Washington, D.C.— The Organic Trade Organization (OTA) hasannounceda new partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that is meant to help guide farmers in transition to certified organic agriculture. The National Certified Transitional Program (NCTP) — using OTA standards — will provide oversight to approved Accredited Organic Certifying Agents offering transitional certifications to producers. Because the transition to organic is prolonged and costly, this program eases the burden by allowing producers to sell their products as a premium by identifying them as certified transitional.

NCTP does not provide standards or criteria for labeling products certified under the program, instead providing oversight and certification in order to harmonize existing transitional certification programs currently operated by Accredited Certifying Agents and provides a mechanism for additional certifiers to offer this service to new clients. This oversight program is recognized by the USDA Quality Systems Assessment Program, housed within the Agricultural Marketing Service branch and USDA will accredit organic certification agencies that comply with NCTP criteria, enabling them to conduct certification of producers operating in accordance with the OTA-developed standards.

USDA’s oversight of certifying agents offering transitional certification will consist of certifier audits and a uniform transitional production standard for both crop and livestock producers. Participating farmers will be required to prove their land has been free of prohibited substances (synthetic pesticides and fertilizers) for a minimum of 12 months and must follow all other organic production standards to achieve transitional certification, including crop rotation, the fostering and conservation of biodiversity, and no use of genetic engineering. One unique provision of NCTP is that once a farm is eligible for organic certification, they may only apply for transitional certification once more.  This ensures that transitional certification acts as an effective on-ramp to organic production and not as a way to create an “organic-light” marketing term.

It should be noted that NCTP does not include certification of finished products labeled as “transitional” in the marketplace, limited only to producers working towards their own organic certification. USDA will be accepting applications for the first round from Accredited Certifying Agents looking to gain oversight through NCTP until Feb. 28, 2017, and on-site reviews of these certifying agents will occur at their next organic accreditation audit.