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US: Organic certification just got easier

Thanks to a newly re-positioned farmer cost share program, announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic producers and handlers will have improved access to organic certification cost share assistance starting in spring of 2017. By moving the program from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to the Farm Service Agency (FSA), USDA has expanded the means by which interested producers can apply – FSA has over 2,100 offices nationwide where applicants can apply, ask questions, or get more information. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauds USDA’s improvement and expansion of this important program.

Once housed within the FSA, access to the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) and the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program (AMA) will be available in nearly every rural county nationwide. Applicants will also have the option to apply via mail. State Departments of Agriculture will retain the option of offering the program, and in states where they do so, organic certification cost share will be available through the state agency as well as all county FSA offices.

According to USDA, currently only half of the nation’s organic operations participate in the certification cost share program. By expanding their access and outreach in this manner, USDA will be able to reach many growers and producers who may have never connected with the Agency in the past.

“USDA’s organic certification cost share program makes it more affordable for organic producers and handlers across the country to get certified, allowing them to tap into new and expanding markets to meet growing consumer demand” said Alyssa Charney, NSAC Policy Specialist. “By expanding the options for application, USDA is providing farmers, ranchers, and handlers with a convenient new option, increasing access to these funds through the 2,100 FSA county offices across the country. In order to ensure that producers and handlers have as many options to participate in the cost share as possible as possible, we also strongly urge state departments agriculture to continue to offer the program.”

Funding for the cost share program comes primarily from NOCCSP, with additional funding also available through AMA. Support from the cost share program covers 75 percent of an individual applicant’s certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 annually.

NOCCSP is available in all states, while AMA funding is available for organic crop and livestock operates in the 12 northeastern states plus four western states. Administration of both NOCCSP and AMA will move to FSA, and the Agency will continue to partner with states that want to continue directly administer the programs, through grants to disburse reimbursements to producers and handlers qualifying for cost share assistance.

FSA will accept applications from states for funds for cost-share assistance between January 3 and February 17, 2017. Beginning on March 20, producers and handlers can apply for reimbursement for their certification costs at all FSA county offices, and through all state agencies that choose to continue to participate.

In addition to moving the cost share programs to FSA, the Notice of Funds Available (NOFA) also highlights that transitional certification fees (through certifiers that offer a transitional certification option) are also eligible for the reimbursement through the program. This is important new addition to the program will provide modest but meaningful assistance to farmers transitioning to organic production systems.

NSAC looks forward to partnering with FSA as they work to increase the number of eligible organic operations that participate in the certification cost share and other valuable USDA assistance programs.

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