April 17, 2012
In its annual report to Congress on the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program delivered last week, USDA’s National Organic Program showed that there was an increase of over 20 percent in program usage between Fiscal Year 2010 and Fiscal Year 2011. This is in part due to improved communication about the program and to the continued growth in organic farmers in the U.S. According to the Organic Trade Association’s annual sector survey, the sector grew by 8% in 2010 and is expected to show stronger growth figures for 2011.
NOCCSP is a critical piece of the targeted suite of federal programs aimed at investing in the continued growth of organic agriculture. Organic producers and handlers have to meet strict standards to be able to make the “certified organic” claim on their products, and for small and mid-sized organic businesses, certification costs can be a deciding factor in whether the business will take the extra step to get certified.
NOCCSP enables small and mid-sized businesses access and stay in the growing organic market. Without the program, fewer producers would be certified, and growing organic companies would have to start sourcing more of their ingredients overseas if they were not able to find enough organic product grown by American farmers.
There have been repeated attacks on the program and the draft Super Committee farm bill proposal from last fall essentially gutted the program — it provided no funding for the program and placed a five-year cap on participation in the program. Moves to debilitate the program are out of step with the reality of organic certification in farm fields and with the opportunity for organic producers in the market place.
Strong participation in NOCCSP and strong growth in organic argue for the program’s continuation and funding in the 2012 Farm Bill. Like many programs, NOCCSP runs out of funding when the current farm bill expires on September 30, 2012. The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act includes a proposal to continue, streamline, and fund the program in the 2012 Farm Bill that NSAC believes strikes the right balance between investing in organic agriculture and operating within the tight fiscal environment.
There are some positive indications that program streamlining and funding may yet be accommodated in the soon to be released Senate farm bill. The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to vote on the measure at some point in the next few weeks. We will keep readers appraised of progress on NOCCSP and other critical issues as details become available.