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Organic Greenhouse Production and Resources

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Organic methods of plant production are of increasing interest to many growers of horticulture crops including greenhouse operators. Some greenhouses are seeking "organic certification" in the same way as farmers of edible crops and livestock. When using organic methods for greenhouse crops, growing media, fertilizers and pest management techniques may differ from conventional greenhouse production.

Pest management in greenhouses has changed dramatically over the past few years. Growers are now using natural enemies purchased from commercial suppliers to manage many pests in their greenhouses. Also, there are more commercially available fertilizers for organic production making organic production a viable option.

Below are resources for producing organic greenhouse crops in Massachusetts.

Organic Standards

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture has put in place a set of national standards that food and plants labeled "organic" must meet, whether it is grown in the United States or imported from other countries." From: https://www.ams.usda.gov/about-ams/programs-offices/national-organic-program

Organic food and plants are produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.   Growers of plants (includes dairy and crop farms also) and handlers that have more than $5,000 in gross organic sales per year and are marketing their products as Organic, are required to become certified organic to be in compliance. People who sell or label a product "organic" when they know it does not meet USDA standards can be fined up to $10,000 for each violation.

In relation to greenhouse and nurseries, all seedling production, nursery plants, bedding plants, greenhouse and hydroponic crops that are sold or represented as organic is covered by the national organic standards. Ferilizers, compost, potting soil, lawn and garden products and pest and disease control products may not be certified as organic. Products in this category may be approved for use on organic farms or organic greenhouse operations, but may not be certified themselves. Products in these categories may be advertised as organic or natural, but may contain ingredients that are prohibited in organic crop production.

Garden retailers do not need to be certified as organic in order to sell organic products and plants as long as they are only reselling products or plants they are bringing in for sale. They are responsible for making sure that any organic plants being sold are managed organically while under their care. If the garden retailer is growing their own organic plants, then it needs to be certified.

Basic requirements for producing organic bedding plants, vegetable transplants or other seedlings include, the use of organic seed, or if organic seed is not commercially available, untreated seed; the use of approved materials including growing media, fertilizer and pest and disease management products; and must not be contaminated with non-organic plants.

Basic requirements for producing organic greenhouse crops include, being grown in soil that has not been treated with a prohibited substance for 3 years; use of organic seed, or if organic seed is not commercially available, untreated seed; use of approved materials including potting media, fertilizer and pest and disease management products; and must not be contaminated by prohibited substances.

Organic certification standards are meant to certify crops, not professsional services such as landscapers and lawn care providers, however, the Northeast Organic Farming Association coordinates an accreditation program for organic land and lawn care professionals.

Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm or greenhouse where the plants and food are grown to make sure all the rules are being followed that are necessary to meet USDA organic standards.  If you are considering growing and selling organic products, contact a certifying agency. In Massachusetts , Baystate Organic Certifiers can answer questions about the process. See contact information below.

Information on the National Organic Program and a list of other organic certifying agents can be found on the USDA's website at:  www.ams.usda.gov/nop .

Vegetable Grower's Guide to Organic Certification by the National Young Farmers Coalition (a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization) is very helpful explaining the history of organic certification and guidelines for organic certification.

Baystate Organic Certifiers http://baystateorganic.org/

Contact: Don Franczyk, 1220 Cedarwood Circle, N. Dighton, MA 02764
Phone: 774-872-5544
USDA National Organic Program accredited certifying agent that certifies operations in the Northeast United States . Though their primary operations are in Massachusetts and Connecticut , they will certify Growers, Livestock Producers, Processors or Handlers in the following Northeast states:

  • Massachusetts , Connecticut , Rhode Island , New Hampshire , Maine , Vermont , New York and New Jersey .

UMass Extension information on organic greenhouse production

Below are some fact sheets and resources to produce crops organically in greenhouses.

Other Organic Greenhouse Production Information

Organic Greenhouse Vegetable Production (ATTRA):
http://attra.org/attra-pub/ghveg.html

Organic High Tunnel Nutrient Management, (slide show in pdf format by Vern Grubinger, UVM)

Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) www.omri.org/

The OMRI is a nonprofit organization that specializes in the review of pesticides and fertilizers for use in organic production, processing, and handling. OMRI provides guidance on the suitability of material inputs under the USDA National Organic Program standards .  OMRI does not screen all possible products, only those submitted for review, so there may be other acceptable products not on its list. Suppliers can have products reviewed for a fee. Products that pass review can be labeled "OMRI listed". Some products on the list are regulated and subject to restrictions. In some cases, certain formulations of a product are permitted and others are not. Be sure to check with your certifying agency to be certain that the materials and practices you plan to use are approved.

Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) www.nofa.org

NOFA is an affiliation of seven state chapters. Each chapter is a self-sustaining entity within its state.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) www.SARE.org

This program of USDA's Cooperative State, Research, Education and Extension Service provides grants and other support for producers to conduct their own trials and explorations into organic and sustainable production.

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (NCAT) http://www.attra.org/

ATTRA is funded under a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture's Rural Business-Cooperative Service. It provides information and other technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, Extension agents, educators, and others involved in sustainable agriculture in the United States .

April 2011, updated 2014

Prepared by:
Tina Smith
Extension Greenhouse Crops and Floriculture Program
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Topics: 
Commercial Horticulture
Commercial Horticulture topics: 
Crops
Greenhouse Management
Integrated Pest Management