Opting for Organic?

Key Considerations for Organic Blueberry Production

Are you interested in organic blueberry production, but unsure if it is wise or how to legally grow and sell organic blueberries? In 2018, organic blueberries grew nearly 48% in volume and were responsible for more than half of all blueberry volume gains over the previous year. However, switching to or adding organic production requires time, planning, practice, and patience. Below are a few checklist items we have developed over the years of talking with farmers who are interested in organic production.

Organic Production Is a Legal Matter

Producers must meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, as amended (7 USC §§ 6501-6522), and the USDA organic regulations (7 C.F.R. §§ 205.1-205.699). In short, section 6504 states that organically produced products need to be handled without the use of synthetic chemicals (with some exceptions), land on which the food is grown must not have any application of prohibited substances for three years before harvest, and producers need to have an organic plan that is followed and approved by a certification agency. Producers need to select any certified private accrediting agency that partners with the USDA National Organic Program (https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/organic-certification/certifying-agents). Certifiers are not allowed to provide production advice (such as recommending the best fungicide), but they will provide an administrative roadmap to certification and serve as your regulatory partner.  

Document Your Entry Point 

If you are transitioning from a conventional system, you will be asked to provide management records from the past three years, including all inputs, their rate of application, and copies of labels and invoices. Nursery stock is also considered an input. Items purchased in bulk, such as mulch, will also require documentation. If you are breaking new ground, you will be asked to provide records of the previous field history.  

Split Your Operation

If you intend to maintain both conventional and organic acreage, the two systems must be clearly separated at all steps in the production cycle. For example, specialty equipment such as planters and harvesters can be shared between systems, but they must be cleaned according to an approved SOP in your organic plan prior to use on certified land. Items that cannot be thoroughly cleaned must be labeled “organic use only.” Storage facilities for inputs and produce must have dedicated, labeled space for organic production. 

Protected Structures and Container Production

As of June 2019, all containers and protected structures (greenhouses, etc.) are considered a continuation of the soil beneath them, and that soil must be certified. If the soil does not meet the criteria for certification, then neither does the greenhouse or container. In addition, used containers must have an auditable record of past use, including locations of service and documentation that the containers have not been in contact with prohibited substances for three years. If in doubt, purchase new containers.

Sourcing Stock
Organic stock plants are expected when establishing a new orchard. If the system is certified, and organic stock plants are used, then the fruit may be labelled organic at the next harvest. There may be situations when organic stock is not available, and conventional stock would be allowed with approval from your certification agency. In that case, the fruit from those plants (or the plant itself) cannot bear the organic label until 12 months after planting. 

Additional considerations:

  • Organic production requires systems thinking; the farming system is certified, not the products. 

  • Do your market research, sell it before you plant it. 

  • Invite a trusted professional to conduct a mock inspection in the early stages of transition to avoid financial mistakes. 

by DR. DANIELLE TREADWELL, Associate Professor, University of Florida

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