The USDA’s top administrative law judge on Tuesday ordered a three-year partial suspension of an organic blueberry and peach producer’s organic certification after the company failed to respond to allegations that it violated the agency’s National Organic Program (NOP) regulations.
In 2015, Wimauma, Fla.-based Richard Landrigan dba Bonnie Blue Ranch & Grove, founded in 1989, was issued a suspension notice by its certifier Quality Certification Services (QCS) after it used fertilizer that contained prohibited substances on 10 acres of blueberry plants.
The operation appealed its suspension saying it should be reduced from three years to one year based on a provision in federal organic law that allows crops from non-organic planting stock to be sold as organic after one year of organic management.
When the administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service, which oversees the NOP, denied the appeal the company requested a hearing with a USDA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
In his Decision and Order Without Hearing by Reason of Default, dated Sept. 11, Channing Strother, acting chief administrative law judge, said Landrigan did not respond to the complaint within a specific timeframe, so he suspended the company’s organic certification.
The company’s organic certification is partially suspended with respect to the portion of its operation that was impacted by the application of prohibited substances: 10 acres of blueberry plants and 18 acres of peach and citrus plants.
The company still gets 30 days to file an appeal of Strother’s decision to the USDA’s Judicial Officer (JO). The JO is delegated authority by the Secretary of Agriculture to act as final deciding officer in USDA adjudicatory proceedings.