Converting To Organic Farming
Our producer certification team support hundreds of innovative farmers and growers across the UK to convert their farms to organic.
When thinking about converting there are many questions you might have in mind, so we’ve taken the opportunity to answer some of the most commonly asked questions we get from farmers and growers considering organic conversion.
What is the purpose of the conversion period?
Organic production is governed by UK and EU legislation. Part of this legislation specifies a conversion period before any land or products can be marketed as organic. This period provides time to start establishing organic management techniques, build soil fertility and biological activity, as well as to develop a viable and sustainable agro-ecosystem.
What are the different ways to convert to organic?
The Soil Association Organic standards provide a framework for certification underpinned by the EU regulation for organic production ((EC) No 889/2008).
Land takes two years to convert to organic status, though there is the scope to reduce this by four months if you can demonstrate that your land has been farmed organically prior to entering conversion. The conversion period can start from the day we receive your completed application form. We will offer you tailored support on your conversion options when we know more about your farm enterprises.
As far as crops are concerned the conversion rules are different for annuals and perennials. Annual crops like cereals and vegetables need to be sown into organic land to have organic status. Established perennial crops like apples and asparagus need an extra year of organic conversion once the land has completed its conversion period.
As with crops the conversion rules for livestock vary depending on the species. Sheep tupped on organic land can give birth to organic lambs, whereas beef cattle need to be kept to full standards for at least 12 weeks before giving birth for the calf to be considered organic.
During our initial conversation with you, we will discuss the different livestock conversion scenarios and help you decide which one is right for you.
For more information on conversion processes for specific types of farming, please refer to our conversion guides:
Can I fail my first inspection?
After we have reviewed an application form, and spoken to you over the telephone, we will then start to plan your application inspection. As part of this application inspection one of our Soil Association inspectors will visit your farm and assess your production against the organic standards.
Our inspectors have a wealth of experience and understand the challenges that farmers face when undergoing conversion. This application inspection is not a pass or fail test, but an opportunity for the inspector to check compliance with different areas of our standards and provide guidance in areas where the standards are not being met.
Do I need to memorise all our standards?
All applicants need to be well versed in the first four chapters of the standards regardless of their farm set up. These cover the general principles and land management rules related to organic production. Beyond this the standards are split between different farm enterprises, from grass and forage, to pigs and crop production. Whilst we would never expect a farmer to have memorised any of our standards we do need you to have a good understanding of the organic requirements that are relevant for your main farm enterprises.
Of course, we understand that farming organically is a constant learning process and it can take time for new licensees to develop a complete awareness of the standards. Your first inspection is a great time to ask any questions you may have related to the organic standards.
What support can I receive during conversion?
From the point of your initial inquiry with us we will put you in contact with a member of our Producer Certification team, we are a group of twelve, based in Bristol and Edinburgh, with a range of specialities from beef and sheep production, to dairy, horticulture and arable. You will be assigned a personal certification officer who will be an expert in your sector and your dedicated point of contact for any enquiries related to certification. They will be available to help you understand the standards, approve veterinary treatments and crop permissions and ensure that your inspection is actioned effectively.
What can you say about organic when selling produce?
The organic market is in its sixth year of growth, with more consumers shopping for organic than ever before. Last year we published a report for our licensees on research conducted to develop a simple and clear message that can be used to sell organic products.
Is there any government grant funding available for organic farming?
In Scotland and England the organic payment and maintenance schemes are opening for applications in January with farms set to receive financial support to convert to organic. Information on the type of application available, conversion payments and key dates is available here.
Payment windows for Northern Ireland and Wales aren’t currently open. Keep up to date with developments by checking our regularly updated financial information page.
Why should I certify with the Soil Association?
Soil Association Certification is the UK’s leading organic certification body with over 70 years’ experience in organic farming. We offer a package of expert support to make choosing organic a success for your business.
What we offer:
Practical and efficient support from a personal certification officer who understands your business and represents your sector.
Technical support from our dedicated and experienced farming support team who are experts in organic farming.
Combined inspections and access to the local abattoir and butcher scheme.
Regular technical communications and industry reports. Free copy of the annual Organic Market report; the industry recognised publication worth £100.
Discounts for our ground-breaking farming programmes and access to exclusive training and learning opportunities. Be the first to hear about events, workshops and programmes such as Innovative Farmers.
We help you sell organic. We are the only Certification Body that can provide exclusive access to new routes to market to sell your products through our schemes, events and partners. We offer our licensees exclusive, free membership to our Food for Life Supplier Scheme allowing you to reach over 300 caterers serving over 10,000 sites.
Be part of our award winning marketing campaigns, such as Organic September and the BOOM awards. Benefit from our free marketing materials and PR support to help you communicate the benefits of organic to your customers.
Have your voice heard as we campaign for farmers on policy across the UK and EU.