Organic Vegetable Production

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Organic production is a system that lends itself well to small-scale and part-time farming operations. Although the cost of certification and the time and labor involved in managing the system are high, returns can also be, on average, 20 percent higher than conventionally produced products, provided that a market exists. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the use of the term “organic.” In order to become certified organic, a grower must use production and handling practices in accordance with the National Organic Standards (NOS) and become certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agency. Growers whose gross income from organic production is $5,000 or less are exempt from this rule. In this case, growers must still use production and handling practices in accordance with the NOS, but other restrictions regarding labeling and combination with other organic products apply. It takes a minimum of 3 years to transition from nonorganic production to certified organic production. During this period the products harvested cannot be labeled as organic and may not command the higher prices associated with organic products. Growing organic is not for everyone since it requires detailed record keeping and more management and planning time than most other production systems.

Elsa S. Sánchez
Michael D. Orzolek
Jayson K. Harper
Lynn F. Kime
Pennsylvania State University