May 17, 2019
Organic certification under the National Organic Program (NOP) can provide significant benefits to farmers by opening new market opportunities and increasing the takeaway profit for sales; it can also, however, be a prohibitively costly process. For producers and handlers interested in certification who require cost share assistance, the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) is an excellent resource. On May 6, 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced the availability of OCCSP funding for fiscal year (FY) 2019.
Eligible organic producers and handlers can apply for the cost-share program to cover up to 75 percent of their certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 annually. Applications are open until October 31, 2019.
Organic agriculture is experiencing tremendous growth in the U.S. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, certified organic farms have increased by 39 percent since 2012, and sales of commodities had doubled over the same period from $3.1 billion to $7.3 billion. Programs like OCCSP support the growth of domestic organic production so that U.S. producers can take advantage of expanding market opportunities. In past years, strong rates of participation in organic certification cost-share programs by states correlated with high rates of organic sales and/or high numbers of organic farms.
The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized OCCSP with $2 million for FY 2019 and 2020. Funding increases to $4 million in FY 2021, and $8 million for FY 2022 and 2023. These funds will remain available until expended. In addition to the funds authorized for each year under the 2018 Farm Bill, OCCSP also has carryover funds of approximately $16.4 million to be used in FY 2019 and beyond. This means that any gaps in service, at least in the initial years of this farm bill, could be filled by the carryover funds.
In total, $40.4 million is provided under the 2018 Farm Bill for OCCSP over the next five years, which unfortunately is a cut below OCCSSP’s previous funding level of $11.5 million per year. As more farmers transition to organic and the demand for cost share assistance increases, it’s possible that funding may fall short in the later years of the 2018 Farm Bill. It will be important, therefore, to closely monitor demand and total funds that remain available as implementation moves forward.
If you are a certified organic farmer and need reimbursement for your cost of organic certification, you can apply at any FSA county office in your state, or if available in your state, the administering state agency. The deadline for FY 2019 is October 31, 2019, but cost-share assistance is provided on a first come, first serve basis, so farmers are encouraged to apply early.
A complete application includes:
State agencies will publish their own application process and deadlines as outlined in their grant agreements with FSA. To locate an FSA office, organic farmers can visit USDA’s Service Center Locator.
As of 2017, OCCSP is administered by FSA and funding is provided through both FSA and USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (which funds Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA)). AMA provides $1 million in funding and is only available in 16 states: CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, WV, HI, NV, UT and WY. Cost-share funding through FSA is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marina Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. States administering agency must first establish an agreement with FSA for the fiscal year before funding is available in that location. The funding source (FSA or AMA) applied toward OCCSP applications is determined by the region of the applicant’s operation.
The cost-share assistance program had previously been administered solely by AMS, during which time funding was made available through State Departments of Agriculture. With the move to FSA administration, OCCSP is now available in all 2000+ county FSA offices.
States Departments of Agriculture that want to be able to provide the additional option of providing funding for the cost-share program (in addition to through FSA in their state) have until May 29, 2019 to apply for funds for FY 2019. The list of states administering OCCSP for 2019 will be available on FSA’s website soon thereafter.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is committed to ensuring that OCCSP is available to as many eligible producers as possible, and therefore advocates for robust funding for the program during the annual appropriations process. Additional information on OCCSP can be found on NSAC’s Grassroots Guide or at AMS’ Organic Certification Cost Share Programs page.