as a Soil Association Certification Officer. Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of innovative farmers and growers across the UK who are committed to farming in a sustainable way.
As the conversion windows have recently been announced for 2018, the whole Producer Certification team is gearing up for another year helping farmers and growers get certified.
When thinking about converting there are many questions you might have in mind. So we have taken the opportunity to answer some the most commonly asked questions we get from farmers and growers considering organic conversion.
What are the different ways to convert to organic?
The Soil Association Organic standards provide a framework for certification underpinned by the EU regulation for organic production ((EC) No 889/2008). Land takes two years to convert to organic status, though there is the scope to reduce this by four months if you are able to demonstrate that your land has been farmed organically prior to entering conversion. The conversion period can start from the day we receive your completed application form. We will offer you tailored support on your conversion options when we know more about your farm enterprises.
- Crops: As far as crops are concerned the conversion rules are different for annuals and perennials. Annual crops like cereals and vegetables need to be sown into organic land to have organic status. Established perennial crops like apples and asparagus need an extra year of organic conversion once the land has completed its conversion period.
- Livestock: As with crops the conversion rules for livestock vary depending on the species. Sheep tupped on organic land can give birth to organic lambs, whereas beef cattle need to be kept to full standards for at least 12 weeks before giving birth for the calf to be considered organic. During our initial conversation with you, we will discuss the different livestock conversion scenarios and help you decide which one is right for you.
Can I fail my first inspection?
After we have reviewed an application form, and spoken to you over the telephone, we will then start to plan your application inspection. As part of this application inspection one of our Soil Association inspectors will visit your farm and assess your production against the organic standards. Our inspectors have a wealth of experience and understand the challenges that farmers face when undergoing conversion. This application inspection is not a pass or fail test, but an opportunity for the inspector to check compliance with different areas of our standards and provide guidance in areas where the standards are not being met.
Do I need to memorise all our standards?
All applicants need to be well versed in the first four chapters of the standards regardless of their farm set up. These cover the general principles and land management rules related to organic production. Beyond this the standards are split between different farm enterprises, from grass and forage, to pigs and crop production. Whilst we would never expect a farmer to have memorised any of our standards we do need you to have a good understanding of the organic requirements that are relevant for your main farm enterprises.
Of course, we understand that farming organically is a constant learning process and it can take time for new licensees to develop a complete awareness of the standards. Your first inspection is a great time to ask any questions you may have related to the organic standards.
Our organic standards for Farming and Growing are available here.
What support can I receive during conversion?
From the point of your initial inquiry with us we will put you in contact with a member of our Producer Certification team, we are a group of twelve, based in Bristol and Edinburgh, with a range of specialities from beef and sheep production, to dairy and arable. Our team of Certification Officers will be your dedicated point of contact for any enquiries related to certification. They will be available to help you understand the standards, approve veterinary treatments and crop permissions and also ensure that your inspection is actioned effectively.
What can you say about organic when selling produce?
The organic market is in its sixth year of growth, with more consumers shopping for organic than ever before. Last year we published a report for our licensees on research conducted to develop a simple and clear message that can be used to sell organic products.
Is there any government grant funding available for organic farming?
In England and Scotland the organic payment and maintenance schemes have just opened for applications with farms set to receive financial support to convert to organic. In England, when combined with a greening payment, being certified organic will be worth approximately £130 per hectare on arable land. Information on the type of application available, conversion payments and key dates is available here.
Payment windows for Northern Ireland and Wales aren’t currently open: keep up-to-date with developments by checking our regularly updated financial information page.
Why should I certify with the Soil Association?
After 70 years of certifying organic farmers and growers we have the experience to make choosing organic a success for your business.
What we offer:
- An experienced and dedicated Certification Officer offering practical support
- Technical support and advice
- Combined inspections
- Exclusive access to new routes to market
- Free membership to our Food for Life Supplier Scheme, allowing you to reach over 300 caterers serving over 10,000 sites
- Discounts to our ground-breaking farming programmes and access to exclusive training and learning opportunities
- The opportunity to be part of our award-winning marketing campaigns
- Have your voice heard as we campaign for farmers on food and farming policy across the UK and EU
Find out more about the great benefits of certifying organic with Soil Association.