Small and Organic Farm Advisor
University of California
Small and Organic Farm Advisor

Laws and Regulations

Agritourism

Agricultural tourism is a commercial enterprise at a working farm or ranch conducted for the enjoyment and education of visitors, and generates supplemental income for the owner or operator 

Agritourism can include farm stands or shops, U-pick, farm stays, tours, on-farm classes, fairs, festivals, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, Christmas tree farms, winery weddings, orchard dinners, youth camps, barn dances, hunting or fishing, guest ranches, and more. 

The UC Small Farm Program, working with county-based UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors, provides resources for agritourism operators and hosts California's statewide directory and calendar of agritourism operations. Visit the UC Small Farm Program Agritourism Plans and Regulations page for more information.

Business

Try using CalGOLD business web portal to begin your search for required permits as a crop producer or other farm business in the state of California. This website tool is managed by California Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development. 

To begin, select, a location and business type and it will present a list of permits that you may be required to hold. Some permits will require that you pay a fee to the city, county, or state. 

Read the descriptions carefully - some are required only for business with employees. 

BUSINESS LICENSE

Every business that operates in the state of California is required to obtain a business license from the city that you operate out of, regardless of how small you are. Search the CalGOLD website for business license information by selecting your city and business type. Read the application carefully because in some counties, agricultural operations are exempted.

Fictitious Business Name (DBA)

This is required in California if:

  1. The business name does not include the surname of the individual owner(s) and each of the partners
  2. The business name suggests the existence of additional owners
  3. The nature of the business is not clearly evident by the name of the business (information from the California Business Portal: Register a Business)

DBA Forms:

LIABILITY INSURANCE

California does not require liability insurance although produce buyers often do. It is recommended that you cover al least $2 million for operations and products. Contact a local insurance company that works with farms or agribusiness to ask for a quote. 

It is also a good idea to check with buyers to see how much liability insurance they require, if anything. 

Sales and Use Permit (Seller's Permit)

A Seller's Permit is required in California if you are selling certain types of food and non-food items (flowers, salves, soaps). There is no fee to sign up for a permit. 

A common product requiring a permit is heated food (except hot bakery items or hot beverages, such as coffee, sold for a separate price) served as meals, consumed at or on the seller's facilities, ordinarily sold for consumption on or near the seller's parking facility, or sold for consumption where there is an admission charge. 

To determine if your food products are exempt, go to page 4 of the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) Exemptions and Exclusions 

To obtain a Seller's Permit go to the California Tax Service Center website.

TAXES

Taxes can be complicated for agricultural operations, and the best practice is to hire a CPA with experience doing farm taxes to help you, even if it's just for your first year. 

Income Taxes to the IRS

Depending on what type of business entity your operation is, you will need to file different paperwork for the IRS. Partnerships have different forms than sole proprietorships. It is important to note that the IRS requires all business operations to file income tax returns regardless of whether any profit was made. If you lost money in your operation, you are still required to file income taxes. 

All business operations are required to pay estimated quarterly income taxes to the IRS. The IRS has made a special exemption for farmers for this rule, but in exchange, farmers must file their annual business taxes by Marhc 1 (six weeks earlier than non-farmers which are due April 15). If a farmer does not file taxes by March 1, then penalties will incur, which are in the form of late fees on the estimated quarterly taxes that were not paid. 

Local Ag Accounting Resources

Perry Bunch & Johnston - Certified Publish Accounting Firm - 350 Court St, Woodland, CA 95695

Ullrich Delevati - Certified Public Accounting Firm - 433 2nd St #106, Woodland, CA 95695

Carbahal & Company - An Accountancy Corporation - 1107 Kennedy Pl #5, Davis, CA 95616

Property Taxes to the County 

Whether you are a landowner or not, all farmers who own equipment (tractors, implements, fencing, ATVs, etc.) are required to pay property taxes to the county in which they are being stored. Contact Treasurer/Tax Collectors/County Clerk for your county. 

Property taxes for landowners are also filed through the county. Different counties have different deadlines, but usually you can pay them aniline. Contact the Treasurer/Tax Collectors/County Clerk for your county. 

Cottage Food Operation (CFO)

The California Homemade Food Act became law on January 1, 2013. The law creates a new category of retail food facilities known as a Cottage Food operations (CFOs), which will allow persons using home kitchens to make and sell limited quantities of non-potentially hazardous foods. If you plan to make value-added products at your farm, you can use your home kitchen to make up to $50,000 gross annual sales for these items. 

Examples of approved products are: 

  • Breads
  • Candy 
  • Condiments
  • Dry goods (tea, herbs, dried fruit, dried vegetables)
  • Preserves

Registering as a CFO requires registering at your county's Environmental Health Department and obtaining a food handler's permit, amongst other requirements. Consult your county's Cottage Food Program to find all the necessary requirements, which vary by county.

Class A Permits: For products sold directly from CFO to Consumer

Class B Permits: For products sold directly from CFO to Retail Food Facilities (e.g., markets, bakeries) and/or sold directly from SFO to Consumer

Sacramento CountySacramento County Cottage Food Program 

Yolo CountyYolo County Cottage Food Operations 

Solano CountySolano County Cottage Food Program

For more information, visit:

http://forrager.com/law/california

http://ucanr.edu/sites/cottagefoods/files/202832.pdf

http://www.caff.org/programs/policy/cottage-food/

http://ucanr.edu/sites/cottagefoods/

Direct Marketing

FARMERS' MARKET

Two certificates growers need to obtain to sell at farmer's markets are the Certified Producer's Certificate and the Produce Scale Certification. 

Certified Producer's Certificate 

This is required by California if you plan to sell at farmers' markets. To obtain this certificate, complete CDFA's online certification Application for Certified Producer's Certificate. Certificates are issued based on the county that you are operating in, not the county where you are selling. 

Note: Only certain counties are utilizing the online application system. If your county is not listed, visit the Ag Commissioner's Office in your county to obtain the certificate. 

Produce Scale Certification 

Yolo County

If you are using a scale to make sales at a direct-to-consumer sales point such as a farmers' market, the scale needs to be registered with the Weights and Measure Office. To register your scale for direct sales, bring it into the Yolo County Ag Commissioner's office. Scales must be registered annually. It currently costs $16 for an annual registration. 

Yolo County Ag Commissioner - 70 Cottonwood Street - Woodland, California 95695 - (530) 666-8140

Sacramento County

To register your scale for direct sales, bring it into the Sacramento County Ag Commissioner's office. Scales must be registered annually. It currently costs $12 for an annual registration. 

Scales need to have a CTEP or NTEP certification and be tested by the county weights and measures department prior to using as a commercial device. Sacramento County Weights and Measures will test scales, brought into the office by appointment. If tested and sealed in Sacramento County you can use it to sell in other counties if it has a current year seal on it. 

Sacramento County Ag Commissioner - 4137 Branch Center Rd, Sacramento, CA 95827 - (916) 875-6603

Solano County 

To register your scale for direct sales, bring it into the Solano County Ag Commissioner's office. Scales must be registered annually. Registration is free of charge if you sell for a period of less than 8 months out of the year. 

Solano County Ag Commissioner - 2543 Cordelia Rd, Fairfield, CA 94534 - (707) 784-1310

FARM STANDS

Please see the UC Small Farms Program Farm Stand Regulations page for more information. 

Here is a list of questions you could prepare yourself with before speaking with the county about regulations pertaining to farm stands: 

  • Where on the farm can you build a farm stand?
  • Do you need a permit to build your stand? If so, who do you contact for a permit?
  • Is a permit needed to sell fruits and vegetables from your farm? If so, where do you get it?
  • Can you sell fruits/veg from other farms?
  • Can you sell value-added products? 
  • Can you sell bottled water?
  • What kind of scale do you need? Do you need to certify the scale? 
  • What are other regulations/permits that farmers should be aware of in regards to farm stands? 

Sacramento County 

Contact the Zoning Administration of the Sacramento County Planning and Environmental Review Department

Jessica Brandt, Senior Planner - brandtj@saccounty.net

Wendy Hardman, Principle Planner - hartmanw@saccounty.net

Solano County 

Contact the Solano County Resource Management Department, the Solano County Environmental Health Department, and the Solano County Planning Department for more information 

Yolo County 

Contact the Yolo County Environmental Health Department and the Yolo County Planning Department for more information. 

OTHER RESOURCES:

COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE (CSA)

You must register your CSA with the California Department of Food and Ag (CDFA) each year. CA CSA Law – AB 224 (2013) requires single-farm or multi-farm CSAs to be farm-based and for all farms involved to register with CDFA each year; CDFA set fee at $75 a year, each farm pays once a year. By registering, Environmental Health considers the CSA to be an “approved source” of food; federal law requires all food in commerce to be from an approved source. Everything in the CSA box must be from California farms. 

CSA Boxes

The CSA box must have name and address of CSA on it and maintained in a manner that “prevents contamination of produce.” Traceability records required. Consumers must be informed where every item in the box is from either in print or electronically, and the CSA must retain these records.  Shell eggs and processed foods that are included must follow laws on labeling.  If a multi-farm CSA, the operator must have a produce handling license from CDFA, and if handling eggs from other farms, an egg handler license.

To register your CSA, visit the CDFA Certified Farmers' Markets page. Scroll down to the end of the page for the CSA Producer Registration and Remittance Form. The annual registration fee is $75. 

Employees

Please see the CalGOLD website and not the permits and requirements for "businesses with employees". A few examples include:

Food Safety

FOOD SAFETY MODERNIZATION ACT (FSMA)

The following information is the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC): Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

"Due to a rise in major outbreaks of foodborne illnesses and increasing bioterrorism concerns after 9/11, both Congress and the Obama Administration proposed new food safety measures in 2009 that expanded food safety regulations at the farm level. Previously, food safety regulatory oversight was focused mainly on the processing, food handling, and manufacturing sectors - areas shown to be the highest risk for foodborne pathogen contamination". 

Key components of FSMA

  • Farms that have an average annual value of produce sold during the previous three-year period of $25,000 or less are eligible for certain exemptions 

"The [produce] rule does not apply to: 

  • Produce that is not a raw agricultural commodity (RAC). A raw agricultural commodity is any food in its raw or natural state.
    • The following produce commodities that FDA has identified as rarely consumed raw: asparagus; black beans, great Northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, and pinto beans; garden beets (roots and tops) and sugar beets; cashews; sour cherries; chickpeas; cocoa beans; coffee beans; collards; sweet corn; cranberries; dates, dill (seeds and weed); eggplants; figs; ginger; horseradish; hazelnuts;lentils, okra; peanuts; pecans; peppermint; potatoes; pumpkins; winter squash; sweet potatoes; and water chestnuts 
  • Food grains, including barley, dent-or flint-corn, sorghum, oats, rice, rye, wheat, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, and oilseeds (e.g. cotton seed, flax seed, rapeseed, soybean, and sunflower seed)
  • Produce that is used for personal or on-farm consumption 

Inspections and documentation are required. Please see the CDFA produce Safety page for more information 

Is your farm required to be compliant under FSMA?

In order to determine what parts of FSMA you are required to comply to, start by working through one of the FSMA Flowcharts: 

FSMA Flowchart (source: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition)

FSMA Flowchart (source: FDA via CCOF)

FSMA Fact Sheet (source: FDA via CCOF)

FSMA Exemptions

To check for further exemptions check the FDA FSMA Exemptions page (Source: FDA FSMA Final Rule of Produce Safety and NSAC's Qualified Exemptions and Modified Requirements (Produce Rule)

FOOD AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES (GAPs)

The following information is from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs).

"To provide a standard food safety audit system for producers, packers, and distributors, USDA and various inspection and standardization agencies developed the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Food Handling Practices (GHP) Audit Verification Program. The GAP and GHP program is a voluntary, user-fee funded independent audit program offered to the produce industry to verify that fresh fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored according to food safety practices that minimize the risks of microbial food safety hazards. The audits are based on recommendations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and open up new markets for producer, packers, and distributors seeking to sell to schools, grocers, wholesalers, and others that require food safety certification. 

USDA and FDA are currently working on aligning the USDA GAPs program with the new FSMA requirements, so that GAP certification can provide farmers with the confidence that they are also in compliance with FSMA. As the go-to certification program for many small and mid-sized produce farmers, NSAC, is working to ensure that the USDA GAPs program, including the new Group GAP certification option, remains a relevant and viable option for family farmers". 

OTHER RESOURCES

Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program: Nitrogen Use Reporting

IRRIGATED LANDS REGULATORY PROGRAM: NITROGEN USE REPORTING

All farm operations who irrigate are required to participate in the state mandated Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program. This program is regulated by the California Water Boards. This includes submitting a Nitrogen Budget. You can search "Irrigated Lands Program" for more information and the CA Water Boards website. More information can be found on the California Waterboards ILP Frequently Asked Questions

An organization that helps farmers with their nitrogen budget is the Coalition for Urban Rural Environmental Stewardship.

Because the Irrigated Lands Program is regulated by the California Water boards, the local managing agency varies across the state and the lines are drawn by water coalition and not by county. If you do not know who to call, start by calling the resource in your county. 

Yolo County: Yolo County Farm Bureau

Solano County: Solano/Dixon RCD Water Quality Coaltion 

Sacramento County: Amador RCD

Livestock

The sale of meat and meat products is regulated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the USDA. There are two primary regulatory steps for meat products: the slaughter (harvest) of the live animal and the processing of the carcass into packaged cuts. Slaughter and processing facilities may be CDFA-inspected or USDA-inspected. Some facilities do slaughter and processing, while others will do only one of the two types of services. 

Meat and meat products generally fall into two categories: 1) Meat that is inspected for wholesale and retail purposes, such as for a restaurant, store, or market; and 2) mean that is not for sale and can only be consumed by the owner of the animal, or the owner's family, nonpaying guests, or employees. 

For more information, contact: California Department of Food and Agriculture Animal Health and Food Safety Services: Meat, Poultry and Egg Safety Branch - 1220 N Street, Sacramento, California 95814 - Telephone: (916) 900-5004 - cdfa.mpes_feedback@cdfa.ca.gov

SLAUGHTER/HARVEST

Anytime meat or a meat product is intended to be sold, the animal must be slaughtered in a USDA-inspected facility. Meat from livestock slaughtered in a CDFA-inspected facility or a non-inspected location, such as a ranch, cannot be sold and must be labeled "Not For Sale" when packaged. 

PROCESSING/CUT & WRAP

Meat intended to be sold must be processed in a USDA-inspected processing facility. One exception is that a CDFA-inspected facility can process a USDA-inspected carcass and then sell (retail only) the meat only from the same facility. Outside of this exception, all meat processed in CDFA-inspected facilities must be labeled "Not For Sale."

More detailed information on legal routes for livestock slaughter and processing, and a specific exception for poultry, can be found in the UC ANR publication Selling Meat and Meat Products 

Pesticides

You are require to have a private applicators certificate for applying pesticides and to file a pesticide report with the state even if you plan to use only organic pesticides. Organic pesticides are regulated by the county the same way as conventional pesticides. Pesticide use reporting is conducted at the Agricultural Commissioner's office.

Yolo County: Regulatory information for Yolo County can be found on the Yolo County Permit and Licensing Information page. 

To get a permit, the property owner or business operator applies to the County Agricultural Commissioner. Please contact the Yolo County Agricultural Commissioner's office at (530) 666-8140, Monday through Friday from 7:00 tam to 4:00 pm to make an appointment for a Restricted Material permit. 

Sacramento County: Regulatory information fro Sacramento County can be found on the Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer of Weights and Measurements Pesticide Enforcement page. You must contact the Ag Commission Office to make an appointment:

Agricultural Commission & Weights/Measures - 4137 Branch Center Road, Sacramento, CA 95627 - (916) 875-6603

Solano County: Regulatory information for Solano County can be found on the Solano County Pesticide Information page. 

Solano County Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer of Weights and Measures - 2543 Cordelia Rd., Fairfield, CA 94533 - Phone: 707-784-1310 - Fax: 707-784-1330

PERMIT/LICENSE TYPES

The following information on permits/license types is from the Yolo County Ag Commissioner's Office Permit and Licensing Information. 

Pesticide permits/licenses include: 

  • Operator Identification Number (OIN) - required to purchase or spray a pesticide 
  • Private Applicator Certificate (PAC)
  • Qualified Applicator Certificate (QAC)
  • Qualified Applicator License (QAL)

Operator Identification Number (OIN): "An OIN is an "identification" number issued to growers and entered on their Pesticide Use Report. This number is issues specifically for management of pesticide use data to identify unique entity and to determine and calculate the actual percentage of crops treated. OINs are often referred to as a "Grower ID"

Private Applicator Certificate (PAC): "Who needs one?

  1. A person who uses or supervises the use of a restricted use pesticide for the purpose of producing an agricultural commodity on property owned, leased, or rented by that person or the employer
  2. A householder who uses or supervises the use of a restricted use pesticide outside of confines of a residential dwelling or the purpose of controlling ornamental, plant or turf pests on residential property owned, leased, or rented by such householder.
  3. The private applicator can be the operator of the property or the operator's authorized representative (with written authorization) or an employee of the operator of the property." 

Qualified Applicator Certificate (QAC): "If you are a person who uses or supervises the use of federally restricted use pesticides or State restricted materials for any purpose or on any property other than that provided by the definition fo "private applicator", you must possess a valid qualified applicator certificate (QAC). 

This certificate is also required by anyone who is in the business of maintenance gardening and performs pest control that is incidental to such business. In this situation, the QAC holder would have to possess the Maintenance Gardener Category (Q) or the Landscape Maintenance Pest Control Category (B) on their certificate, and obtain a Maintenance Gardener Pest Control Business License."

Qualified Applicator Lecesne (QAL): "You must possess a valid qualified applicator license (QAL) if you are a person who supervises the pesticide application (restricted use and/or general use) made by a licensed pest control business and are responsible for the safe and legal operation of the pest control business [Food and agriculture Code (FAC) sections 11701-11709]: Or

You use or supervise the use of federally restricted use pesticides or State restricted materials for any purpose or on any property other than that provided by the definition of "private applicator" [Title 3 California Code of Regulation (3CCR), section 6000.2(a)(b)(c)]."

PESTICIDE USE REPORTS

CDFA requires that farmers filed a pesticide use report that documents each instance of pesticide application, including organic pesticides. You will need to register with the Department of Pesticide Regulation, and then file your use reports online at regular intervals. For more information, visit the California Department of Pesticide Regulation: Pesticide Use Reports page. 

Organic Certification

To become certified organic in California, you must:

1)Register with the CDFA:  

2) Become certified through an organic certifying agent: 

When certified though CCOF or YCOA, producers can use the USDA and/or CDFA certified organic label. 

For land with a history of non-organic pesticide use that has been registered with the Agricultural Commissioner's office, a 3 year transitional period is required to achieve organic status. However, if the land has not been farmed or pesticides have not been registered with the Agricultural Commissioner's office, organic status can be achieved immediately upon successful completion of the application and inspection. Call the agricultural commissioner's office to determinethe pesticide use history of your property. 

Exemptions to certification apply if gross sales are less than $5,000 annually. If you are exempt, you still must comply with organic practices, but may not use the USDA logo stating you are certified organic. The words "certified organic" may not be used (Source: USDA National Organic Program: Exempt Producers)

Organic certification requires the completion of an Organic Systems Plan (OSP), submitted to the certifying agency. The OSP details your inputs, field map, crop plan, materials list, soil management plan, pest management plan, harvest, post-harvest, and transport plan, along with an explanation of your record keeping system. Traceability and labeling requirements apply in organic systems. Visit the CCOF : Develop Compliant Organic Labels page for more information 

Labeling and Packing

Labels are generally required for sale of crops in packed boxes. Based on where you choose to sell and what your certifications are (such as cottage foods, organic, etc.), there are standard requirements for both grading and packing. 

Standard packing for wholesale includes both the size, color, and appearance of the crop, as well as the carton/box weight, count, and type of carton/box used. Prices are based off of this standard system and need to be addressed in your availability list. When packing by weight, your scale must be calibrated properly. Check with your buyer for packing expectations. 

Detailed instructions on vegetable pack requirements are described in the Wholesale Success: A Farmer's Guide to Food Safety, Selling, Postharvest Handling, and Packing Produce. If you are certified organic, other labeling requirements need to be followed, as well. See the section on "Organic Certification" 

Poultry

There are federal laws, state laws, county laws, and sometimes additional local laws for raising and selling poultry. There are exceptions, which small producers typically fall under. The state may have exemptions to federal laws, but counties and more local can choose whether to allow those exemptions or not (slaughter, in particular). Producers should check all levels of regulation. Small-scale production for layers typically means any flock under 3,000 hens. Small-scale for meat birds typically means less than 20,000 birds processed/year. They generally are exempt from federal regulations, and maybe state/county.

The CDFA Egg Safety and Quality Management Program provides information on laying hens and the sale/marketing of eggs. Anyone who sells eggs (even 1 egg) in the state is required to register as an egg handler. CDFA conducts inspections at farmers markets to make sure producers are compliant. 

Meat birds are more difficult. The CDFA Meat, Poultry, and Egg Safety Branch provides regulatory information about meat birds, including slaughter and selling information. Applications and Forms can be found on the CDFA Meat, Poultry, and Egg Safety Branch: Applications and Forms page. If you don't use a USDA inspected facility to slaughter, there are a lot of restrictions on where you can sell, and there is an example of a state exemption from federal regulations that some counties accept, and some reject. There is a new bill going through the state legislature right now that hopes to clear this up.

It is recommended that you get a secondary liability insurance coverage of $1 million for chicken processing.

Additionally, there are labeling requirements, as well as Shell Egg Food Safety regulations that need to be followed.

For questions, contact: Morgan Doran, UCCE Livestock Advisor - UCCE Yolo, Solano, and Sacramento Counties - (530) 666-8738 - mpdoran@ucanr.edu

SNAP/EBT

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal food assistance program. The SNAP program is California is called CalFresh and the benefits are distributed to recipients through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT). If you would like to accept EBT as a form of payment you will need to obtain an EBT machine. Alternatively, many farmers markets facilitate EBT sales for farmers by selling vouchers/tokens to EBT customers, so you may be able to accept EBT payments without an EBT machine. 

To get an EBT machine: 

Webmaster Email: mglloyd@ucanr.edu