Organic farming


What is organic agriculture?

In organic agriculture, farming methods aim at creating ecosystems that balance pest and beneficial organism populations and maintain and replenish fertility of the soil. The term ‘organic’ in Quebec and Canada can be applied to agricultural products produced in accordance with the organic standards of Quebec and/or Canada.

What are the organic standards?

They consist in detailed requirements that must be met in full by operators for any crops, livestock, products and farms to which organic claims will be applied.

How long does it take to transition land to organic status?

Conventionally farmed land must have had no application of or exposure to materials prohibited by the Québec Organic Certification Reference Manual for the three years preceding the harvest of products that will be considered or marketed as organic. For virgin or fallowed land, some portion of this three-year period may be applied retroactively, if the land has received no applications of or exposure to prohibited materials.

Must an entire farm be converted at once?

Farms can be converted to organic production field by field, building by building, or farm unit by farm unit (livestock units, buildings and adjacent exercise areas, etc.) as long as each area to be converted has distinct and well-defined boundaries. Fields must have buffer zones to protect from runoff and unintended contamination from adjoining land areas, Facility use and farming practices must guarantee that organic and non-organic crops are not commingled and that organic crops, animals or products are not compromised by exposure to non-authorized substances and materials. Parallel production, where identical organic and non-organic varieties of plants or breeds of animals are raised adjacent to one another, is prohibited. Recordkeeping must be sufficient to provide a detailed audit trail that shows how the integrity of organic crops, animals or products has been maintained through to the point of sale.

What is an organic compliance management plan or organic system plan?

An operational management plan that is also called production plan / preparation plan is a key part of the documentation required for organic certification. These documents identify who is responsible for the organic operation and provide evidence that an operator has a system for monitoring all practices and procedures taking place on the operation, as well as records for all farm and facility inputs, quantities harvested, produced or processed, and handling from storage and shipping through to the point of sale. These plans must be updated and submitted to the certification body at least annually in order to maintain certified organic status. Most certification bodies provide operators with forms and guidance documents. Once plans have been approved for their compliance, certification bodies send an inspector to verify that operations are managed according to the plan. Any divergence from the plan must be noted by the inspector and duly communicated to the certification body.

How do organic crop operations manage fertility?

On organic farms, crop fertility is managed using a range of techniques. Farmers grow and incorporate cover crops and apply composted plant and animal organic matter. Farmers also use “crop rotation”, a systematic cycling of crop types (deep- or shallow-rooted, more or less nutrient-demanding, etc.) and fallowed areas in fields from season to season and from year to year. Farmers use or refrain from using certain tillage and cultivation practices as necessary to maintain and/or improve soil structure, organic matter content and soil microbial life. Some mined minerals and a few synthetic substances are authorized by the Québec Organic Certification Reference Manual as supplemental sources of nutrients, provided that the contamination of soil, crops and water is avoided.

Must organic farmers take any precautions in applying manure on their farms?

Yes. Raw manure and other animal and plant material must be handled in a way that prevents water, soil and crop contamination. Crops for human consumption that have the edible portion in contact with the soil –including leafy greens– must be harvested at least 120 days after application of raw manure. Other crops for human consumption must be harvested at least 90 days following the application of raw manure. Composted manure can be applied without a days-to-harvest restriction, provided that the composting practices used meet the Québec Organic Certification Reference Manual requirements, which provide thresholds for acceptable levels of human pathogens and other contaminants.

How are insect pests managed on organic farms?

Organic farmers limit insect pest pressure and damage primarily through implementing several cultural and biological methods such as crop rotation, crop diversification, habitat management, release of beneficial organisms, effective sanitation practices, and careful timing of planting and harvesting of their crops. Such methods encourage pest predation by beneficial insects, minimize attacks on crops by emergent pest populations at critical stages of plant growth, and help ensure that plants are robust and resilient if and when pests strike. When preventative measures fail to prevent pest damage, the use of certain naturally-derived mineral and botanical substances as well that of a few relatively non-toxic synthetic pesticides (such as soaps) is authorized by the Québec Organic Certification Reference Manual to address pest problems. Special restrictions regarding the use of these substances, as noted in the organic standards, as well as in the organic farm management plan, may apply.

How are weeds managed on organic farms?

On organic farms, a range of cultural and mechanical techniques are used to manage weeds, including crop rotation, mulching, careful use of tillage to exhaust weed seed populations in surface soils, frequent shallow cultivation to eliminate juvenile weeds or to kill maturing weeds before seeds onset, water management, and manual and flame weeding. Organic farmers sometimes let weeds grow in certain areas to prevent soil erosion, improve organic matter, and provide niches for beneficial, pest-predating wildlife on organic farms. Plastic film (“plastic mulch“) can be used for weed control provided it is removed at the end of each growing season. A few natural substances that can be used to manage weeds, such as vinegar and vegetable oils, are authorized for use by Québec Organic Certification Reference Manual.

How is crop disease managed on organic farms?

Key components of disease management for organic crops include crop rotation, mulching and cover cropping to prevent soil splash, pruning, proper handling and harvest techniques (regular cleaning of tools and equipment, avoiding manipulation of wet plants when possible to avoid facilitating disease spread) and selection of disease-resistant varieties. Efforts to maintain and improve the soil’s organic matter, structure and biological activity also serve to control the prevalence and spread of soil-borne diseases. Some natural substances—and as a last resort, a few synthetic fungicides such as copper sulphate—are authorized for crop disease control, if used in conjunction with the farm’s certifier-approved plan. Additional restrictions on the use of these substances, as noted in the Québec Organic Certification Reference Manual, may apply.

What types of living conditions are required for organic livestock?

All animals under organic management are required to have access to the outdoors and suitable exercise areas. Animals must be provided with clean bedding and water as well as solid, clean and spacious, well-ventilated and well-lit shelters that accommodate the specific physiological needs of different species. Permanent access to pasture, weather permitting, is required for ruminants.

How do organic animals meet their nutritional requirements?

All agricultural products provided in the feed ration must be organic; supplementation using minerals and additives is limited. A significant portion of the diet of ruminant livestock must come from pasture.

How is organic animal health maintained and managed?

Livestock health care is based primarily on implementing preventive practices, such as providing balanced nutrition from organic feed, reducing animal stress, and selecting disease-resistant breeds. Medications (antibiotics, vaccines, parasiticides and botanical remedies) are authorized for use by the Québec Organic Certification Reference Manual on a restricted basis and may not be administered in the absence of illness. On the other hand, animals that are sick must be treated. A producer who withholds treatment from a sick animal in an attempt to maintain that animal’s organic status can be decertified. Antibiotics are not permitted for any slaughter animals or for egg-laying birds. Products from animals treated with any prohibited medication must be diverted from organic marketing channels. Courses of treatment with synthetic parasiticides are tightly regulated and limited during the course of an animal’s lifetime.

It is prohibited to treat slaughter stock destined for sale as organic product in the United States with any parasiticides. Only one parasicitide, Ivermectin, is permitted for organic farming in the U.S., and its use is restricted for use in dairy and breeding stock only.

What are the requirements for converting to organic dairy production?

There are two means of converting dairy animals to organic production:

  1. Animals from conventional sources introduced to an already existing organic dairy farm must be managed using organic production methods for 12 months prior to organic marketing of any of their products.
  2. If an entire, distinct herd is being converted to organic production, a one-time allowance permits feeding of up to 20% non-organic feed for the first 9 months of a 12-month conversion period, followed by a 100% certified organic feed ration for the final three months. Feed produced on the farm, if in the last year of a three-year transition period during which organic production methods have been followed, can count as organic feed for the first 9 months of the year. Replacement animals introduced to this type of herd must come from animals managed organically from at least the last third of gestation.

What sources of animals are acceptable for organic meat production?

Slaughter animals other than poultry can come from any breeding stock that has been organically managed from the last third of gestation. Poultry must be managed organically from the second day of life.

Which inputs are prohibited or permitted in organic production?

The Québec Organic Certification Reference Manual contains lists of permitted non-synthetic substances and synthetic substances along with specific restrictions concerning their use. Non-listed substances are not authorized for use. These lists cover a wide range of substances for use in crop production (soil amendments and crop production aids; fertilizers; substances for weed control; substances for pest and disease control; cleaning substances), livestock production (feed ingredients; additives and supplements; health care substances; pest control; and cleaning substances) and processing (additives; processing and handling aids; and cleaning substances).

Where can I find the lists of substances authorized for organic farming in Canada and Quebec?

Who determines if a specific product is acceptable for use on an organic operation?

In most cases, the certification agencies determine whether or not the use of a given input on a farm or handling operations complies with organic standards.

Should an organic farmer anticipate the input he or she will use each year?

Organic farmers should anticipate production needs and determine the practices and inputs needed to achieve that production. All inputs, including fertilizers and pesticides, that a farmer intends to use over a season must be included in the organic production management plan he will submit to the certifier. Prior to the use of any input on the farm, the input must be approved by the organic certification body. Any substances applied to crops, soil, or livestock must be documented.

If a fertilizer is labeled ‘organic’, can a farmer use it on certified organic land?

Caution is needed in evaluating fertilizer labeled as organic, as the use of the term “organic” in this case can mean simply that the fertilizer contains (possibly naturally-derived) substances containing the element carbon. This fertilizer might also include materials prohibited by Québec Organic Certification Reference Manual, such as urea or sewage sludge.

How are substances authorized for organic farming added or removed from the lists maintained by Canada and Quebec?

Detailed instructions and forms to be used in proposing modifications to the Canadian organic standard’s list of authorized substances (Canadian General Standards Board Regulation 32.311 Organic Production Systems — Permitted Substance Lists) can be found in Section 10 of the document 32.310

Proposed modifications to the Québec Organic Certification Reference Manual can be made by either contacting CARTV directly or through a CARTV-accredited certifier.


Organic farming