This covers all fruit, vegetable, nut, cereal, pulse and other crops.
Crop producers should review the Food Alliance Sustainability Standard, the Evaluation Tool, and the Policy and Procedures manual before applying for certification.
What is the Food Alliance Sustainability Standard?
The Food Alliance sustainability standard for crop operations describes in general terms a vision and goals to improve management in the following areas of concern:
- Integrated pest, disease and weed management,
- Soil and water conservation,
- Wildlife habitat and biodiversity conservation,
- Safe and fair working conditions.
What is the Food Alliance Evaluation Tool?
The Food Alliance Evaluation Tool for Crop Operations contains the criteria, indicators, and scoring rubric used by inspectors to assess sustainability practices and outcomes.
You can also use the tool for self-evaluation to review practices, estimate the scores you might receive during an inspection, and identify any potential compliance issue before applying for certification.
Download the Food Alliance Evaluation Tool for Crop Operations.
What is the Food Alliance Policy and Procedures Manual?
The Food Alliance Policy and Procedures Manual lays out rules that govern the certification program.
What is the Certification Process?
Step 1: Application
The application for crop producers is arranged into separate modules to simplify completion. Once completed, the modules together should provide a comprehensive overview of your operation and your management practices – documenting your sustainability plan.
Download the Food Alliance application modules for crop producers by clicking the green link at the top left.
To ensure your application is complete and reduce delays, please:
- Answer all of the questions.
- Sign the application documents where required.
- Provide any necessary supporting documentation.
- Include payment for the application fee.
Step 2: Site Inspection
Once your application is received and reviewed by Food Alliance, an inspector will contact you to schedule a site inspection. During the inspection, the inspector will tour your operation, interview managers and key staff, and review relevant records to evaluate performance using the Sustainability Standards and corresponding Evaluation Tool.
Step 3: Inspection Report
After the site visit, the inspector will submit an inspection report to Food Alliance.
Step 4: Certification Decision
Once the inspection report is received, the certification decision will be made. You will receive both a copy of the site report and a letter specifying the decision.
Grievance Policy: If you feel that the site inspector’s findings are unfair or inaccurate, you may submit a request for re-evaluation to Food Alliance. A request must be made in writing within 30 days of receiving the official site report, detailing the perceived inaccuracies of the site inspection. Applicants should also state whether or not they would like to be inspected by a different site inspector. Re-inspections of this nature will be provided to you at no cost. No further appeals will be accepted. However, you may reapply after you have made changes to your operation as suggested in the site report.
Step 5: Maintaining Certification
Term of the Certification
The term of certification for farmers and ranchers is three years. The term of certification for processors and distributors is one year. The official start date will be specified in the certification letter along with the products that may be labeled as Food Alliance certified.
Ongoing Compliance and Verification
This certification is designed to provide a basis for marketplace claims of environmental and social responsibility. In order to ensure the certification criteria are being met at all times:
Food Alliance reserves the right, at its own cost, to conduct unscheduled audits of participating farms, ranches, processors and distributors. Operations are either selected at random or based on specific concerns identified in the initial inspection.
Farmers and ranchers must also complete annual updates to maintain their certification, reporting any changes to their operation and progress towards their continual improvement goals.
Suspension and Revocation
If doubts are raised that an operation is not adhering to the certification standards, Food Alliance staff will investigate. If that investigation confirms the certification standards are not being met, that operation’s certification will be suspended. Food Alliance will provide the operation’s managers the reason(s) for suspension, specific steps for restoring certification, and a timeline for making the necessary changes. If the violation is remedied within the timeframe, certification will be restored. Otherwise, the certification will be revoked.
Download the Annual Producer Update Form.
The application materials for Food Alliance Certified crops and livestock producers are arranged in separate modules which, taken together, comprise the Food Alliance Certified Producer Sustainability Plan.
All applicants should complete modules 1-12. Additional modules are relevant to livestock producers, or unique crops such as cranberries.
Click the links below to download the relevant application modules. The modules will download as fillable Microsoft Word forms, which you can save and complete on your own computer.
Food Alliance Producer Sustainability Plan
Module 03: Operation Maps
Module 04: Marketing Information
Module 05: Packing and Post Harvest Handling
How long does the certification process take?
Once Food Alliance receives a complete application, the certification process generally takes 4 to 8 weeks. During this period, Food Alliance reviews the application materials, then assigns a site inspector who schedules and conducts the inspection. Once we receive the site inspector’s report, we make the certification decision and inform the applicant by mail. The process can take longer than 8 weeks if the application is incomplete and requires us to contact you for more information, or when we receive it in a season when weather or production cycles make it difficult or impossible to observe and evaluate management systems, practices and outcomes. If you have any questions, please contact us.
Who has access to information in the application or inspector’s report?
Food Alliance and its inspectors hold all documentation and information obtained during the certification process in strict confidence. Only Food Alliance certification program staff and site inspectors will have access to application records and documents. Food Alliance staff will not discuss applications or the details of an individual certification inspection with any individual or agency. Food Alliance site inspectors sign a binding confidentiality agreement.
How much does the certification program cost?
There are two types of fees: Inspection fees and licensing fees. Inspection fees include a document processing charge and the actual cost of inspection. Licensing fees are based on gross sales of Food Alliance Certified products.
A payment of $750 is due with the application. This includes a non-refundable $350 document processing charge and a $400 deposit towards the actual cost of the inspection.
The processing charge covers review of applications, coordination of the inspection, review of inspection reports, and the recommendation for certification.
Inspection costs include inspector time and travel expenses, which may vary depending upon the location, number of facilities, number of production lines, etc. The balance for inspection costs is invoiced upon completion of the inspection and is payable in 30 days.
In most cases, the total for farm and ranch inspection fees averages between $750 and $1,200. Food Alliance certification is valid for 3 years, so you can think about the pro-rated cost for inspection fees being $250 to $400 per year.
On request, Food Alliance can provide an estimate for the cost of inspection before you submit your application for certification, based on your location and the size and complexity of the operation.
Licensing fees can vary depending on who is making and benefiting from the certification claim, and can apply differently to independent producers, producer groups, and contract producers.
Licensing fees are assessed annually as follows:
- Independent Farms and Ranches
Independent producers pay a percentage of gross sales of certified products for licensing, as follows:
|Gross Sales||Licensing Percentage|
|First $150,000||0.4% or $200 minimum|
- Cooperatives and Producer Groups
Members of cooperatives and producer groups who jointly market products pay licensing fees using the same fee schedule as independent farms and ranches (above). However, these groups aggregate all sales when calculating licensing fees.
In order for a cooperative or joint marketing group to be certified:
- The group must submit an estimate of annual gross sales of products to be certified.
- The group must identify all of the farm and ranch members who will be providing certified products for sale.
- Food Alliance must receive completed certification applications and the above fee for each of the appropriate members.
- Contract Producers
Producers growing for contracts which require Food Alliance certification pay the inspection fees described above, but their licensing fee is based only on the value of goods sold under that contract (not gross sales of the product(s)).
Contract producers must meet all Food Alliance criteria for the product in question, but are not allowed to label products or assert Food Alliance certification claims about products outside of the specifying contract.
Either the contracting business or the contracted producer is responsible for paying annual licensing fees on the value of certified product sold under contract. The responsible party must be identified at the time of application.
If the contracting business is a Food Alliance Certified packer, processor, manufacturer or distributor that has agreed to pay the licensing fee on behalf of suppliers, please refer to the Food Alliance Certified Handler Program for further information.
Who does Food Alliance site inspections?
Food Alliance uses qualified private contractors to perform on-site inspections for the certification program. We train inspectors in the use of our own detailed evaluation documents and inspection procedures. These are designed to verify on-farm practices and help inspectors make fully informed decisions regarding the approval or denial of an application. Qualifications for site inspectors include working expertise, educational background, and significant knowledge of sustainable/conservation agriculture management for specific production systems. Inspectors often also work as IPM or crop consultants, production managers for food processors, or scientists for research institutions. In some cases, site inspectors may be retired from university extension, NRCS or another agency.
Do I have to be present during the site visit?
Yes. We ask that all farm and ranch decision makers be present at the time of the site inspection. In addition, we recommend the following to prepare for a site visit:
Make sure that you have ample time for the inspection. It is important that both managers and personnel responsible for record keeping be present. Site inspections typically take from 2-6, depending on the number of crops evaluated.
Have records ready to show the site inspector. This includes pesticide records, scouting records, records of irrigation activities, harvest records, and reports of all inputs.
Be prepared to describe your strategies as they relate to Food Alliance’s Guiding Principles, with special emphasis on pest management, soil and water conservation, human resource management, and wildlife habitat/natural areas management.
Be prepared to walk or drive around your property to show pesticide storage sheds, on-site housing, machinery, significant vantage points, riparian areas and other aspects of your operation relevant to the Guiding Principles.
Who creates the standards for Food Alliance certification?
Food Alliance often contracts with independent consultants to create standards. The concepts and practices found in the standards generally come from “best management practices” identified through research at public agencies and land grant universities. In additions to consultants, Food Alliance staff are advised in the standards development process by our Stewardship Council, a volunteer group of farmers, ranchers and other representatives of the food industry university and agency researchers, and advocates for farm labor, animal welfare, the environment and consumer affairs.
What happens if I don’t pass the inspection?
If a farm or ranch fails the certification inspection, Food Alliance provides a detailed report describing changes needed to meet the certification criteria. Applicants then have up to one year to make required changes and request a follow-up inspection at no additional cost. When the changes have been made, the applicant can contact Food Alliance to schedule another inspection. In some cases, compliance can be verified without the need for a follow up inspection.