Villages, special project areas and plantations such as tea, coffee, bananas, etc. are allowed as a grouping to be certified where there is an umbrella company or management group which undertakes to maintain certification, this is commonly referred to as a Cooperative (Co-op). The Group shall be formed around one main product (e.g. coffee, herbs) to be certified as a group and be constituted of small land holders only. The product can only be sold through the main entity which is generally referred to as the Co-op. Large farming units, processing units and traders require individual certification and shall not be certified as part of the group while group members shall be in geographic proximity and only sell through one entity.
Produce must be sold under the group name – as part of a coordinated marketing strategy (i.e. individual farmers in the scheme may not sell certified product independently) and there shall be an Internal Control System (ICS) in operation.
The Internal Control System is a critical part of developing the Grower Group. The operator shall be responsible for maintaining the ICS, which shall include in-house education/extension (regarding Standards and organic production methods), internal auditing and corrective actions relating to the group. This shall include the allocation of resources and personnel to enact and maintain this. The operator shall train internal auditors to conduct periodic (at a minimum, annually) internal audits on all the members of the group. Such audit results and auditing records shall be made available to auditors at the time of the audit.
The Land Management form must be completed when applying for certification and also annually. This form provides details of all individual growers. The number of individual growers that will be inspected by an ACO auditor will depend on the risk category of the operation. For normal risk situation the number inspected shall not be lower than the square root of the number of members of the group. Within the set selected, the highest risk members shall be identified and inspected with the remaining sample, at least 25% to be selected on a random selection basis for inspection. Based on the land management form, farmers will be inspected if they have not been audited before by ACO, any new growers, any growers that have used any prohibited input in the past or that are located near conventional farms (refer to maps).
More information can be found on chapter 7.8 of the Australian Certified Organic Standard.