April 19, 2017
Late last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) underwent some significant changes as administration of the program was shifted from the Agricultural Market Service (AMS) to the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The change was intended to expand opportunities for producers and handlers to access certification funding, as when the program was under AMS administration cost share funding was exclusively delivered through state departments of agriculture. By shifting the program to FSA, the program can now be offered at all 2100 FSA county offices, in addition to continuing to be offered by any interested state departments of agriculture.
Today, FSA announced updated details on the availability of organic certification cost share funding for 2017, including the opening of applications for farmers and handlers to apply to the program, as well as updated information on which state departments of agriculture applied to continue operating OCCSP.
2,100 FSA Offices and 33 State Departments of Agriculture to offer OCCSP
Historically, only half of the nation’s organic operations have participated in OCCSP, but through the expansion of funding availability to include all FSA county offices, USDA is looking to increase accessibility and participation rates. OCCSP reimburses 75 percent of producers and handlers’ costs for organic certification, defraying up to $750 of the costs associated with certification, including application and inspection fees.
Today’s announcement by FSA included information on which states applied to continue to operate OCCSP as an additional option on top of the FSA county offices. To date, 33 states applied in response to the December 2016 Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA). The states that have applied thus far include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
USDA is currently reviewing the grant applications from these states and will begin providing finalize agreements soon. States that did not initially apply to participate will still have the opportunity to apply for funds in the coming months, and they are also able to continue their programs using any carryover funds that were not used up in previous years.
The 33 states that applied to offer the program will now have two options for offering cost share funds (FSA offices and State Departments of Agriculture). In the 17 states that did not yet opt in, funding can still be accessed through FSA offices, so regardless of the state, all organic operations can access the reimbursement funds.
Transitional Certification Costs No Longer Eligible
Previously, USDA had announced that the costs eligible for reimbursement would be expanded in 2017 to also include transitional certification fees, as well as state certification fees. Today’s announcement revises the expansion to indicate that transitional fees are no longer eligible because the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (the legislation that established the National Organic Program) does not currently include any transitional certification programs. A revised NOFA to indicate the change in eligible scopes will soon be published in the Federal Register.
Farmers and Handlers Can Now Apply
The application period for farmers and handlers to apply for certification reimbursements began on March 20, 2017, and interested applicants can apply until October 31, 2017 – though the application period will end earlier if funds are no longer available. Producers are encouraged to apply as soon as they have their receipts and information needed for reimbursements. Cost share funding for 2018 will be open for application between October 1, 2017 and October 31, 2018.
More information on the cost share program, as well as additional organic opportunities available through FSA can be found here. Additionally, NSAC recently published a new guide to USDA sustainable farming programs, which simplifies and highlights opportunities for organic producers, including OCCP.