Skip to content

Inspecting other farms is arguably the most unique part of being a CNG farmer. The opportunity to walk around a fellow grower’s farm, talk shop, and share tips is what many CNG members appreciate most about their certification. We know that peer review inspections provide amazing connection opportunities and are a robust method for verifying standards, but how can we ensure that we’re providing the best inspection possible? We’ll give you a hint: it’s all about HATS!

Peer Review Class

Back in the early, strange days of the pandemic, CNG had to get creative with the inspection process and started up a system for remote observed inspections (ROIs) on Zoom. The observers loved the opportunity to watch a real inspection and found the experience fun and educational. We quickly realized that if we were going to offer these ROIs to our membership as educational opportunities, we should provide some extra support to the brave farmers taking on these remote inspections. Out of this need came the Senior Inspector (SI) program and the Peer Review Class. Initially only offered to folks hoping to become SIs (the only CNG farmers certified to conduct remote inspections), we soon expanded the Peer Review Class to the entire CNG membership. Close to 100 CNG farmers (and even some extension agents) have taken the class so far!

The Peer Review Class is a two hour, experiential class, helping farmers practice the inspection skills necessary to conduct an educational and robust CNG inspection through roleplaying and practical scenarios. Though standards invariably come up throughout the class, the curriculum is centered around, not standards clarification, but the five roles that every great inspector plays thoughout an inspection, lovingly referred to as the hats.

Curious? Consider signing up to take the Peer Review Class, offered only twice per year, in April and October. Visit the Events page to sign up and we’ll see you in class!

The Five Hats


The role of the Guide is to keep the inspection on track, both topically and temporally. The inspector should agree on an agenda with the farmer beforehand and appropriately manage time throughout the inspection. Guides drive the conversation and agenda, redirecting when necessary. The Guide’s role is to manage the time and keep the conversation focused to ensure all needed verification occurs within a reasonable time frame. We’re trying to avoid the inspection scenarios where two farmers sit around chatting about whatever and then fly through the inspection paperwork in 10 minutes at the end. (We know none of YOU have ever done that). As we like to say in class, Guides are officially empowered to steer the ship!


The Educator’s job is to clarify for the farmer receiving the inspection (and any observers) the specific standards that are relevant throughout the inspection, when it might not otherwise be clear. Taking time to pause and explain CNG standards (or, better yet, empower the farmer to do so), can help solidify understanding of the standards and how they relate to the operation. If observers are present, the Educator can invite their questions and feedback too. Educators make the inspection a learning experience for everyone: the farmer and the observers, ensuring that everyone walks away with a better understanding of CNG standards.


Wearing the Detective hat is usually the most obvious of the five inspection roles (these are inspections after all). It’s the Detective’s job to ask probing, open-ended questions and appropriate followup questions. It’s crucial to focus on common misunderstandings and take extra time to verify that standards are being met. Once the Detective has gathered the information, they can determine if a corrective action is necessary (or provide CNG with the information to do so). Sometimes the farmer’s first answer doesn’t provide enough information to determine if they’re meeting CNG standards. Detectives are always ready to dig deeper. (Think Inspector Gadget with a sunhat and Carhartts). 


As a Mentor, inspectors take it from where the Detective left off. The Detective determines that a corrective action is necessary, then, donning the Mentor hat, the inspector respectfully explains the need for an adjustment in practices. Once the farmer understands the issue, the Mentor and the farmer work together to make a plan to address the noncompliance. Inspections should be a learning experience and a noncompliance is often a great opportunity for growth. The best Mentors understand and foster the spirit of collaboration by working with the farmer to make a plan. Note that the Mentor’s job is not to determine the consequences for a noncompliance; CNG staff will follow up with the farmer post-inspection. 


The Reporter hat was a late addition to the Peer Review Class curriculum and came as a response to students’ concerns about consequences and enforcement. An inspector’s main goal is to gather information and provide an illustrative picture of both the farmer’s operation and decision making. Reporters record their observations carefully so that CNG can move forward with additional next steps or interventions if necessary. CNG staff review each inspection report before finalizing a farm’s certification for the year and these reports provide us with invaluable information. What standards have not been met? How have a farm’s buffer zones or planting stock sources changed? Are there new pest or disease management practices in place in response to a more volatile climate? Reporters are our eyes on the ground, but they are not enforcers. Report what you see then hand it off to CNG staff to take the next steps! Stellar Reporters always promptly send in the inspection paperwork so they don’t hold up the farmer’s certification. 

Inspection Season

With all this Hat talk you’re probably thinking about your next inspection. That’s great! Inspections must be done during the growing season, and annually. To make life easier for you and your peer-reviewer, aim to get it scheduled early in your season if possible, so you’re not scrambling during peak harvest time. Even if your inspection is not due til later in the year, get it done when it fits best into your schedule. Then you’ll be ahead of the game this year and for years to come!

And, to support your lofty early inspection goals, we’ve got newly revamped Produce Inspection Reports, helpful inspection tips, and a fun film featuring CNG farmers, What to Expect When You’re Inspecting.

All members are expected to sign up for a Peer Review Class. The two classes offered in 2024 will be on April 10 and October 21. You’ll get a chance to practice all the Hats alongside fellow CNG farmers from all over North America—it’s super fun AND informative!

We want to give a big shout out to Janet Aardema of Broadfork Farm for helping us develop the curriculum for the Peer Review Class. We’d also like to thank Clay Brady of Foster Brady Farm for jumping in as a class instructor and providing invaluable course feedback. Much gratitude as well to all of the Senior Inspectors out there who were the gracious guinea pigs in the early days of this class. Y’all are the best!

Farms choose CNG certification for all kinds of reasons. Some are required to have certification to sell at their farmers market or food coop, others love the peer review inspection system, while plenty are just tired of the confusing elevator speech to customers explaining their growing practices: “I can’t say that I’m organic, but I follow organic practices.” Despite each farmer’s motivation for joining CNG, all want to verify their practices without breaking the bank or adding hours of paperwork to their already tight farm schedules.

I enjoy being CNG because it provides accountability to my CSA members and market customers for my growing practices. I appreciate the peer review system because I feel connected to a community of small-scale, sustainable farmers across the country.

— Liz Visser, Blandford Nature Center Farm

Early spring is application season at CNG and now is a great time to apply! Intimidated about the process? We’ve got your back. Applying for certification is not as scary as you might think. Read on for “Application 101” to make sure you’re prepared and empowered to get that application in this spring!

Check Out the Standards

First, it’s always best take a look at the standards and make sure that CNG seems like a good fit for your farm. CNG has five certification types: Produce & Flowers, Mushrooms, Livestock, Apiary, and Aquaponics. Since Produce & Flowers is by far our most popular certification type, we’ll focus on that program, but the process is the same across the board and folks interested in applying for a program other than Produce & Flowers can start here.
While you can certainly read through the CNG Produce Standards, checking out the FAQs and filtering by your operation type may be quicker and more helpful. When reviewing the standards, you want to determine if your practices mostly align with those you see outlined. If there are any standards that seem especially confusing or you’re unsure if your operation is a good fit, don’t hesitate to reach out to CNG, we’re happy to help! 
Another great way to prepare is to preview the application. This allows you to see every question before you begin the process. Keep in mind that all possible questions appear on the application preview so you will see questions that may not pertain to your operation and will be filtered out once you’re filling out the actual application (i.e. questions for maple or microgreens producers only).

For even more info about the CNG program you’re interested in, visit the certification homepages. These are landing pages for all five certification types that link to tons of useful info, forms, and resources relevant to each program. From the CNG website homepage these pages can be found by hovering over the “Certification” heading in the top menu and clicking your desired certification type.

Still need some convincing? Watch a real CNG Inspection in action in our 10 minute film, What to Expect When Your Inspecting. Or, if you’re more of an auditory learner, give our About CNG Webinar a listen for info on the certification process, perks, and marketing tips.

Application Prep

Once you’ve checked out the standards and determined that CNG is right for you, it’s helpful to make a few lists that will help you when you’re filling out the application.

Farm Inputs

Make a list of your farm inputs. The application will ask what fertility, pest, disease, and weed management inputs you use on your farm. If you can, it’s great to know the full product name, manufacturer, and OMRI-status (if applicable) of each input. Don’t worry if you don’t have everything on hand right away or are not sure of the manufacturer of a certain input, just do the best you can to list your inputs and the certification specialist can follow up with you on any missing information once you’ve submitted your application.

Not applying for Produce & Flowers? Mushroom growers, make a list of your spawn and substrate suppliers. Livestock producers, a feed suppliers list will be helpful. Beekeepers, you’ll want to make an input list too.

Seed Sources

Make a list of what suppliers you source your seed from, including cash crop seed, cover crop seed, garlic, seed potatoes, sweet potato slips, flower bulbs, corms, tubers, etc. and other planting stock. If you purchase annual or perennial transplants, make note of those suppliers too.


Once you’re ready to apply, give yourself 30-40 minutes to sit at the computer (a little longer if you haven’t compiled your input and planting stock lists yet) and get started! You’ll find links to the application in several locations across the site: on the certification pages mentioned above or find the orange APPLY! button in the “Certification” top menu, under “Get Certified.”

If you haven’t set up a CNG account, make sure to do that before you start your application by clicking Log In and then Register for a New Account.

As you’re filling out the application, do the best you can to provide an accurate picture of your operation, but don’t stress too much if a question is confusing or you feel like you didn’t explain a practice very well. The application review period is designed to clear these things up, so just do your best.

If you need to step away from the computer in the middle of your application session, make sure to hit “Save & Continue.” This feature allows you to return to your application at a later time, right where you left off. You’ll receive a “continue link” by email from the CNG site to use whenever you’re ready to finish your application. Please make sure to use the “Save and Continue” option if you’re not able to finish applying in one sitting so you don’t have to start over!

Folks who would prefer to mail in a paper application can request one by contacting CNG, but keep in mind that paper application processing does take longer.

Application Review

Once you’ve hit “Submit” your application is officially in, woo hoo! You’ll receive an email from the Certification Specialist within 10 days to begin the application review process. (If you submit your application before the April 1st Spring Application Deadline, you’ll receive a reply within a week and be certified for spring)!

In the initial email from the Certification Specialist, they’ll ask follow up questions, clarify standards and request missing information. If possible, reply in a timely manner and provide the requested clarifications. As you provide additional information in your email replies, the Certification Specialist will update your application accordingly. This ensures that your application, which will be publicly available once you’re fully certified, is a complete and accurate representation of your farm.

As long as you’ve provided the additional information requested by the Certification Specialist and your practices, inputs, and sources are inline with CNG standards, your application will be Accepted!

Accepted and Beyond

Once your application is accepted, you’ll be able to complete the annual requirements and then become officially Certified Naturally Grown!

  1. Pay your membership dues — We recommend annual dues of $300-$350, with minimum dues of $250. You determine the amount that’s right for your operation or apply for the Grassroots or Equity Funds for financial assistance.
  2. Sign and submit your declaration — Your signature on the Declaration indicates you understand and accept the terms of participating in the CNG program.
  3. Schedule and receive a peer review inspection — Inspections must be done during the growing season and according to the Inspection Guidelines and Forms.

Please visit the Annual Requirements page or contact CNG below for assistance with these certification steps.

Whether you are still figuring out if certification is right for you, you’re halfway through your application, or you’re trying to schedule your first inspection, CNG is here for you! We are happy to help, regardless of where you are in the process, so reach out!

Our goal is to provide a practical certification that balances high standards and robust verification with minimal paperwork, reasonable costs, and tons of farmer support. Can’t wait to hear from you!

Contact Us!

I would like:
Please select all that apply
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

February comes too soon every year. Farmers in warm climates or those growing super long-season flowers and perennials have started their seeds already, but for those of us in cooler regions, seed starting season is right around the corner. This can be a high stress, high consequence time for many growers, as transplant production can make or break a growing season. Ensuring you have a solid seed starting plan, proper infrastructure and the necessary scale-appropriate tools are key to happy seedlings (and happy farmers).

To Direct Seed, Start Seedlings, or Purchase Transplants

First, it’s valuable to consider whether or not you need to (or should) grow your own transplants. Seedling production is a whole different ballgame from field production and folks who are cobbling together a growing space without the proper elements really struggle to produce strong plants. The consequences of weak seedlings will continue throughout the season and is a common cause of reduced yields and high plant stress. Most CNG produce farmers employ a mix of direct seeding and transplanting, depending on what’s appropriate for their operation and experience level.

Evaluate the pros and cons of direct seeding versus transplanting in your context.

Direct Seeding


  • minimimal root disturbance
  • no transplant shock
  • high density plantings
  • low early season labor
  • seeders can increase efficiency
  • lower upfront cost


  • challenges with field germination
  • uneven stands
  • thinning/weeding labor



  • perfect spacing
  • exact plant numbers
  • earlier start
  • season extension
  • paperpot and waterwheel transplanters increase efficiency


  • greenhouse costs & infrastructure
  • seedling production skills barrier
  • transplant shock
  • planting labor

To get the best of both worlds, some farmers choose to source their transplants off-farm, which can be a great option for new growers and folks without a propagation house. However, sourcing approved plants can be challenging, as all annual transplants need to be CNG/organic. Unless you can order transplants from a certified organic supplier, another useful strategy is to hire a fellow farmer to contract-grow your plants. The grower you hire does not need to be certified organic or even CNG (though maybe you can convince them to join!), but they do need to be growing with ecological production methods and without synthetic inputs. It’s best if you provide the seeds for your contract-grown seedlings and be sure to verify that the grower uses only approved potting mix, fertilizers, and pest control inputs in their growing space.

Purchasing organic or CNG transplants can be expensive, so try contracting out your highest value, longest greenhouse time crops like tomatoes, peppers, lisianthus, etc. and then start your quicker crops (kale, lettuce, zinnias, etc.) yourself, a little later in the season. This way, you are ensuring you have strong, healthy transplants for your highest value crops, but also saving yourself a few weeks of propagation time—reducing heat, light, and labor costs during the cold temps of early spring.

Infrastructure, Tools, & Supplies

Whether you seed everything in the greenhouse or are just starting some early plantings before you can begin direct seeding, your seedlings will need need warmth, light, moisture, protection, ventilation, and attention. 

Folks accomplish this in all kinds of ways—from an indoor system with lights and grow tents, to lean-to greenhouses and climate controlled prop houses, but all strive to provide the ideal seed starting environment.

Stressed seedlings equal leggy, lame plants, get get them started right!

  • seeds
  • trays/soil blocker
  • organic potting mix
  • vermiculite
  • heat mats
  • germination chambers
  • seeding spoons, vacuum seeder
  • plant labels
  • pest/disease control
    • mouse traps, diatomaceous earth, sticky traps
  • irrigation
    • hose, watering wand, mister
  • climate control
  • recordkeeping tools
  • A PLAN!

Common Seedling Production Issues

Damping Off

The silent killer of cotyledons, damping off can be devastating in the propagation house. Damping off is caused by a fungus that thrives in cool, wet conditions. Infected seedlings rot and fail to emerge or have thready, water-logged cotyledons that soon wither and die. Disinfecting trays between uses can help prevent damping off, but proper climate control in your growing space is the key. Be very careful not to overwater germinating seedlings, especially in cool temperatures. Water in the mornings and make sure to reduce greenhouse humidity levels, especially going into the evening. Fans, extra heaters, and precision irrigation can all help to reduce the cool, wet conditions, favored by the damping off fungus.

Leggy Seedlings

Transplants with long, spindly, weak stems are often referred to as “leggy.” This condition is most commonly a function of low light (i.e. you tried to grow tomato seedlings in your window), but can also be cause by overcrowding. These leggy seedlings rarely thrive and often experience severe transplant shock when moved into the field. Avoid growing these skinny weaklings by providing plenty of UV light and space to developing plants.


When seedlings rapidly develop white, brown, or tan areas on the leaf surface, sunscald is the likely culprit. Sunscalded leaves can even feel crispy or look bleached. This condition occurs when seedlings are moved too quickly from low intensity light to high intensity light, often between artificial light and sunlight. Be sure to transition your plants gently, especially if you’ve been growing them inside or have shade cloth over your greenhouse. Sometimes just a layer of lightweight floating row cover for the first few days on the hardening off table can be enough to reduce sunscald risk. Unless the sunscald is very severe, most plants will grow out of the damage, but it can increase transplant stress and affect future yields. 

Relevant CNG Standards

Seed Sourcing

CNG farmers must use organic/CNG seeds unless they are unable to find the particular variety they wish to grow (or an equivalent variety), in the amount they need, after checking with at least three seed companies that regularly supply organic seeds. 

What about seed saving? Farmers are totally encouraged to save their own seed! If a farm is new to CNG and hoping to use seed saved in previous seasons, they must verify that they’ve been growing their seed without prohibited inputs.

Many treated seeds are not allowed. If you want to use treated seeds, be sure the treatment is compliant with CNG or organic standards. Same goes for pelleted seed.

Read through CNG’s Seed Sourcing factsheet for more support.

Potting Mix

Potting mix and all other seedling production inputs must be free from prohibited synthetic ingredients. Be especially careful to check that your potting mix does not contain a synthetic wetting agent or synthetic fertilizers. If the wetting agent is yucca, you’re good to go. For more potting mix help, check out our Inputs Sourcing factsheet.

Sourcing Transplants

Annual transplants must be grown according to CNG standards, except in extreme cases when a variance has been given. Transplants purchased from a big box store or large company must be certified organic. Plants sourced from a local grower, must be produced only with CNG approved seeds and inputs.

Perennial transplants may be purchased from a conventional supplier if an organic equivalent is not available. However, the perennial transplants must be cultivated according to CNG standards for at least one year before the crop can be sold as CNG. So, if you plant conventional raspberry plants this spring, you can’t sell them as CNG raspberries until next spring.

For more help with CNG’s planting stock standards and ideas for sourcing plants, see the Planting Stock factsheet.

Happy Seed Starting!

Big thanks to CNG farmer, Liz Visser of Blandford Nature Center, who co-developed the CNG Farm School class, Seeds and Transplants, part of our Foundations of Crop Production course. Much of the contents of this factsheet came from this collaboratively developed curriculum.

As always please reach out to the certification specialist if you have any questions or need any support: Find more resources on production methods and decoding CNG standards on our Master the Standards page.

We’re here to help!

I would like:
Please select all that apply
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Is your New Year’s resolution to fine tune your farm fertility plan? Or to make sure you order your organic pest control products pre-season, before you have an outbreak? Or maybe you’re ready to switch to a new potting mix? In all of these scenarios farmers need to carefully consider, not only the effectiveness, application rate and method, cost, and regional availability of each product, but the compatibility with CNG standards. Determining whether or not an input is approved for use is relatively straightforward for many products, but there are some common stumbling blocks. Green washing is rampant in the garden product industry and labeling can be misleading. OMRI is by far the most common organic product listing organization, but others exist as well. Some inputs are raw materials and come from non-certifiable sources. We’ll provide sourcing tips for each input type and go over some of the most common pitfalls, so that you can ensure that all your 2024 farm inputs are good to go!

OMRI & Materials Listing

OMRI, the Organic Materials Review Institute, reviews products and evaluates how they align with the National Organic Program (NOP) standards. Products that are approved can be labeled with the OMRI logo and are listed on the OMRI website along with relevant information and restrictions regarding the products’ use in organic systems. Since CNG standards are directly based on NOP standards, CNG also allows, prohibits, and restricts the same inputs as the NOP (with a few minor exceptions, but more on that later). So, the OMRI website is a farmer’s best friend when sourcing new inputs.

While OMRI is the organic industry standard for product listing, other organizations also review products for use in organic systems. A few common alternatives include CDFA, WSDA, MOFGA, and PCO. CNG accepts products that have been listed by any of these agencies and also recognizes the materials lists of international organic programs.


Understanding organic input labels and the product listing agencies is key to ensuring a product’s acceptability in CNG production. For most inputs, farmers can go through the following steps in order to determine if an input is allowed for use in CNG operations:

  1. Is the product OMRI-listed?
    • If yes, you’re good to go! (Note that we do not allow rotenone or synthetic hydroponic fertilizer solutions, even though they are OMRI-listed).
    • If no, move onto the next step.
  2. Obtain the ingredient list and check that each ingredient is OMRI-listed and/or on the CNG Allowed & Prohibited Substances list.
  3. If each ingredient is listed, you’re all good!
    • If one or more of the ingredients is not listed or on the prohibited list the product is not allowed.
  4. Still confused? You can always reach out to the CNG certification specialist if you need help:

As you’ll notice from the above process, inputs do not always have to be OMRI-listed in order to be used in CNG production. Some products are perfectly acceptable for use, even without the OMRI label. In general, if the product is in a bottle or sold at a hardware or large feed store, only use it if it is OMRI-listed. If the product is made locally or regionally, or is a simple product with just one or a few ingredients, the OMRI label may not be necessary, but make sure to check each ingredient carefully.

Input companies go through a long, paperwork-intensive process to get their products OMRI-listed and not all companies feel the need to go through the process. Smaller potting mix manufacturers and composting facilities often forgo OMRI listing and, instead, provide their full ingredient lists readily to certified farmers and certifiers.

Restricted inputs

In addition to the straightforward “approved” and “prohibited” inputs, many inputs are approved, but “restricted.” This means that the product can be used, but growers must meet certain conditions before use. Products can be restricted for all kinds of reasons, but are usually based in reducing environmental impact and preventing the over-application of inputs. Examples of restricted inputs include most organic pesticides and fungicides, high salt fertilizers, and chelated micronutrients.

  • Organic pesticides like Safer Insecticidal Soap can only be used in tandem with cultural and mechanical practices (like insect exclusion netting or trap cropping).
  • High salt fertilizers like Chilean nitrate can be used only if the farmer has a reasonable strategy for preventing runoff and leaching.
  • Chelated synthetic micronutrients like Biomin Boron can be used only if a recent soil or foliar test indicates a boron deficiency.

The following diagram is a screen shot of the OMRI website search page, decoded. 

Understanding the restrictions on certain products is key to remaining in compliance with CNG standards and using inputs responsibly and cost-effectively. Please reach out to CNG if you need help determining if an input is allowed for use.


Sourcing approved fertilizers can be especially tricky because there are so many different kinds and sources, from simple, one-ingredient alfalfa meal to complex blends of macro and micronutrients.

Blends and Liquid Formulations

The best place to start for fertilizer blends and liquid fertilizers is on the OMRI website. However, there is a big caveat here— because the NOP allows hydroponic operations and CNG does not, the NOP allows some synthetic hydroponic fertilizers.

CNG does not allow the use of synthetic hydroponic fertilizers, even if they are OMRI-listed.

If you see ingredients like sodium nitrate on an OMRI-listed liquid fertilizer, chances are it’s not allowed for use in CNG production. Contact the certification specialist if you have questions, we’re happy to help!

For most liquid and blended fertility products, however, the OMRI list and or label will be super helpful. If you’re not able to find the product on the OMRI-list, check the company’s website for any product certification information or for alternative organic labels. If all else fails, you’ll need to contact the company directly for a full ingredient list. Many companies are unresponsive to ingredient list requests from customers or even certifiers. It is our experience companies who are stingy about providing product ingredients, usually do not sell approved products anyways. For this reason, it’s much more straightforward to purchase fertilizer formulations that are OMRI listed or approved by another organic product listing agency (WSDA, CDFA, etc.)

Raw Inputs and Single Ingredient Fertilizers

Many of the fertility inputs that CNG farmers use are raw materials like manure, hay, wood chips, or leaves. Others are single ingredient inputs such as elemental sulfur, alfalfa meal, dolomitic lime, blood meal, peat moss, etc. Many of these types of inputs are not specific products manufactured and patented by one company, so the OMRI list is less useful. With these types of inputs, start with the CNG list of Allowed and Prohibited Inputs.

Once you’ve found the fertilizer on the list, there are a few other details to confirm before considering the product acceptable for use in CNG.

  • Does the product contain any synthetic additives or stabilizers? Peat moss can sometimes contain a synthetic wetting agent and some forms of lime are chemically processed. The product should be pure and 100% one ingredient, unless the other ingredients are also naturally derived and approved.
  • Is the product derived from a common GMO crop? Examples include cottonseed meal, soybean meal, alfalfa meal, alfalfa hay, and molasses. Ensure that the product you purchase was not produced with GMO crops (either contact the supplier or purchase from a certified organic source).
  • For mineral products, was the product synthetically derived or mined? Certain minerals like potassium sulfate are only allowed if they are mined, rather than synthetically manufactured.
  • Does the product have an application window? Raw manure may only be applied according to the 90/120 rule, while processed, heat-treated manure (often sold as pelletized manure) can be applied without restriction. For more information about manure and compost, please see our factsheet, Compost, Manure, and the In-between.

Pest & Disease Control Products

Like liquid fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides should, in general, have the OMRI label if they are to be used on a CNG farm. Confusion is common with these products because labeling language can be misleading. A few pest control products like 100% neem oil may contain just one approved substance, but most are formulations with an active ingredient and additional inactive ingredients. Usually only the active ingredient is listed on the label and companies are reticent to provide full ingredient lists.

Many garden product companies, like Bonide and Fox Farm, make products that have the same active ingredient as OMRI-listed products, but are listed for organic gardening and do not go through the OMRI verification process.

Sometimes the rest of the ingredients in these products are fine, but other times they contain petroleum products or other synthetic materials. To confuse matters further, some of these companies sell both organic and conventional products, with very similar product design and marketing language. Be sure you look for an OMRI label or obtain a full list of ingredients from the manufacturer before using a pest or disease control product. 

Potting Mix

Many farmers purchase potting mix from large suppliers like ProMix, but potting mix is also often sourced from smaller local and regional companies. Looking for an OMRI label is usually the best way to ensure that potting mix is approved, but if the mix is made by a smaller company, getting an ingredient list may be a better option. Either way, keep the following in mind:

  • Look out for wetting agents! Almost all peat-based potting mixes contain a synthetic wetting agent to help the peat from becoming hydrophobic. If the label says “wetting agent” assume that it is a synthetic wetting agent. On an organic potting mix label the ingredients will say “organic wetting agent” or yucca.
  • Sometimes potting mix bags will say “contains” instead of “ingredients” and list a few constituents like peat, perlite, and compost. Folks commonly confuse the “contains” list with the ingredient list. An ingredient list must include every ingredient in the product, while “contains” usually just indicates the main components. So, make sure you obtain the actual ingredient list.
  • Large companies (ProMix, SunGro etc.) often make mostly conventional potting mix, and supply just a few OMRI-listed mixes. Make sure you are, in fact, purchasing the OMRI-listed versions (they will be more expensive).

We’re here to help!

Still struggling with input sourcing? Send us a message!

I would like:
Please select all that apply
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

December is seed buying season for many farmers across the US and Canada, so we thought we’d add some extra resources to support folks with their seed search this year. Organic seed rules are complex, broadly interpreted standards– further complicated by the intricacy of the North American (and international) seed production and sourcing system. We know these standards can be confusing and that farmers are considering myriad factors when it comes to selecting seed sources—heirloom vs. hybrid varieties, disease resistance packages, regional adaptation, certification, quantity, and price, among many others. Read on for seedy deets that will help you with your seed search!

Seed Terms

Heirloom — A variety that was developed over 50 years ago. Does not indicate how the seeds were produced (i.e. heirloom status does not equal organic status).

Open-pollinated (OP) — OP seeds are produced by selecting the offspring of parents of the same variety. With proper isolation practices these seeds will produce true to type each year.

Hybrid — Indicated by an “F1” after the variety name, hybrid seeds are produced by selecting the offspring of two distinct parent varieties. Hybrids are often more vigorous than their parents and are common in commercial vegetable production, bred for additional disease resistance, consistency and high yields. Offspring of hybrid seed will not produce true to type.

GM seed — Seed that was developed using gene editing technology. Also referred to as genetically modified or GMO seed. (Not allowed in CNG or organic production).

Treated — Seeds can be treated with various products including fungicides, germination agents, inoculants, and even color coatings. Most of these are not allowed for use in CNG or organic operations, but some inoculants and coatings are OMRI-listed.

Pelleted — Small and irregularly shaped seeds are often pelleted by larger seed suppliers for ease of sowing (flowers, lettuce, carrots, etc.) The pellets are usually a clay product that may or may not be synthetically derived. If the pelleting agent is allowed for use in organic/CNG production it will be listed on the seed packet or website description, usually as “NOP-compliant pellet.”

Regionally adapted — Historically, seed was saved and selected regionally by indigenous peoples and, later, subsistence farmers, but today most seed companies source seed from growers all over North America and, depending on the size of the company, all over the world. However, there is a building movement of smaller, place-based seed companies producing seed that is adapted to their climate for growers in their region.

Landrace — Instead of a distinct, homogenous variety, a landrace is a population of plants that have genetically similar traits and climactic adaptations, but still display significant genetic diversity within the population. Landraces are highly regionally adapted and are often sources of breeding stock for seed breeders.

CNG Seed Standard

As with the majority of our standards, CNG’s seed standard is directly in line with the National Organic Program (NOP) seed standard. Producers must use organically grown seeds whenever available. The standards grant exceptions for conventionally grown seeds to be used when a particular variety isn’t available in an organically grown form. Growers must make a good faith effort to locate organically grown seeds by contacting at least three major suppliers of organic seeds before sourcing conventional seed. Growers must ensure that any conventional seed used is non-GMO and not treated with any prohibited coatings, fungicides, pelleting agents, etc.

CNG considers the following under our seed standard: vegetable, flower, herb, fruit, cover crop, and pasture seed, seed potatoes, sweet potato slips, day-neutral strawberry slips, ginger, turmeric, and flower bulbs.

The allowance of conventional seed is obviously quite a loophole and means that many organic and CNG growers alike still use at least some conventional seed. However, the supply of organic seed, especially in bulk, hybrid, and disease resistant forms, has not met the demand yet. Farmers growing culturally important crops, cut flowers, and other specialty crops also struggle to find organic sources of the varieties they need.

It’s important for CNG and organic growers to strive to purchase organic seed, but certifiers understand the need for growers to source the varieties and traits that are crucial for their particular operations. Together we can increase the supply of organic seed by purchasing organic whenever possible and talking to our favorite seed companies about adding more organic varieties!

For questions and resources regarding seedlings, perennial transplants, nursery stock, and other types of planting stock, see our blog post, How to Source Planting Stock Like a Pro.

Regionally Adapted Seed

Purchasing regionally adapted seeds can be a great option for growers looking for varieties suited to their climate, pest and disease resistance needs, irrigation requirements, and growing conditions.

Though many smaller regional seed companies are not certified organic, CNG makes some concessions for growers interested in purchasing regionally adapted seed. We see true regionally adapted seed as a unique “variety” for the purposes of the seed rule. So, if a CNG grower buys seed from a small company offering seeds that are adapted to their area and climate, CNG would allow that, even if the variety were available elsewhere in an organic form. This won’t come up too often as many smaller seed companies offer rare varieties that are likely not available organically anyways, but we want to support regional seed-sheds and the farmers who rely on them.

Folks should check that the seed they’re hoping to buy seed is in fact regionally adapted. Just because you live close to a seed company or have one in your state, does not mean that most of the seed was actually grown in your region. Most regionally adapted seed companies will advertise as such, so it should be pretty clear, but always email/call and ask where their seed growers are located if you’re unsure. This is also a great time to ask the companies about how their seed farmers produce and whether or not they use synthetic inputs. Many of these companies work with cooperatives of small growers who farm naturally, but are not certified.

These seeds will be open-pollinated and are great candidates for on-farm selection, especially since they’re well-adapted to a particular region already; farmers just get to fine-tune the selection for specific farm conditions! If you are selecting and saving seeds on your own farm, these seeds are of course allowed for use in CNG, so start saving!

Seed Suppliers

We’ve made some recent updates to our Seed Suppliers page and hope it will be a useful resource in your search for compliant seed.

On the Seed Suppliers page scroll down to Seed Sources and you’ll see bunch of filters. You can select multiple filters at a time to really narrow down your search, but we suggest starting with the seed type you’re looking for (cover crop, microgreens, etc.) before jumping into region. Most folks live in areas where they have to ship in organic seed, so region is not always helpful. However, if you are looking for regionally adapted seed, make sure you select both “Regionally Adapted” and your region.

Know of a supplier that we’re missing? Send them our way using the form below!

Still have questions? Let us know how we can help! Reach out to the certification specialist by email or use the contact form.

Contact Us

I would like:
Please select all that apply
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Lots of folks have been struggling to find organic onion transplants, but thanks to a tenacious CNG farmer, we have a new organic source to refer you to: Sunbelt Transplants. Check ’em out!

It’s come to our attention that lots of CNG growers are purchasing onion transplants from Dixondale or Johnny’s Seeds (which sources their onion starts directly from Dixondale). These transplants are conventional. As onions are annuals, only organic/CNG transplants may be used. If you are using Dixondale or other onion starts that are not clearly organic, please contact CNG. You’ll need to label your onions as “not CNG” and make a plan with the certification specialist.

For more details, please see our How to Source Planting Stock Like a Pro blog and our Seeds & Seedlings page. And, of course, reach out to the certification specialist anytime: We are here to help!

Farmers choose to foray into value-added production for many reasons—waste reduction, product diversification, season extension, or just a plain old passion for pickles. Whatever the motivation, this type of processing opens up a whole new can of worms, and farmers must consider all kinds of additional factors from FDA and CNG compliance to label design and recipes. Producing value-added goods is not for everyone, but we’ll try to guide you through the ins and outs so the barriers to entry feel less intimidating.

Value-added producers add monetary value to a raw agricultural commodity through some form of processing. So honey is a raw commodity, while lavender-infused honey would be a value-added version. Same goes for peppers vs. salsa, wheat vs. bread, cabbage vs. kraut, milk vs. cheese, etc. The term is extremely broad and some government entities even consider organic production itself to be “value-added.”

For our purposes, we’ll consider value-added goods as those that require the producer to cut, dry, cook, can, culture, smoke, or otherwise process their raw product.

Food Safety

Compliance with FDA, Cottage Food, and other food safety regulations is often the biggest barrier to entry for folks with big value-added dreams. Regulations vary widely state to state, but for most smaller operations, a good place to start is your state’s Cottage Food laws. These laws allow small-scale producers to process low-risk foods in their home kitchens and sell them, with a bare minimum of regulatory oversight. This is why your great aunt can sell her homemade blueberry jelly at the farmers market. Most states’ Cottage Food laws only apply to producers with gross annual value-added product sales under a certain amount. These laws allow only certain types of products, usually non-potentially hazardous foods like jam, jellies, baked goods, and dried herbs. Higher risk foods are those that require specific processing times and temperatures to be considered food safe, like those containing meats, raw dairy products, and many cooked vegetables.

For farmers who are looking to produce larger amounts of products or process higher risk foods, commercial kitchen space will be necessary. Some farms build their own commercial kitchens onsite, while others rent space in community kitchens and restaurants. Local agricultural extension agents can be a great resource for more in-depth info about your state’s Cottage Food laws and what commercial kitchen options are available in your area.

Remember to contact your farm insurance agent and let them know that you’re getting into value-added production. Often additional coverage needs to be added onto standard product liability policies.

Packaging and Marketing

Often the main allure of value-added production is the prospect of extra income, especially during times when other farm production is low. Having shelf-stable products can be a great way to supplement farm stand and CSA options and add diversity to your farmers market and online offerings. With most market channels, packaging your product attractively and inline with regulations is key. Design and print professional, clear, enticing labels on appropriately-sized, affordable packaging. Think about compostable and recyclable packaging options. Depending on this size of your operation, consult your state Cottage Food laws or FDA regulations regarding required label information, including ingredients, farm name, date, etc. Traceability and UPCs could be important labeling considerations as well.

Don’t skimp on good-looking packaging. The product can’t speak for itself until folks try it and it’s very likely that your prices will have to be much higher than grocery store prices.

Samples at market can be an invaluable marketing tool, just make sure you’re following your market’s food safety guidelines.

CNG Labeling

CNG certifies raw agricultural products and minimally processed products like honey and maple. We’ve set the following policies to address questions about labeling from members who create value-added products from their CNG crops. 

  • The CNG label may only be used on products where the majority of inputs by volume are CNG certified ingredients. Common examples are sauerkraut, pickles, and jams. 
  • If the majority of ingredients are not CNG, then the CNG logo may not be placed on the packaging, but the member has the option to indicate which of the product’s ingredients is Certified Naturally Grown. For example, a tomato sauce where only the basil is CNG, but not the tomatoes, may not use the logo but the ingredient list may indicate Certified Naturally Grown basil, or use an asterisk to indicate which ingredients are CNG certified.

Some value-added products require major ingredients that aren’t available in CNG certified form, like oils and alcohol, in which case there’s more flexibility with using the CNG label. 

  • Tinctures: May use the CNG label if the majority of plant ingredients are CNG, and the alcohol is certified organic. 
  • Salves and Infused Oils: May use the CNG label if the plant ingredients are CNG, and the oils are certified organic. Honey and beeswax should also be from a CNG apiary. 
  • If a particular plant ingredient is sometimes organic, and sometimes CNG, then the specific situation should be discussed with CNG. If a particular plant ingredient is sometimes CNG and sometimes conventional, then it may not be indicated that the ingredient is sometimes CNG.

The take home point is, as with all things CNG, transparency is the key!

Ask yourself…

Adding processing and product-making to your never-ending farm list is no small matter. Some farmers and educators counsel value-added hopefuls to consider their farm and their processing enterprise as two separate businesses. Just like starting a farm business, consider carefully and start small. Test your recipes and production process on a small-scale first. Talk to other farmers and producers who have tried value-added production. Research, research, research — talk to agricultural extension agents and food safety educators and make sure you know the compliance hoops before you try to jump through them.

Here are some other questions to ask yourself:

  • Are there raw products on my farm that are currently wasted?
  • Do I like spending time processing?
  • What will I have to charge for my product to make a profit? (Make sure you include your TIME)!
  • Do I need a shelf-stable product to sell when farm times are lean or during the off-season?
  • When will I need to process and do I have enough room in the farm schedule? Will I need to hire additional help?
  • Is there a demand for my product? Is anyone locally already selling it? How will you differentiate yourself?
  • What is my tolerance for FDA compliance and inspections?
  • Will my product be considered “high risk”?
  • Will my product need to be made in a commercial kitchen or do Cottage Food laws apply?
  • How much money will I need to get my value-added business started? Do I need to source off-farm funding?
  • Am I interested in selling my products online? What about shipping costs and logistics?

Is Value-Added Right for Me?

Value-added production can be an awesome option for lots of farms and there are a plethora of reasons to jump right in.

Alternatively, too many enterprises can be the doom of a small farm, so don’t worry if becoming a processor is not for you. Consider meeting your goals in other ways; whether you dial in your production plan to ensure you don’t produce too much or you extend your growing season in order to extend your market season.

Partnerships with other farmers and local processors can be a great way to participate in value-added production without doing your own processing. Whatever you decide, make sure you have the time, interest, and resources to implement it, without adding too much strain on your business, family or yourself!



Farmer’s Legal Guide to Value-Added Products, Farm Commons

Add Value Not Legal Liability video, Farm Commons

State By State Review of Cottage Food Laws, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund


Beyond Fresh: A Food Processing Guide for Farmers, ATTRA — A useful workbook that guides farmers through value-added enterprise planning. Includes cost calculators and sample spreadsheets.

Adding Value to Farm Products: An Overview, ATTRA — Farm business resources for food and non-food products.

What is Value-Added Agriculture?, AMRS — Scroll down for an extensive list of state and regional research centers devoted to the development of value-added business and processing resources.

Value-Added Producer Grants, USDA Rural Development — The main grant funding source for value-added producers.

Processing & Packaging

National Center for Home Food Preservation, University of Georgia — Food-safe recipes for canning, freezing, fermenting, drying, curing, and pickling.

Uline — A great place to start for your packaging needs.

The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz — Recipes and methodology for kraut, kimchi, yogurt, and more.

The Organic Medicinal Herb Farmer, Jeff Carpenter — For those interested in drying and processing medicinal herbs and flowers.

Local Resources

  • Agricultural Extension Agents
  • Small Business Development Center Consultants
  • FDA and Food Safety Inspectors

Farmer Contacts

We recently held an online farmer meet-up for folks interested in value-added production, hosted by two experienced CNG farmers. These two have graciously offered to field questions regarding their products and processing logistics.

  • James Radnich, Cultivate Farms, Oregon — Produces a wide variety of topnotch products including salsa, hot sauce, infused vinegar, and soaps. Contact here
  • Michael Torbett, Terra Vita Farm, North Carolina — A tried and true sauerkraut specialist! Contact here

Just Ask!

Have a value-added resource suggestion or a question for CNG? We’d love to hear from you!

I would like:
Please select all that apply
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

We’ll be right back!

words words words

Cover cropping is one of those farm practices that comes second nature to some farmers and, to others, feels like a nice idea, but never seems to get done. As both an art and a science, there is a lot to cover cropping, from the timing of both planting and termination, to selecting the right species and seeding rate for your context.

This post is meant to be a quick-start guide to cover cropping for folks who are struggling to implement this incredible stewardship and fertility practice on their own farms. (Hopefully there will be some hot tips for more experienced folks too)! The best advice we have is “give it a go!”  Maximum biomass production takes some experience and finesse, but most folks can at least get decent soil coverage with some basic cover cropping knowledge. So let’s get started!

Species Selection

Which crops you choose to plant depends on what your goals are (i.e. what issues you’re hoping to address), along with your climate and time frame. The most common cover cropping goals are:

  • nitrogen fixation
  • increase soil organic matter
  • soil coverage and stabilization
  • beneficial insect and pollinator habitat
  • honeybee forage
  • weed suppression
  • compaction mediation
  • supplemental grazing

Then find crops that match your goals. We love using the Farm Seed Comparison Chart from Johnny’s Seeds to identify which species fit the bill. It’s also key to consider each species life cycle (i.e. are they annuals, biennials, or perennials), how long you’re hoping your cover crop will be in the ground, and when you can plant.

This can feel like an overwhelming decision-making prospect, but you can start simple. Pick one goal and a few crops that match your goal. Then determine which crop works best for your climate, planting timing, budget, etc. Here are some examples:

  • Goal: beneficial insect and pollinator habitat
  • Time frame: May – September
  • Zone: 6a
  • Other considerations: Budget is low, grower is inexperienced with cover cropping.
  • Potential species: medium red clover, buckwheat, phacelia
    • While all of these crops provide habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators, medium red clover is a perennial and phacelia seed is very expensive, especially for a monoculture planting. Buckwheat is a heat-tolerant, fast growing crop that will establish well in early summer and be easily terminated in September.
  • Goal: increase soil organic matter
  • Time frame: August – June
  • Zone: 6a
  • Other considerations: Farm has salty, high pH soils. Hoping to seed a carrot crop in July following cover crop termination. Has limited seed options in their area. New to cover cropping.
  • Potential species: rye, winter wheat, triticale, sorghum, oats
    • Sorghum and oats are both out as they would winter kill in this climate. Rye is a great, very common option, though mature rye can be tricky to kill. Winter wheat and triticale are both great options, but triticale is more tolerant of high pH, salty soils.

Cover Crop Mixes

The examples above demonstrated monoculture options, but mixing cover crop species can be an exciting, profitable endeavor. Purchasing a pre-made mix can be a great way to go because then you don’t have to worry about calculating the proper mix rate. Or, if you’re like me and like to just go for it and experiment, take your main cover crop monoculture seed and seeding rate, throw in some handfuls of other seed and see what happens!

Common cover crop mixes include:

  • rye/vetch—A truly classic mix; lots of biomass, weed suppression, and soil coverage from the rye, with nitrogen fixation from the vetch. Both are super cold tolerant, so a great option for fall planting. Add in a tillage radish for quick establishment and compaction mitigation and you’ve got a stellar fall mix!
  • oats/field peas—A great choice for a spring mix, the oats provide structure, and biomass, while the peas fix nitrogen. Both breakdown relatively quickly and are cold tolerant enough to be seeded in early spring. Hairy vetch is commonly added to this mix to add additional nitrogen fixation and a longer growth period, since vetch will tolerate high summer temperatures better than field peas.
  • cowpeas/buckwheat/sunn hemp—All of these crops love the heat, making this mix great for summer. Plant in early summer as a precursor to a fall crop. The cowpeas and sunn hemp fix nitrogen, while the buckwheat provides fast-growing soil coverage and attracts beneficials. This mix grows fast and suppresses those summer weeds well. Throw in some sunflower for extra biomass and insect habitat.

If you want to get a little more science-y about it and design your own mixes check out this video from Penn State: Cover Crop Mixtures: Calculating Seeding Rates. 

Remember that any crop you’re growing as an input, not as a cash crop, is essentially cover crop. Have a bunch of old radish and sunflower seeds lying around after you dropped microgreens production? Too many bags of oats since you scaled back the animal side of your operation? Add them to your cover crop mix!

Seeding Rates

The waters can get very muddied when you start talking about seeding rates, especially when you’re working with mixes, alternative seeding methods, or bed vs. acre scale considerations.  The big take home point here is over-seed and don’t worry too much. (The caveat of course is, if you are managing a large operation, seeding rate is going to have a huge effect on your bottom line. Hopefully you have access to a drill and can precision seed at the recommended rates).

For the rest of us, a good rule of thumb, especially if you want lots of biomass and are on a smaller scale, is to double the recommended broadcast seeding rate. Some folks even triple it to ensure a nice dense stand. This will also help to combat establishment challenges due to less-than-ideal seeding method, insufficient irrigation, or poor seed-to-soil contact.

There are all kinds of resources on cover crop seeding rates and, once you figure out your system, you can fine-tune for your own conditions and technology. Managing Cover Crops Profitably is a great resource for finding the seeding rates of most cover crop species. Pay attention to the broadcast vs. drill seeding rate. The broadcast rate will be much higher and, in most cases, the one you should use unless you have a seed drill. Many cover crop seed suppliers will have rates posted and can provide consultation as well.

Seeding Methods

Lots of options here, so don’t be intimidated! Most cover crops like to grow and can be seeded in a variety of ways. Just like when direct seeding carrots, seed-to-soil contact and planting depth are important. The smaller the seed the shallower you need to plant and the more important seed-to-soil contact and frequent establishment irrigation will be. Larger seed is generally easier and more forgiving to establish, but don’t go too deep or too shallow.

Bed/field preparation is pretty flexible as well. Cover crops are meant to produce crop residue and biomass, so no need to go crazy creating the perfect fluffy, residue-free bed. I often just mow the previous crop and seed right into it.

These are a few of the most common cover crop seeding methods.


Broadcasting is often most accessible method of cover crop seeding, depending on your scale. Farmers broadcast seed from airplanes, tractor-mounted drop and cone spreaders, walk-behind lawn spreaders, bag seeders, and by hand. All of these methods work fine, but you’ll have the best results if you incorporate the seed following the broadcast either by raking or a shallow till/disc/harrow. Super tiny seed like clover may get buried too deep with incorporation though, so be careful. Sometimes just pressing the seed into the soil with your feet, an upside down rake, or a roller implement is enough for those tiny seeds.

Push Seeder

This is a great option for small-scale growers. I don’t use my Earthway seeder for direct seeding vegetables or flower seeds anymore, but I use it all the time for cover crops! I mow the previous crop, maybe rake a little residue out of the bed, and then, using the beet or radish plate with the depth set to 1/2 inch, I run three to five rows up and down the bed, in between the previous crop rows. With this method, it’s trickier to calculate an exact seeding rate, but you can start to nail down what plate and how many rows per bed works for which crop or mix. Because the push seeder method can be done on a single or even partial bed scale, I’ve found that it’s gotten easier to squeeze smaller cover crop plantings in throughout the season.

Other push seeders like the Jang and Plant Jr. will work for cover crops as well, you’ll just have to do some experimenting to find the best plates.

Seed Drill

Seeding with a drill will allow you the most precision and can offer you the best, most predicable results. It’s a great choice for larger growers and folks with access to equipment. The most common issues with drill seeding is planting too deep or improper drill calibration. Triple check your depth as you’re seeding, especially if your field isn’t perfectly level or has some contour changes. Calibration is key, especially if you’re trying to nail a particular seeding rate, and takes patience and precision. Certain seed mixes, especially those with a wide range of seed sizes can be especially challenging to calibrate and set the proper seeding depth. Look for a seeder with a legume box if you’re interested in seeding lots of diverse mixes.

Seed drills that can handle some residue like no-till drills or vineyard drills are nice if you prefer to do minimal field prep and minimize soil disturbance between cash and cover crops. Smaller-scale farms can check out the drills available as walk-behind tractor implements.


Bed space on small-scale and urban farms is often a big barrier to cover cropping since these operations are often using every available bed. Undersowing, sowing a cover crop underneath a cash crop while the cash crop is still in production, is a great option in these situations. Similar to intercropping, where two cash crops are grown in the same bed (i.e. basil under your trellised cucumbers), undersowing allows the farmer to get a head start on cover cropping a bed without losing production. A classic undersowing practice is sowing white dutch clover under broccoli, kale, or other taller brassicas.


If you take anything away from this article, let it be this—please inoculate your legume seed! Everyone loves legumes like vetches, peas, beans, and clovers because they fix nitrogen, turning atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available ammonia. But legumes cannot do this on their own—symbiotic relationships with Rhizobia bacteria are necessary for nitrogen fixation. It’s true that many species of Rhizobia exist is our farm soils, but these partnerships can only form between particular species. In short, the bacteria needs to match with the legume, hence why farmers should inoculate their legume seeds with the proper inoculant. It takes a bit more time, but is so worth it. Once you’ve calculated your inoculant amount, just a simple matter of adjusting the recommended ratio to your seed amount, dampen your seed slightly, distribute the inoculant throughout the seed and plant right away.

Most cover crop seed suppliers sell inoculant or provide pre-inoculated seed. Exceed is the most common inoculant company and provides some OMRI-listed products.

Seed Sourcing

Like vegetable, flower, herb, and pasture seed, cover crop seed falls under the CNG Seed Policy and should be organic whenever possible. Farmers should check with at least three sources before purchasing conventional seed. Keep an eye out for GMO seed (especially if you’re growing alfalfa or rapeseed) and make sure that all seed treatments and inoculants are OMRI-listed or confirmed to contain no synthetic or GM ingredients.

Cover crop seed is heavy and you’ll need a lot of it, so finding a supplier in your state or region will save you some freight cost. Keep in mind that shipping cost is not a justifiable reason for purchasing conventional seed if organic is available from another supplier. Some folks have good luck purchasing cover crop seed from their local farm supply store or direct from regional farmers and feed suppliers. You can save your own too!

Some stellar suppliers are: Albert Lea Seed, Fedco Seeds, Green Cover Seed, Johnny’s Seeds, and Pawnee Butte Seed. For even more suppliers, check out this comprehensive Seed Suppliers List from the Southern Cover Crop Council.

Resources & References

There is a wealth of knowledge out there on cover cropping that we encourage everyone to explore. These are the resources we’ve found to be the most helpful:

Managing Cover Crops Profitably, SARE —  The OG cover crop handbook.

The No-Till Organic Vegetable Farm, Daniel Mays — Amazing section on cover cropping in small-scale, no till production systems.

Cover Crop Mixtures: Calculating Seeding Rates, Penn State Extension YouTube — A great video that instructs how to calculate seeding rates when adding in additional cover crop species.

Smart Mix, Green Cover Seed — A super fun and informative online tool, allowing you to calculate custom cover crop blends for your goals and context.

Cover Cropping for Soil Health—Low and No Till Strategies, No Till Growers — So many hot tips on low/no till cover crop management from everyone’s favorite farmer podcasters.

Cover Cropping for Pollinators & Beneficial Insects, SARE — A great resource for all you beekeepers and pollinator stewards out there.

How to Design a Cover Crop Mix for Fall Planting, Green Cover Seed — Planting late? Read on to see what crops you can still get away with.

Back To Top