BUILDING A BIODYNAMIC CERTIFICATION PROGRAM WITH INTEGRITY
Demeter USA has two very important and unique roles within the biodynamic movement and our national marketplace: to carry out Biodynamic certification and to protect and promote the Biodynamic certification marks. The certification department is the beating heart of Demeter, so its systems must represent best practices and be implemented without exception. This e-newsletter covers the building blocks of a rock-solid certification program and Demeter's progress in achieving them.
- Updated Quality Management System
The Quality Management System (QMS) provides the framework for the development and implementation of any sound certification program. Based on the requirements of ISO 17065 and Demeter International, current practices should always follow the QMS guidelines. From initial enquiries through to the annual inspection and certification decision making, processes must comply with the procedures documented in the QMS. The QMS is used as a training resource for new staff and a continuous reference point for all. All of this information is available for the membership. In addition to the annual internal audit, an annual program review, conducted by personnel different from those who perform certification activities, must be administered.
The document that defines the QMS is called the Quality Manual (QM). Under the guidance of Demeter Director of Certification Tarry Bolger, the QM is currently being re-written and will be presented to the Standards Advisory Committee for final approval in March. All the policies and procedures stated therein will be implemented this year, and we will post it on the Demeter website and notify our members that it is available for review once it is approved.
The 2018 inspection season is wrapping up and all members should have received their Final Decision Letters within the next few weeks. The 2019 Certificates are being processed now and if you haven't received yours, you should soon. Demeter had 2 outside consultants conduct audits in early 2018 and the certification department has implemented many of their recommendations. Another third party audit is planned for later this year.
- Robust Standards Advisory Committee
The Standards Advisory Committee will have primary responsibility for the development, implementation, and interpretations of the Standards. It will provide guidance about proposed changes, rule on all requested exemptions, and provide oversight to ensure the integrity of the certification program. The committee will be a valuable resource for the certification staff, as well as a point of contact for members who would like to propose changes or improvements to the standards.
We are currently reaching out to various members of the biodynamic community, including Demeter members, academics, and consultants who are deeply experienced in Biodynamic agriculture and product processing, to participate in this vital committee. The committee will launch in March and will represent a broad range of expertise including: the Biodynamic preparations, compost, livestock, row crops, viticulture and winemaking, product processing, and more. If you have interest in participating, or would like to suggest someone, please contact Tarry (email@example.com).
- Trained Staff
Demeter staff participates in twice a week training sessions to develop and learn the QMS so that they can follow the requirements explicitly. Their training also includes in depth coverage of the Demeter Farm & Processing Standards. We are very proud of the progress our staff is making to be cross trained to address all the certification steps and they are all eager to provide professional and friendly support to our clients. We are confident that as our members work with the certification team they will experience the difference this commitment to following the QMS, staff training, and the very best customer service is making.
- Trained Inspectors
Biodynamic farmers are the best farmers in the country. Since the Demeter inspection experience should not only verify that the Demeter Farm & Processing Standards are met, but that information and resources can be shared with the members to help them farm better and produce the highest quality products, our inspectors need to be highly trained and able to deliver an inspection experience that is helpful, engaging, and worthwhile.
While training our inspectors is an on-going process, in March there will be an in-depth training program that will review the operating procedures outlines in the QMS and will provide a detailed overview of the Demeter Farm & Processing Standards, as well as in-field workshops with leading Biodynamic practitioners.
- Partnership with Demeter International (DI)
Demeter USA has been working very closely with the Demeter International Accreditation Council (AC) to ensure that our QMS meets and exceeds the requirements to be recognized as a member country of DI. Late last year into early this year, the AC conducted an audit of our Quality System documents dating from 2016 to 2018. The conclusions they reached for needed improvements, including improving certification procedures and ensuring complete client files, are already being addressed with the launch of the new Quality System and client database. The report also concludes that the changes Demeter made in certification staff were necessary and correct in order to address the deficits in the certification program. Members are encouraged to review the AC Document Check Audit report here.
We are very proud of our working partnership with Demeter International. Please note that Demeter USA is the only organization that is recognized as a USA-based Biodynamic certifier by DI.
- Active Member Participation
Creating opportunities for our membership to give input to the Demeter standards and requirements of certification are a high priority. One big opportunity is to inform our members about proposed changes to the standards that occur annually as part of the Members' Assembly and to provide a mechanism for members to give feedback.
All Demeter chapters (there are currently 19) are invited to attend the Members Assembly, held in different locations around the world, in June. This year's assembly will be in the Netherlands. By this time of year, member countries notify DI about changes they would like to propose. All proposed changes are then communicated to the member countries and each country must prepare to vote on each item. Starting this year, we will be asking you to give feedback to the Standards Advisory Committee about the changes so they can represent our members' views during the voting at the Assembly. We'll be sharing more details about that with you soon.
- Leadership in Issues that Impact our Membership
From time to time important issues that impact our members' ability to practice Biodynamic farming or achieve certification may come up, and Demeter needs to be responsive to these issues. A recent example is the National Organic Program's reclassification of horn manure as a raw manure. This created an issue because of FISMA's pre-harvest interval (PHI) requirement to dis-allow raw manure application "not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with the soil surface... or not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface..."
The implication is serious for Demeter farmers who maintain NOP certification. If they wish to use the Preparations within the PHI timeframe they risk being non-compliant with the requirements of the NOP. Conversely, if they decide not to use them, they risk being noncompliant with the requirements of the Demeter Farm Standard, (section 1C (4) on pg. 19). For short life crops application of 500 immediately prior to planting, while in their vegetative growing phase, or post seedling is a typical practice. Ultimately, not utilizing the Preparations as the farmer sees fit may decrease the vitality of their Biodynamic crops and food and limits the farmer's freedom to make the best decisions for their farm.
Demeter has organized a few meetings on this issue, and spoken directly to a few of the organic certifiers. In the short term- it is our understanding that certifiers will not be issuing non-compliances for the use of horn manure within the PHI, but be sure to clarify this with your certifier if applicable. Demeter will not issue non-compliances for farmers that don't use the Preparations during the PHI. But in the long term- we need to change the NOP's classification of horn manure as raw manure. There are several steps being taken, and if you would like to learn more, please review the Positioning and Strategies For Resolving the Preparation / PHI document we have developed to share background on the issue and discuss next steps.
- Separation of Marketing from Certification
While there is an iron wall between the activities of the certification department, led by Tarry, and the activities of marketing, led by Erin Sojourner (formerly Agostinelli)- Demeter's Director of Business Development (and we'll be sharing more about Demeter's organizational structure as it evolves), the development and management of trade activities should ultimately move external from Demeter into a trade association. In order to generate the momentum and support- both in volunteer time and funding- that would ensure a trade association's success, Demeter is fostering the development of three trade committees: Farms, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), and Wines & Vines. The idea is to get all three groups focused on collaborative projects (not just meetings!) to prove their worth and economic value in the marketplace. If you are interested in participating in one or more of these committees and haven't gotten any e-newsletters about them- please contact Erin. Here are the next meeting dates and times:
Farm Trade Committee:
Monday February 11 from 11:45 - 1pm EST
Via Phone: (646) 876-9923 | Meeting ID: 315 652 255
Via Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/315652255
CPG Trade Committee:
Tuesday February 12 from 1 - 2:15pm EST
Via Phone: (646) 876-9923 | Meeting ID: 838 547 540
Via Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/838547540
Wines & Vines Trade Committee:
Thursday February 28 from 9 - 10:15 PST
Via Phone: (646) 876-9923 | Meeting ID: 921 563 995
Via Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/921563995
The next e-newsletter will cover the role of the Biodynamic certification marks. If you've made it to the bottom of this one- you are now an expert in certification! To see all of the recent member communications, including trade e-news, please visit our Member Communications page on the Demeter website.
Thanks for your support, and please let us know of any questions or concerns.