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Bremer talks about Organic Certification process in N.J.

By RICHARD SKELLY
AFP Correspondent

LINCROFT (March 1, 2016) — Just as rules officials at an amateur or professional golf tournament are there to assist players with questions about the rules of golf, officials from New Jersey’s Organic Certification department are there to help farmers hoping to start organic farms or convert existing farms to Certified Organic operations.
Erich Bremer, who supervises the New Jersey Department Of Agriculture’s Organic Certification program, delivered an overview of the organic certification process in New Jersey at NOFA-NJ’s Winter Conference at Brookdale Community College on Jan. 30.
Bremer and one full-time assistant oversee the NJDA’s organic certification program, Organic farms are the fastest growing segment in agriculture around the United States.
“There’s really no pre-registration you have to do to get certified. Most  people are aware they have to be free of prohibited chemicals for three years,” Bremer said, “if you’ve been in control of your fields for 36 months and you are signing your name to it, we’re going to believe you,” he said, noting the NJDA employs independent organic certification inspectors to visit farms and make sure the farm is compliant in a variety of arenas.
“I’m not here to lead you to get certified because I’m making money off it, I’m here to protect you, if you want to sell organic products to people in the state of New Jersey, then do it right. And I’m here to help you do it right, the important thing is doing it right,” Bremer said.
“You cannot use the ‘O word’ in any shape or form if you’re somewhat organic or don’t want to participate in the organic certification process. If I have organic in my business name and I’m making an organic claim, then I’ve got to follow the regulations.”
Bremer urged attendees to learn principles of organic production and identify organic production fields and prepare them for organic production.
“Learn the principles, figure out how this stuff works and figure out where you want to do your growing and prepare that soil,” he said. “Organic is not input substitution, there are a lot of requirements on the health and ecology of the farm. More than any other certifier in this country, we’re looking at your soil building techniques, your balancing of soils, your putting of organic matter into those soils, that’s what makes the whole system work, it’s not just swapping out of one material for another, it’s building those soils.”
Bremer said online sources of information about certification include the NJDA’s Organic Section of its website, www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/md/prog/jerseyorganic., as well as NOFA-NJ’s website www.nofanj.org, and the National Organic Program run by the USDA.
The National Organic Program website, www.ams.usda.gov, in particular, Bremer said, “is coming out with some really good informational brochures and fact sheets. Now I look at the NOP documents and see their language is not so vague in describing all this to potential organic farmers.”
Bremer encouraged farmers to reach out to their county Extension agents, as many of them are now up to speed on organic principles of production as are many officials at the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“Do a basic nutrient test,” Bremer urged, “find out your macro and micro nutrient levels and find out your organic matter. You’ve got to know where you’re at so you know what you need to do (with your soils) to get to where you want to be,” Bremer said.
Once a farmer is ready for independent certification inspectors to come out for an on-site visit, another reality farmers will face up to is the importance of keeping scrupulous records.
“You’re going to have to keep really good records of what you’re doing. A lot of what we look at to determine compliance is going to include things like seed orders, fertilizer orders, planting records, quantities of seeds purchased and harvest records. There’s a lot of record keeping involved in this and it’s important.”
Bremer said all the paperwork creates a record for the farmer as well as his various inspectors, “and after five years you’re going to be able to look back at all these records and it’s going to help you become a better farmer and continue to do it really well, too.”