by Sally Colby
Keeping good records is essential in any agricultural system, and for organic producers, records are especially important.
“Management decisions are based on historical reference and your own knowledge,” said Harriet Behar, senior organic specialist with Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). “Organic certification requires good records – not only so the organic inspector sees you are doing acceptable activities on your farm, but also because those records represent a functioning organic system.”
Behar said organic production relies heavily on good management rather than synthetic inputs. She added that to meet both organic certification and crop insurance requirements, growers can keep records on a field-by-field basis and can have one crop covered by crop insurance and other enterprises not. To simplify the process, instead of having two sets of records, Behar urged producers to use a system that allows uniform recordkeeping with all data in one place.
“As an organic inspector and the organic senior specialist at MOSES, I was struck by how much of the documentation requirements are the same,” said Behar. “Planting dates, fertilizer and other inputs, weed management, storage and sales are all essential for crop insurance claims, and similar for organic production. There is a lot of detail in organic regulations that cover what can be used and when.”
Organic producers must comply with organic rules including buffer zones, manure applications, fertility inputs and a documented need through soil testing for any micronutrient inputs. Crop insurance adjusters require the same documentation. Many organic producers find recordkeeping to be one of the most tedious aspects of organic production, but Behar described a solution.
A workbook created by MOSES includes a series of downloadable worksheets. The workbook can help growers complete the organic certification application, especially during the first year or during transition to organic. “You have to be able to show that you did not use any prohibited herbicides, fertilizers, fungicides or insecticides for at least three years prior to your first organic harvest,” said Behar. “That’s 36 months between the application of something prohibited and your first organic harvest.”
The workbook makes it easy for producers to keep all farm records in one place – a boon for those who have developed the habit of writing notes on scraps of paper. Behar said the historical perspective provided by good records will help producers reference figures such as previous planting dates, crop performance following fertility treatments, overall yields and which fields yielded best.
For those transitioning to organic, the field history for every field must be completed the first year – acreage, crop, seed, inputs and other figures. “For subsequent years, they won’t always ask for three years,” said Behar. “They’ll ask for the one you’re currently doing.”
Another benefit of good records is the economic safety net records provide. “If you have a drift incident from a neighbor,” said Behar, “having records on yields, crops grown and crop rotation will help you work with the insurance agent for a better settlement.” The crop insurance section of the workbook covers multi-peril crop insurance, contract prices and whole farm revenue protection.
For drought, flood or hail claims, producers must be able to prove they did their best to grow the crop. Behar said farm activity logs are valuable information for the crop insurance to show planting, tillage and pest management.
One section of the workbook is devoted to storing basic information such as field locations and includes space for field numbers, FSA farm number, section number and related information. Behar said this section has to be completed just once unless acreage changes.
The crop rotation and input history by field section covers five years of production. Crops can be entered by row, bed, acreage or row feet. There’s space for noting rental versus owned acreage, and whether the information applies to traditional, organic or land in transition to organic. There’s also a column for cover crops.
Some organic certifiers don’t provide a lot of information on exactly what they want for certification inspections, but keeping good information in the field activity log will help. This section includes entry points for crop year, cover crop planting date, soil amendments, manure applications, seed varieties, planting rate, crop monitoring, pest and disease management, weed management, harvest date, estimated yields, storage location and equipment cleaning measures between organic and non-organic uses.
The workbook also includes a comprehensive table for organic integrity support for visits from the inspector or crop insurance adjuster. Entries on this sheet include field maps, farmstead maps, five-year history, prior land use affidavits, invoices for fertility inputs, annual water test results, invoices for pest and disease management, buffer zone records, storage records, clean truck affidavits and product labels.
A storage record section provides an easy way to track bin numbers, fields of origin, field production totals, amount shipped and balance in storage. The sales record page allows tracking of crop sold, buyer, price, storage location, contract versus market sale, bill of lading, weigh ticket and transaction certificates.
“Storage and sales are important, especially if you are applying for whole farm revenue protection insurance,” said Behar. “They’ll want to know if you have crop in storage from the previous year, sales, when you sell, cash flow.”
The income worksheet for Schedule F provides space for every data point needed at tax time.
“Don’t be intimidated by recordkeeping,” said Behar. “Make it a habit to jot down your activities throughout the season. Some of the goals you produce on the farm are your records and help pay for themselves over time by giving you the historical reference you need to do a good job on your farm and make good management decisions.”
Recordkeeping worksheets can be downloaded free of charge from mosesorganic.org/publications/farm-production-recordkeeping-workbook.