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January 2004

Tracy Lundberg-Schimpf, Kelowna, BC.

This project is funded by the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, through the Organic Sector Development Program, an Agri Food Futures Fund initiative under the Investment Agriculture Foundation, The North Okanagan Organic Association and the cooperating farmers.

Table of Contents

"...the ability to trace the history, application or location of an entity by recorded identification" (ISO 8402)

What is a tracking/tracing system?

Traceability is the new buzz word in agriculture. Mad cows, botulism and bioterrorism have created a huge demand for traceability in our food system. The purpose of a tracking system for farmers is not much different than that of similar systems used by manufacturing companies. It enables the farmer to trace their final product from the customer back to the field and materials it came from and pinpoint any possible contamination. The same process is necessary in any type of manufacturing environment in any industry. It gives customers confidence that, should anything go wrong, the entire history of that product is readily available.

Even though most farmers know where their products came from and what was done to them, the current expectation is that the farmer can prove that knowledge with some type of documentation. A paper trail has always been a requirement of organic certification.

What's in it for me?

A tracking system serves as an easily accessible tool for the farmer to mark their own progress or to source any detail about their product without digging through mountains of paper. Memory is a wonderful thing until you lose it.

Organic certification requires documentation of various items and processes. The more we simplify that, the easier our certifications will become.

Tracking systems are only as good as the information entered. A common complaint is that it adds to the paperwork most farmers dislike. Although setting the system up takes a little extra time, we find that the end result is less time spent looking for information or trying to compile it from memory during the certification or inspection process. The farmer ends up doing small bits of work throughout the growing season and almost no time at the end of the year.

This is no longer a requirement unique to the organic community. Conventional agriculture is now under pressure to develop similar systems relating to traceability.

What do I need to start a tracking system?

A system can be done manually with handwritten logs, with a computerized spreadsheet program (such as Microsoft Excel) and also with a Palm Pilot or other similar handheld unit. Adding a handheld is the fastest way to keep things up to date. They fit into your pocket and changes can be made in the field.

Does my farm need to implement a tracking system?

It could be that you have a system in place. One way to test it is to ask yourself just three questions:

  1. If a customer comes to you with one of your invoices from Aug 16, 2003, would you be able to tell them quickly where the product came from, how it was grown, when it was harvested, who handled it and where the seed was purchased?
  2. During your certification inspection, is it easy for you to show the verification officer all the pertinent information they need for an audit of your records?
  3. Do you feel that you have all the information available to you on your farm history? Yields, plant varieties, times of harvest, etc.

Before you decide that whatever method you have is working fine, test it. As organic farmers, we can no longer shy away from this component of certification. Your verification officer will be looking at this area much closer now than in previous years.

System Implementation

Manual System

The manual system is a low cost option if your farm is not yet computerized. All that is required is copies of the tracking document and a binder to keep everything together. For crops that have multiple planting and harvest dates, it is recommended to have a separate sheet for each type.

Low-cost manual crop tracking system

Computerized System

If you have a computer already, then using it for tracking can be quite simple. There are multiple spreadsheets programs on the market and your computer more than likely already has one on it. We used Microsoft Excel as it seems to be one of the most common. Spreadsheet programs eliminate the need for multiple sheets as lines can be added whenever needed.

With a computer, your tracking document can be customized to your own farm's needs. Columns can be made larger, smaller or added to if you want to keep track of more information than is listed here.

Sample Tracking Sheet, Fruit - Microsoft Excel

Sample Tracking Sheet, Vegetables - Microsoft Excel

Personal Digital Assistants

PDA's (personal digital assistants) are a useful tool for people on the move. If you don't particularly care for computers but still own one, they offer an easily operated bridge between what is happening in the field and the computer sitting in the house.

There are several different brands on the market now but we used a Palm m515 and a Palm m500 for this project. These units or similar ones can be purchased in the $200-$300 price range. The main feature to look for is spreadsheet capability. There are now PDA's on the market with built-in cameras and MP3 players so you can spend up to $700 depending on how many options you feel would be useful for you. PDA's enable a farmer to take their information into the field with them and record updates on the go. Everything can then be downloaded into your home computer daily or weekly.

Palm Pilot screen sample - Herbs Palm Pilot screen sample - Salad Mix

System Overview - Crops

Crop Planning

During the winter months, we all sit down to plan our fields, order seed or plants and try to estimate what our final harvests will be.

Using a standardized form for doing so will enable us to see clearly where we are and to allow our verification officers to perform their duties quickly (and at less expense to our farms). Having a history of previous years will also assist in the planning process.

This document will be a map of your entire farm production. List everything you are planting, where it came from, how large the planting is. You will still fill out an input list for total seed purchased and any other inputs you put into your fields. Input information comes directly off your outside purchases while the information in your tracking system has been broken down according to your planning/planting process.

Make note of any changes as your planting progresses.

Sample Crop Planning sheet - Microsoft Excel

Harvest & Sales Documentation

Continuing to add information to the same form makes for one-stop progress reports and easily accessible results of your extensive planning. Adding sales information completes the cycle from seed to customer. The completed form can be used for future field planning, yields and sales information for the certification process.

Sample Harvest Tracking sheet - Microsoft Excel

System Details

Lot Numbering

Lot numbering is one of the most important parts of any tracking system. Each crop or product must be assigned a unique number which makes it easily identifiable. Once we assign a lot number to a particular harvest, we will note that number on all invoices to our customers. If the number is recognizable, then we can tell instantly at a later date where, when and how the crop was produced. What we are trying to track is possible points of contamination or quality concerns. An example of that would be:

Our customer comes back to us after a completed purchase waving an invoice. They tell us that the cucumbers they purchased were soft and spongy. The lot number on the invoice (CU030825) tells us that we bought the seed from West Coast Seed, planted in Row 2 of Field 5, harvested on Aug 25. Now what happened to that crop? We have a greater chance of identifying the problem once we know all the background. We can check with other customers who purchased the same lot number to see if the problem may have occurred after the produce left the farm. We can check our farm records to see who was harvesting that day and if the problem may be related to the harvest itself.

Numbering systems can be as complicated or as simple as you need.


AG0309C34 - Apple, Gala, 2003-Sept, Bin C34
Type of crop - 2 to 4 letters
Date of harvest - 3-6 numbers
Storage location - numbers or letters to indicate particular unit

Type of Crop
Basil, Green Gate variety - BSGG
Carrots - CR
Cauliflower - CF
Cabbage - CB
Echinacea angustifolia root - EAR
Apples, Gala - AG
The letters only have to mean something to you and be unique to that crop. If you only grow one type of apple or basil, then the lot numbering system becomes easier. Make these symbols only as complicated as you absolutely have to. You can change them from year to year because the lot number will also indicate which year you harvested in.

Date of harvest
This date shows the time that was unique to this particular crop or harvest.
If a crop is harvested on various days throughout the summer, then it would be best
to identify the exact date.

AG030713 - Apples, Gala, 2003, July, 13th

If a harvest occurs once for a crop but goes over several days then probably the month and year alone would be adequate.

AG0310 - Apples, Gala, 2003, October

Storage Location
If a harvest occurs once but the crop is packed into several large containers that will also be used for storage, then the following may be the best system for you.

AG03091A - Apples, Gala, 2003, September, Bin 1A
AG03072324 - Apples, Gala, 2003, July, 23rd, Box 24

Other Control Points
This can also be customized to whatever control points you need to follow. Maybe the unique aspect to your harvest is the individual doing the harvest, washing and packing.

AG03081512 - Apples, Gala, 2003, August, 15th, Employee 12

The end result is an easily recognizable lot numbering system for your particular farm.

CA0307316 - Carrots, 2003, July, 31st, Bin 6
EAR0310 - Echinacea angustifolia root, 2003, October
BSP030625 - Purple Basil, 2003, June, 25th


These lot numbers MUST be identified on your invoicing. Commercial customers must receive the lot numbers of the produce they buy. If your main sales are farm gate or farmer's markets, then the lot number sold on that particular day must be noted somewhere in your records.

Example I

Farmer's Market - June 28
Carrots - Lot CA030628 (20 lbs) and CA030625 (30 lbs)
Apples, Gala - AG02105B (65 lbs)
Thyme, Dried - THD0207 (10 packs)

Example II

10 bunches Carrots, lot CR030724 @ $2.00 = $ 20.00


Livestock can be handled in much the same way as crops. The tracking sheet can be altered to indicate birth records down to slaughter and/or sale. Again, the main issue is to track unique characteristics of each lot.

Cattle and other large animals - Identification number, parents, birth, dates, possible medications, slaughter dates/place, customers, invoice numbers
Meat birds - Lot number, source, dates, size of lot, possible medications, losses, slaughter dates/place, customers, invoice numbers

Your input records will indicate what feed was used each year. Your livestock records would include that information if you purchase several different types of feed for different types of animals or lots of animals.

Most types of livestock have tagging systems being developed which will eventually become mandatory such as the Cattle Identification Program. You will need to incorporate those tagging systems into your own livestock tracking system.

Sample Livestock Tracking sheet - Microsoft Excel

Minor Processing/Mixed Lots

More and more organic farms have products they sell that involve minor processing or mixed lots. An example of this would be selling mixed salad greens. A tracking system must allow a grower to track this type of sale as well as single crop sales.

The first step is to document your products ingredients. You can call this your "recipe" or "bill of materials".

Mixed bunch of carrots - average weight 4 lbs.
Relaxing Tea - average weight 500 g
Nelson Nantes - 25% Lemon Balm herb - 50%
Snow White Organic - 25% Chamomile flower - 40%
Kinbi, Yellow - 25% Catnip herb - 10%
Chantenay Red Cored - 25%
These recipes/bills of material are approximate. Organic farmers are not high tech manufacturing companies with precise measuring instruments. Your recipes may change on occasion with crop availability. But your products should be fairly consistent and any changes should be noted. The detail that you will be expected to keep will vary with the size/volume you are selling. Large volume farms should be keeping quite detailed records. Small farms can get away with less.

Again, lot numbers are the key to tracking these mixed products. Each batch of product that you mix, blend, toss or package must have a lot number assigned to it.

Sample Small Processing Tracking sheet - Microsoft Excel

Helpful Extras

Template for Basic Tracking - Microsoft Excel

Template for Livestock - Microsoft Excel

Template for Poultry Flocks - Microsoft Excel

Template for Small Scale Processing - Microsoft Excel

List of Traceability Initiatives

Can-Trace Initiative

Can-Trace is a collaborative and open initiative committed to the development of traceability standards for all food products grown, manufactured and sold in Canada.


CPMA/PMA Traceability Task Force
Joint effort by Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CMPA)
Produce Marketing Association - US (PMA)
which resulted in a Traceability Best Practices Paper.

Fresh Produce Traceability Guidelines (FPT)
The Fresh Produce Traceability Guidelines were developed together with the EuroHandelsinstitute (EHI), European Association of Fresh Produce Importers (CIMO), Euro Retailer Produce Working Group (EUREP), European Union of the Fruit and Vegetable Wholesale, Import and Export Trade (EUCOFEL), and Southern Hemisphere Association of Fresh Fruit Exporters (SHAFFE).
Provides a common approach to tracking of fresh produce using an internationally accepted numbering & bar coding system (EAN UCC ) for wholesalers, brokers and retailers.


Canadian Cattle Identification Agency
The Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) is a non-profit industry-led agency incorporated to establish a national cattle identification program in Canada and designed to promote beef consumption through assurance and efficient traceback and containment of serious animal health and food safety problems.
Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)

Canadian Sheep Federation
The Canadian Sheep Identification Program is an industry-led initiative to develop a trace back system that will address producer concerns about sheep health and meet consumer expectations for quality assurance and food safety.

Canadian Pork Council
National Hog Identification and Traceability System Working Group

Canadian Cervid Council

Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) -
The CFC On-Farm Food Safety Assurance Program was introduced to farmers in1998.

The Food Tracebility Report
On-line news


We would like to gratefully acknowledge the efforts of all those who contributed their expertise and time into this project.


Original material in this website may be reproduced in any form without permission on condition that it is accredited to Cyber-Help for Organic Farmers, with a link back to this site or, in the case of printed material, a clear indication of the site URL. We would appreciate being notified of such use. Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this web site, Cyber-Help for Organic Farmers does not and cannot guarantee the accuracy thereof. Anyone using the information does so at their own risk and shall be deemed to indemnify Cyber-Help for Organic Farmers, from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.

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