How to Get a USDA Organic Certification for Legalized Cannabis, CBD, and Hemp

A spread of USDA organic cannabis products

Organic legalized cannabis, CBD, and hemp are subject to stringent quality assurance processes. As such, certified products are more likely to be of higher quality than uncertified products. In our industry, which suffers from a lack of trust, the certification is a powerful value driver that can increase customer trust and demand, leading to overall business profitability. 

Until recently, it has been incredibly difficult for consumers to trust the validity of legalized cannabis, CBD, and hemp products that are claimed to be organic. This is because these products were not eligible for USDA certification programs until the Farm Bills of 2014 and 2018 were amended to include hemp and cannabis as certifiable crops. 

Today, the USDA is one of many valuable keys to unlocking a safer cannabis industry. Although Qredible is not affiliated with the USDA, we are supportive and bullish on the work that they are doing to drive quality, safety, and transparency in the industry.

In this article, we’ll discuss the process to obtain a USDA organic certification for legalized cannabis, CBD, and hemp products. Keep reading to learn how to become a USDA-certified organic grower.

Benefits of a USDA Organic Certification

Studies have shown that customer perception of organic products is largely positive, with respondents reporting the following associations:

  • Healthy
  • More nutritious than non-organic
  • Natural
  • Environmentally friendly

This is because organic certifications mean a product was cultivated without the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides that have been found to have a significant negative impact on human and environmental health. 

Cannabis plants are cultivated for multiple uses including, industrial hemp, medical marijuana, and cannabidiol (CBD) oil. They have the inherent ability to absorb whatever is in the soil which includes heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful contaminants. This is one of the reasons that cannabis has been used in the past for remediating the soil of contaminated sites. 

Cannabis acts like a sponge as it grows, which places an emphasis on the importance of safety measures during the farming process. For this reason, organic farming holds even more value from a safety perspective for cannabis. 

Organic farms are required to employ strategies to maintain soil health and prevent environmental degradation while also minimizing the harmful absorption danger common in the cannabis plant. Soil health has a direct impact on food nutrition density, which means that consumers perceive organic cannabis, CBD, and hemp products as a more sustainable and health-conscious choice. 

Moreover, the market for organic products has grown consistently for over a decade. Since the USDA organic seal is among the most recognized certifications in the country, it will go a long way in establishing trust with American cannabis and CBD consumers. 

How to Get a USDA Organic Certification

The process for obtaining a USDA Organic certification is less complicated than it appears. That being said, the certificate may take time to obtain due to a requirement of soil readiness and testing, prohibiting certain substances from being applied to the soil for three years prior to harvest. Here are the basics:

  1. Develop and implement an organic systems plan (OSP)
  2. Submit an application and pay the required fees
  3. Have your plan, processes, and facility audited by an accredited agent
  4. Receive your certification from the certifying agent

Once you’ve earned your certification, it will be valid for one year. In order to maintain USDA-certified organic status, a business will need to submit to an annual review of its processes. You will also be responsible for following labeling requirements

What are the USDA Standards for Organic Cannabis and Hemp?

The USDA’s standards for organic crop cultivation are complex. It’s important to review them closely and consult with other organic farmers and specialists to ensure all appropriate steps are taken.

USDA Crop Standards

At a glance, organic crop standards ensure:

  • No land has been exposed to prohibited substances for at least three years before an organic harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. 
  • Soil and crop nutrient levels are effectively and accurately managed with strategies such as appropriate tillage and cultivation practices, rotating, cover cropping, animal waste, crop waste, and permitted synthetic additives
  • Permitted management practices are the main form of control for pests and weeds
  • Permitted biological, botanical, and synthetic control methods are used only if control practices are not sufficient 
  • All crops come from organically grown seeds and stock
  • Absolutely no GMOs, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge are present

It’s important to note that the process for obtaining a USDA Organic certification is not swift. The organization requires three years of approved inputs before you can get certified. This means that auditors will require detailed documentation and records proving the success and consistency of your OSP. 

The transition to organic farming is a huge learning curve, and the record-keeping requirement can be overwhelming at first. It’s recommended that businesses start slowly to work toward the goal in measured steps. 

Documentation for Becoming USDA Certified

Record keeping is a critical part of the certification process. Agents use your records to confirm the effectiveness and implementation of your OSP. 

Some of the records you may be required to submit for audit include:

  • Basic audit process records such as correspondence, notices, and complaint logs
  • Land information such as maps, field history, soil test, and production records
  • Information regarding seeds and stock such as non-GMO status verification, labels, and planting records
  • Records pertaining to crop harvests such as yield and equipment information
  • Records pertaining to the storage of crops
  • Documentation of the sale of crops including invoices, transportation records, and weight tags

Preparing For Your Inspection

On audit day, a certifying agent will come to your facility to review your plan, documentation, and processes. 

Here are a few tips to prepare:

  • Review the relevant USDA regulations
  • Review your OSP and processes
  • Review the communications from your certifying agent
  • Gather and organize your records

Ultimately, there is no way to cheat the audit. The best way to prepare is to have well-established and solid systems that are compliant and consistent. 

Validate and Verify Your Certifications with Qredible®

Record keeping in Qredible simplifies the complicated process of obtaining a USDA certification. Qredible®’s blockchain-secured registry of immutable documentation expedites the audit process and highlights your commitment to quality and compliance. 

Storing documentation in an accessible, secure digital location will streamline the audit process, while also increasing trust with buyers, investors, financial institutions, and business partners.

Once your agent submits the results of your audit, they will assign your certification status. You can then verify the validity of your certification in Qredible’s Q-Trust platform. After confirmation of your USDA Certification, Qredible will issue a smart contract ID in our blockchain and provide a tamper-proof seal validating the authenticity of the certification. 

Qredible is not a compliance enforcement or regulatory initiative nor is it a certification body, like the USDA or NOP. Our technology and platform were designed to support the collaboration of quality assurance programs and brands to ensure safer commerce for everyone in the legalized cannabis, CBD, and hemp supply chain. 

The USDA is setting and upholding standards that uplift responsible businesses and create a safer industry. We are proud to do our part to support their necessary and very important work.  

Qredible is the only digital registry of verified and validated legalized cannabis, hemp, and CBD brands. Want to be in Qredible? Get started today.

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