The Fall 2016 issue of The Inspectors’ Report has an article of local interest on page 19. It tells of the accounts and insights from a real-life USDA organic inspector. With first-hand knowledge of the narrative, the article is reprinted here for our blog readers.
The IOIA Inspector’s Report Volume 25 – Number 4 – Fall 2016
Last spring, I attended the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) Organic Crop Inspection training held at Deer Creek Lodge and Conference Center in Mt. Sterling, Ohio. You might have read about this in the spring edition (Volume 25 – Number 2) of the IOIA Inspector’s Report . This article is a follow-up to that article and chronicles the story line from the course completion to the point of performing farm inspections on my own.
Once one completes the IOIA Basic Crops training course, the next task at hand is the Mentored Organic Inspector Apprenticeship. Anyone who is thinking about an apprenticeship should keep in mind a few important things. First, the inspectors who have enough experience to be good mentors are probably very busy with their own inspection assignments. So, even though they might want to help, they can’t always do so. There is definitely a need to be patience and understand that if someone isn’t able to help mentor you right way; it’s probably because of constraints beyond their control. With that said, I must say that for me, it took longer than I had hoped. But, after having applied a little bit of patience, it did happen.
My apprenticeship consisted of four mentored inspections. The first two were in mid-September. Two different inspectors were shadowed on these inspections for a look at variety of techniques. These first shadowing inspections were filled with awe and admiration at seeing the inspectors perform their work. So here, my role as the apprentice was only to watch and learn. On my third mentored inspection, I was given the seed search verification and crop audit tasks to do at the inspection, which I managed to handle satisfactory. In fact, it felt good to actually contribute something to help my mentor.
And finally that day came in the second week of October; my first inspection shadowed by the mentoring inspector. As it turned out my first inspection was a new client (not usually done but time was of the essence) who was requesting certification of 180 acres of hay and pasture. I said a short prayer, “Please God, don’t let me screw this up!” My prayers were answered, and I was given the go ahead to start inspecting on my own. My mentor gave me the following recommend: “The reports you submitted to me are very thorough in fact I hope I am not held to that standard. I would recommend that you are more than capable to carry out solo inspections.”
Ok, so it wasn’t so much just hope and prayer that got me though this. My IOIA training gave me the sturdy foundation that I needed to have a basic grasp of the task at hand. The accumulation of knowledge gained from the abundance of class work, homework assignments and exercises administrated at the IOIA training played a large part in this success. My mentor’s tutoring came in very useful, too. The mentor’s recommendation to make it a practice to review the Materials Used Form for inputs that are allowed with restrictions and then to check during inspection that all of those restrictions are being followed and documented appropriately was most helpful.
Just so you know everything did not go perfectly smooth. So, the basic plan that day was to meet with my mentor ahead of time, about one-half hour before the scheduled inspection time so that we could drive to the farm together. Inspection start time was scheduled at 8 am, and the meet-up time was to be about 7:30; so that put us both on the road starting out around 5 that morning. In Pennsylvania, we have a whitetail deer population. And as it so happened, my first inspection date aligned precisely with the start of the deer’s rutting season. This means that the deer are especially active, and are prone to cross the highway at all times of the day or night. So as you might have already guessed, my mentoring inspector hit a deer driving to the inspection. Yup, he had to go back home to “inspect” for damage before continuing. So needless to say we arrived to the inspection about an hour late. And so, this serves as example of what can go wrong in this sort of line of work. The good news is that the farmer applicant was on his way to growing organic hay this year, and plans to transition to an organic dairy next year.
After the apprenticeship, I earned the “allowed to do inspections on my own” status. This was truly good and well worth the wait and time spent, I felt. For one thing, I can schedule my farm visits as I wish and go directly to the farms without having to coordinate with a mentoring inspector. My plan to start was straightforward and simple – begin with a couple of nearby hay and pasture farms in order to wring out my techniques and hone my inspector skills.
As fate would have it, that idea didn’t go as planned. My first solo inspection came in as an Urgent Inspection Request from a 400 acre Corn, Soybean and Small Grain farmer who had added a few acres of corn, some of which had been harvested and kept segregated on a wagon. The farmer was not able to continue harvesting until the review of the inspection report. Right of the bat, it was baptism by fire, so to say. In spite of this, I was able to satisfactory complete the assignment and provide the inspection report in a timely manner. The mock farm inspection during the IOIA training hit the mark as the wheat, corn and soybeans production on that teaching exercise prepared me well for that of the farm that needed the urgent inspection.
In hind sight, the Urgent Inspection Request was probably the best learning experience one could have. After that, the remaining assignments didn’t look all that difficult. But as I soon learned, each farm had a particular element of uniqueness and every one required special attention to the details during the inspection process. And in that way, this added to the appeal of the job as I realized that no two inspections will ever be exactly the same. Each one, you see is truly a unique experience. So with that being the case, this is where I will end, after having successfully completed twelve solo inspections in my first year of being an organic inspector.
 IOIA Inspector’s Report (Volume 25 – Number 2) page 16