What is SERF?
Socially and Environmentally Responsible Farm (SERF) program is a new environmental certification program for Christmas tree growers in Oregon and Washington. Like other certification programs, this one is designed to assure consumers that their Christmas trees with the SERF symbol have been grown in a manner that conforms to a set of best management practices. In the case of SERF, those guidelines have been developed and reviewed by a panel composed of tree growers, tree buyers, environmental representatives, and a number of technical and subject matter experts.
More specifically, a SERF certified farm must pass a set of auditing standards in five areas: Bio-Diversity, Soil and Water Resources, Integrated Pest Management, Health and Safety, and Consumer and Community Relations.
Who conducts the audits?
In Oregon, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), Commodities Inspection Division, staff will conduct the inspection and audit each farm requesting certification. In Washington, the Washington Department of Agriculture is currently investigating providing the same service.
Why get certified?
The new SERF program is just beginning. The training being offered in Oregon during March and April, 2011, is the first program to introduce tree farmers to the requirements for certification. Currently, no farms have been SERF certified in the Pacific Northwest. However, the goal is to complete our first group of certified farms this year and ready well before the sales and harvest season.
In this beginning phase, you might ask, “Why should I consider going through this program and have my farm and practices reviewed by outside evaluators.”
The purpose of the certification process will be to raise our standards of practice for the industry and to, hopefully, provide a market edge or niche for growers to promote if (or when) buyers and consumers begin to acknowledge a SERF certified tree. At this point, however, the market edge idea is a hope, not a promise.
What’s the SERF program cost?
Since the program is just starting a precise cost is hard to develop. It will depend on the farm size and the amount of time an inspector needs for their review of your farm. The ODA will charge $75/hour and $0.51/mile with a minimum time of 4 hours. So, the base cost will likely be around $350 and will increase upwards depending on the time needed for an adequate on-site and plan review. SERF certification will be valid for 3 years.
Do I need to go to the classes to be SERF certified?
No. The class trainings are designed to explain the program and assist growers in developing a Sustainability Plan, as required in the SERF audit.