Becoming a Certifying Agent

How to Become a USDA-accredited Certifier

Thank you for your interest in becoming a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent (ACA) under the USDA organic regulations. We also recommend that you review our General Accreditation Policies & Procedures (NOP 2000) (pdf), which includes information about the accreditation application and auditing processes.

What you must submit

For NOP to process your accreditation application, you must submit all the information required in 7 CFR 205.503(a-e) and 205.504(a-e), and a $500 fee (see application fee instructions below). Please note that the $500 fee is only a small portion of the total cost of accreditation (see Cost below).

The following is a summary of the information that must be submitted in your application:

  • An organizational chart, of the entity applying for accreditation including detailed information about the location and primary point of contact at each unit (chapters or subsidiary offices).
  • A copy of the proposed fee schedule for all organic certification services the organization plans to provide under 7 CFR Part 205.
  • For a government entity, a copy of the official authority to conduct certification services under 7 CFR Part 205.
  • For a private entity, documentation showing the entity’s status and organizational purpose, such as articles of incorporation and by-laws or ownership or membership provisions, and its date of establishment.
  • A list of each State or foreign country in which the applicant currently certifies or proposes to certify production and handling operations and a list of each State or foreign country in which the applicant intends to certify production and handling operations.
  • Personnel information, including policies and procedures, names and position descriptions of personnel, descriptions of qualifications, etc.
  • A list of relevant training conducted for certification staff and any proposed training to be conducted.
  • Administrative policies and procedures (e.g., Quality Manual, Certification Program Manual, Standard Operating Procedures, forms and document templates, etc.).
  • Conflicts of interest (e.g., procedures for prevention, disclosure report, etc.).
  • Description of current certification activities.
  • Other information the applicant believes may assist in the review to determine compliance with USDA organic regulations.

Send the required information and a completed Application for AccreditationForm TM-10CG,  to the email address shown below. If your submission is too large to go through successfully due to the size of attachments, email us and we will set up a folder in the cloud for you to upload your application documents.

Application fee instructions:

Send the completed Application for Service, Form LP-109, via email to the USDA’s Quality Assessment Division (QAD) at or via fax to +1 (844) 345-3575 to request a customer account number. After receiving your customer account number, submit the $500 application fee. If paying by check, send the $500 check to the address below. The check should be made payable to “USDA, AMS, L&P, QAD.” The customer account number must be annotated on the check to ensure proper posting. 

10809 Executive Center Drive
Suite 318
Little Rock, AR 72211-6022 

Please contact the Quality Assessment Division for additional payment options or billing questions.

Timeframe. The entire application and on-site assessment process for accreditation can take from 24-36 months depending on the NOP audit resources available and the outcome of each assessment (quantity of noncompliances and implementation of sufficient corrective actions). The term “noncompliance” is used to identify items that need to be completed or corrected before certification can be granted.

Desk Audit. The initial step in the accreditation process is a Documentation Adequacy Review (DAR) to evaluate the compliance of the applicant’s organic certification policies, procedures, and personnel qualifications, including organic certification experience. This process begins once a completed application is received by NOP and an auditor is assigned to conduct the desk review. The auditor will provide a cost estimate to the applicant for the DAR and payment must be received by NOP prior to the start of the review. See Costs section below. The auditor will review the information submitted by the applicant and issue a Notice of Noncompliance and Noncompliance Report to the applicant for any noncompliant practices identified during the review. These notification documents will outline the results of the DAR and a timeframe when corrective actions and/or rebuttals are due for each noncompliance. After the applicant responds and the NOP accepts all corrective actions and/or rebuttals, the application will move on to the next step – an on-site Pre-Decisional Assessment (PDA). If noncompliances are not sufficiently resolved, the NOP will issue a Notice of Denial of Accreditation.

Pre-decisional Assessment. Once NOP has determined that the applicant has adequately addressed any noncompliances resulting from the DAR, NOP staff will conduct an on-site PDA to review your organization’s key activities, conduct witness inspections for each scope of accreditation requested, interview staff and contractors, review certification files, and verify corrective actions for noncompliances issued from the DAR. The auditor will provide an audit cost estimate that must be agreed upon with the applicant prior to conducting the on-site PDA. The audit will take approximately five days. The NOP will issue a Notice of Noncompliance and Noncompliance Report to the applicant outlining the results of the on-site PDA. After the applicant responds to the noncompliances, NOP will review the applicant’s responses and decide whether to grant or deny accreditation. If noncompliances are not sufficiently resolved, the NOP will issue a Denial of Accreditation. As noted above, NOP 2000 (pdf) provides detailed information about the accreditation process, including on-site assessments and continued accreditation.

Cost. A $500 deposit is due at the time of application and will be applied to the assessment costs. Additionally, NOP charges $165 per hour standard rate to prepare and conduct the desk audit, perform the on-site assessment, travel to the site, write the audit reports and review corrective actions for noncompliances. Additional costs include per diem (e.g., lodging, meals, and any incidentals, based on location) and travel expenses (e.g., airfare, rental vehicles and fuel, parking, tolls, and any other miscellaneous costs). The average combined cost to conduct a DAR and PDA for a foreign applicant is approximately $30,000.

Post-accreditation Requirements. Once approved, your organization will be accredited for five years. To ensure compliance, additional on-site assessments are conducted during the initial accreditation cycle and during each subsequent accreditation cycle (see ‘Table 1 – Audit Cycle’ in NOP 2000 (pdf)). The assessments are performed by NOP and are subject to the costs described above.