"Certification makes all the difference in the world. If you use 90% less pesticides, or you're almost organic, you don't get the organic premium. And if you don't get the premium, you're never going to make that much money."
Do you really need to get certified?
The USDA National Organic Program regulates use of the term "organic" as a marketing and labeling claim. If you want to sell your agricultural products as organic, then you need to be certified. There is a small-farmer exemption: If your gross agricultural income from products sold as organic is less than $5,000 a year, you don't have to get certified, but you still have to follow the organic standards (including the paperwork requirements). You should be able to document that you qualify for the exemption and that your production methods are in keeping with the rules. By statute, the USDA and/or your state organic program can ask to see your records going back three years.
The under-$5,000 exemption is meant for direct-to-consumer sales, for instance at farmers markets. Exempt producers may not use the USDA Organic seal, cannot describe their products as "certified organic," and cannot sell their products as organic ingredients to be processed by others. (You may process your own produce—say, organic strawberries into strawberry jam, as long as you meet the criteria above.)
Note that the exemption does not allow livestock feed to be sold as organic to a farmer feeding certified organic livestock. For example, a certified organic dairy may not purchase non-certified organic hay from a neighbor claiming exemption from certification under the $5,000-a-year limit.
Some states invite exempt producers to register with the state. This gives state departments of agriculture, policymakers and organic advocates a more accurate understanding of current farming practices so they can better serve the public.