Dear Aggy

Dear Aggy

PCO’s new online version of our popular question and answer column in Organic Matters, “Dear Aggy”, allows members and the general public to post questions and receive answers to certification, materials and production-related questions.

Submit Your Question to Aggy

Questions will be reviewed prior to posting, and answers will come from certification, materials and education/PR specialists as appropriate.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Visitors post a question to Dear Aggy
  2. Visitors will automatically receive a confirmation email of your question as originally stated
  3. Question will be reviewed internally by PCO staff and forwarded to the appropriate department for review
  4. PCO reserves the right to edit the structure and content of the question for clarity and appropriateness of the website
  5. Questions selected for posting will be answered here on “Dear Aggy” and the individual submitting the question will also be notified via email
  6. Our goal is to have questions answered within one week of submission to PCO

Materials and Organic Inputs

Soil Fertility – Micronutrients

Dear Aggy,

I’m planning on using a new consultant for my soil fertility program this coming year, and it’s bringing up some new questions for me. My new consultant would like me to include micronutrients as part of my soil tests. In the past I only had the major nutrients (N nitrogen, P phosphorus, K potassium/potash) tested for. Is this really necessary? Can’t I just add the common ones, like boron? Also, I’ve been using just a little bit of Chilean nitrate in my potting mix, and he said I wouldn’t be able to do that much longer. What is he talking about? — Crop Grower

Dear Crop Grower -
Sounds like your new consultant is paying attention! He is correct in recommending that you include micronutrients in your soil tests before using them in your fertility program. The regulations at §205. 601(j)(6) require that synthetic micronutrients are only allowed to be used if a deficiency is documented. Synthetic micronutrients include boron, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc.
Testing must be specific to each micronutrient and each area where the micronutrient will be applied. Application rates may not exceed the recommendations set by the soil tests. You don’t need to have this testing done every year, as soil levels only change very gradually but inspectors look for documentation that proves that testing was done within the last three years. Also keep in mind that anytime a fertilizer mix, custom or otherwise, includes any synthetic micronutrients, your inspector will ask to see some sort of deficiency documentation as part of your annual on-site inspection. Although soil tests are most common, tissue sample test results would also be applicable.
As far as Chilean nitrate (sodium nitrate) goes, yes, you will need to plan on phasing it out. Although Chilean nitrate is a natural mined fertilizer, its use in organic production has been controversial due to its high mobility in soil, increasing the likelihood of it leaching into the groundwater. Most international standards already prohibit the use of Chilean nitrate, including the EU, Canada, IFOAM and CODEX Alimentarius. Currently Chilean nitrate is listed as a prohibited non-synthetic on the National List, unless its use is restricted to no more than 20% of the crops nitrogen requirement. Since the inclusion of Chilean nitrate on the National List was up for its 5 year sunset review in 2011, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) updated it’s review on this material.
The NOSB voted in April of 2011 to maintain Chilean nitrate on the prohibited non-synthetics list, and also to remove its restricted use annotation. This means that pending the posting of this change in the Federal Register, Chilean nitrate will no longer be allowed. The prohibition is scheduled to occur on October 21 of 2012.

Organic Standards

Organic Products Sold In Stores

Dear Aggy,

Do grocery stores that sell organic products need to be certified and if i see a person selling organic produce that is not registered, who would i contact to inform them of this matter? - David S.

Hi David, thanks for contacting PCO. I am pleased to answer your question regarding whether producers of organic products must be registered with the state.
In fact, producers, processors, and handlers of organic products must be certified according to the National Organic Program standards by a third party certifier. Third party certifiers, like PCO, are accredited by the USDA to offer these services. Organic producers develop an organic system plan, have a yearly on site inspection, and pay certification fees for this service. After a successful inspection and review of their inspection report, a producer receives a certificate and a product verification form that lists all the crops and products they produce as organic. Producers must maintain compliance with the National Organic Program regulations and policies as delineated by the certification agency.
I hope this answers your question. Organic certification is a verification that products have been grown and handled according to strict guidelines. To learn more about the National Organic Program standards see