Organic Production/Organic Food: Information Access Tools
June 2007. Reviewed October 2021
What is Organic Production?
What are organic production systems and practices?
Where are the best organic production research and information sources?
How can I find organic production people and organizations?
Where can I explore educational and career opportunities?
Who will fund my organic farming or food research project?
Where can I find organic-related conferences and workshops?
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.”
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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. 2007.
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): https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title07/7cfr205_main_02.tpl
- Organic Regulations. USDA, National Organic Program.
- National Organic Program Reading Room. National Agricultural Law Center.
- Codex Alimentarius - Organically Produced Foods. Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2001.
- Organic Agricultural Products: Marketing and Trade Resources. USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2005. Chapter I: Regulations, Laws and Legislation
“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.”
Organic Transition. USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), 2015.
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.”
Integrated Research, Education, and Extension Competitive Grants Program-Pest Management: Request for Proposals and Request for Input, (4) ORGANIC TRANSITION (ORG) (PROGRAM AREA 112.E), USDA, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), 2001.
- Sustainable Agriculture: Definitions and Terms, by Mary V. Gold, USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 1999 and 2007.
- Tracing the Evolution of Organic/Sustainable Agriculture: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography, by Mary V. Gold and Jane Potter Gates, USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2007.
- Organic Crop Production Overview, by George Kuepper and Lance Gegner, ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, 2004.
- The Principles of Organic Agriculture, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), 2005.
- Definition of Organic Agriculture, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), no date.
- Organic Market Overview. Organic Trade Association (OTA)
- Introduction to Organic Practices. USDA. National Organic Program.
- Frequently Asked Questions on Organic Agriculture. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2007
- Definition of Terms Used in the National Organic Program, by James J. Ferguson. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)
- Organic Food From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
- Organic Farming From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
- Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming. United States Department of Agriculture, 1980. This groundbreaking 1980 study from USDA summarizes findings of a comprehensive study and assessment of organic farming in the United States and Europe.
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
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)
Project Reports: Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). USDA, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), SARE
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Research Program NP #216. USDA, Agricultural Research Service
Statistics about Organic Farming and Organic Markets/Marketing: Selected Resources. USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2006.
- AFSIC Organic Production Web page
- Finding "Organic": Search Strategies and Terminology.
- Organic Production and Organic Food: Automated Database Searches.
- Organic Information Resources. What Are They? Where Are They? How Can I Find Them?
Sustainable Agriculture Organizations and Information Providers. USDA, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, revised 2015; reviewed October 2018.
U.S. national and regional groups involved in research, outreach, advocacy and production expertise.
USDA Accredited Certifying Agents (ACAs). USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), National Organic Program
Educational and Training Opportunities in Sustainable Agriculture, by Becky Thompson.
USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center. 2018.
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.
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), 2019. Available from:
The Organic University (OU). Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
Sustainable Agriculture Research Funding Resources. USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, revised 2011. Links updated 2015.
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 Working Lands Conservation Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching. ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Updated November 2014
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.
Calendars: Sustainable Agriculture, Organic Farming, Alternative/Specialty Crops and Livestock. USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center. Reviewed March 2020.