January 24, 2013
On Thursday, USDA published a notice in the Federal Register reminding the 16 states eligible for the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) program to submit their application by February 7 for federal assistance in order to be able to provide cost-share assistance to their certified organic farmers. Those 16 states – the 12 Northeast states plus HI, NV, UT, and WY – will divide $1.5 million among their State Departments of Agriculture. Those Departments, in turn, will provide their organic farmers with up to $750 (not to exceed 75% of a producer’s certification costs) between now and September 30 to offset a portion of the annual fees that organic farmers pay for being certified.
Had Congress passed a new farm bill last year on schedule, or had Congress and the White negotiated an extension of the old farm bill that actually extended all of the programs — rather than just select programs — the other 34 states would also be participating in a nationwide organic certification cost-share program. The new farm bill approved by the Senate last year streamlined organic certification cost-share by combining the AMA program with the larger National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program. The Senate farm bill also increased the funding for the new combined program so that all certified organic farmers and handlers interested in the program could participate.
Along with programs for beginning and minority farmers, rural jobs, renewable energy, local food, and specialty crop research, organic programs like certification cost-share were thrown overboard in the final “fiscal cliff” negotiations between the White House and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). As of now, those programs do not exist for 2013 and there is no clear path for getting them back on track.
There would be obvious opportunity to restore farm bill funding for those programs, however, when Congress deals with the scheduled automatic budget cuts (officially known as sequestration) by or before the end of February. Whether the Agriculture Committees will make an effort to use that upcoming opportunity to extend the programs left out of the selective farm bill extension measure approved as part of the fiscal cliff bill on New Year’s Day remains to be seen.
In the meantime, farmers in the 34 states not eligible for the AMA program are out of luck. Thankfully, at least the farmers in the lucky 16 states will be able to receive cost-share assistance once their State Departments of Agriculture respond to the new Federal Register notice and thereby receive their allocation of federal funds.