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You are here: Home / Publications / Organic Production and Organic Food: Information Access Tools  Printer Friendly Page
Organic Production/Organic Food: Information Access Tools

two cows kissing.
Compiled by:
Mary V. Gold
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center

June 2007. Links updated May 2015

What is organic production?

USDA Definition and Regulations:

The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), enacted under Title 21 of the 1990 Farm Bill, served to establish uniform national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled as “organic.” The Act authorized a new USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to set national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products. In addition, the Program oversees mandatory certification of organic production. The Act also established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) which advises the Secretary of Agriculture in setting the standards upon which the NOP is based. Producers who meet standards set by the NOP may label their products as “USDA Certified Organic.”

  1. USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) definition, April 1995

    • “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.
    • “‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.
    • “Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.
    • “Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”

  2. CFR Regulatory Text, 7 CFR Part 205, Subpart A — Definitions. § 205.2 Terms defined

    Organic production. A production system that is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” USDA National Organic Program.

  3. USDA Consumer Brochure: Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts

    “What is organic food? Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.  Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.  Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.” Consumer Brochure, USDA National Organic Program,

The final national organic standards rule was published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2000. The law was activated April 21, 2001. The rule, along with detailed fact sheets and other background information, is available on the National Organic Program's website,

Full regulatory text: Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR):

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What are organic production systems and practices?

“Organic farming entails:

  • Use of cover crops, green manures, animal manures and crop rotations to fertilize the soil, maximize biological activity and maintain long-term soil health.
  • Use of biological control, crop rotations and other techniques to manage weeds, insects and diseases.
  • An emphasis on biodiversity of the agricultural system and the surrounding environment.
  • Using rotational grazing and mixed forage pastures for livestock operations and alternative health care for animal wellbeing.
  • Reduction of external and off-farm inputs and elimination of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and other materials, such as hormones and antibiotics.
  • A focus on renewable resources, soil and water conservation, and management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological balance.”

Transitioning to Organic Production. USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), 2006.

“Organic Principles. There are several compelling principles that characterize certified organic farming. They include biodiversity, integration, sustainability, natural plant nutrition, natural pest management, and integrity. Most organic operations will reflect all of these to a greater or lesser degree. Since each farm is a distinct entity, there is a large degree of variation.” Organic Crop Production Overview, by George Kuepper and Lance Gegner. ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

“Organic production is not simply the avoidance of conventional chemical inputs, nor is it the substitution of natural inputs for synthetic ones. Organic farmers apply techniques first used thousands of years ago, such as crop rotations and the use of composted animal manures and green manure crops, in ways that are economically sustainable in today's world. In organic production, overall system health is emphasized, and the interaction of management practices is the primary concern. Organic producers implement a wide range of strategies to develop and maintain biological diversity and replenish soil fertility.”
Organic Agriculture Overview, USDA, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), 2007.

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Where are the best organic production research and information sources?

Databases: AFSIC's Guide to Searchable Sites and Databases,, guides you to information and links for:

Primary Research and Literature Databases
Secondary Research and Literature Databases
Related Databases
Selected Glossaries
Selected Directories
Finding Additional Specialized Agricultural Databases
Information about Obtaining Full-text Journal Articles

Statistics about Organic Farming and Organic Markets/Marketing: Selected Resources
USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2006.

Organic Roots
USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2004.
Search Organic Agriculture Information Access (Organic Roots), an electronic collection of historic USDA publications related to organic agriculture. Contains almost 200 documents published before 1942 (before synthetic chemicals became widely used) that contain data that are still very pertinent for today's agriculture.

Organic Agriculture
USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS), 2007


Project Reports: Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
USDA, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), SARE

Agricultural System Competitiveness and Sustainable Program NP #216
USDA, Agricultural Research Service

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF)

International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR)

Learn more:

  1. Finding "Organic": Search Strategies and Terminology

  2. Organic Production and Organic Food: Automated Database Searches

  3. Organic Production and Organic Food: Top 10 Research Journals

  4. Related AFSIC bibliographies and research guides: Organic Production (13 publications)

  5. Organic Information Resources. What Are They? Where Are They? How Can I Find Them?

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How can I find organic production people and organizations?

Sustainable Agriculture Organizations and Information Providers
USDA, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2006.
U.S. national and regional groups involved in research, outreach, advocacy and production expertise.

Organizations and Web Sites Related to Community Supported Agriculture
USDA, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2006.

USDA Accredited Certifying Agents (ACAs)
USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), National Organic Program

All Organic Links: Associations and Organizations
All Organic

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Where can I explore related educational and career opportunities?

Educational and Training Opportunities in Sustainable Agriculture, 17th edition. Compiled by Becky Thompson
USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center.
Directory of degrees, curricula, research programs, school farms, and distance learning at U.S. academic institutions and non-profit organizations.

Sustainable Farming Internships and Apprenticeships
ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, 2007.
Directory of farms seeking interns/apprentices from North America.

Courses and Curricula
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)
Educational tools from SARE for those who work with farmers and ranchers.

Sustainable Agriculture Resources & Programs for K-12 Youth
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), 2006

The Organic University (OU)
Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)

SANET-MG. Sustainable Agriculture Network.
Job opportunities are often listed with the Sustainable Agriculture Network's e-mail discussion group, SANET-MG. To check recent archives/messages, go to; Select “Search the archives since July 2000.” Use keywords like “position” or “intern” or “internship,” or simply browse the past 2 to 3 months worth of messages. You may also subscribe to the list via this site.

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Who will fund my organic farming or food research project?

Sustainable Agriculture Research Funding Resources
USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2007.
This fact sheet lists U.S. government and non-government entities that provide funding for research activities related to sustainable agriculture including organic farming and food, integrated pest management, water quality issues related to agriculture, rural community and small farm topics, alternative and value-added marketing practices, and more.

Federal Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching
ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, 2007
This publication offers an overview of the major federal conservation programs that provide resources for farmers and ranchers to enhance and maintain sustainable farming and ranching practices.

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Where can I find organic-related conferences and workshops?

Calendars: Sustainable Agriculture, Organic Farming, Alternative/Specialty Crops and Livestock
USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2006. Reviewed November 2014.

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Last Modified: May 27, 2015
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