Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill.
The process of becoming organically certified can be expensive, but it is an essential step for farmers wanting to meet the growing demand for certified organic food in the U.S. Organic certification cost share assistance helps small and mid-sized organic farm businesses afford annual certification costs. These farm businesses are a core part of the domestic organic supply chain, and without them, companies that use their product would be forced to source from abroad in order to meet demand for organic in the U.S.
USDA offers a program to help defray a portion of the annual costs associated with organic certification: the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP). As of 2017, the program is administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA).
Learn More About Organic Cost Share!
The Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) is a noncompetitive financial assistance programs that helps defray the costs of organic certification for organic operators. This organic cost share program provides reimbursements of up to 75 percent of annual certification costs, up to a maximum payment of $750 per year per farm. OCCSP pulls its funding from two sources – the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP), which is available nationally, as well as the Agricultural Marketing Assistance (AMA) program, which is only available in certain states in the northeast and west. Despite the multiple funding sources for some states, the bottom line is that OCCSP funding is available nationally and USDA will determine the exact source depending on the region.
To receive certification cost share funds, a USDA-accredited certifying agent must certify the farmer or handler. See this AMS webpage to locate a certifying agent. The annual certification process is a key part of being able to use the USDA organic label farmers need in order to access growing organic markets. Each year, farmers and handlers can apply through their State Departments of Agriculture for certification cost share funds, regardless of whether the person is new to organic farming or has been farming organically for years.
The cost-share assistance program had previously been administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, during which time funding was made available through State Departments of Agriculture. With the move to FSA, OCCSP is now available in all county FSA offices, as well as through the State Departments of Agriculture that opt to offer the program as an additional option, on top of its availability through FSA.
For OCCSP, which reimburses applicants for costs incurred, recipients must be certified organic (either as a newly certified or re-certified organic operation) under the National Organic Program to receive cost-share assistance.
For NOCCSP, organic producers and handlers in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, the American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marina Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are eligible to participate. For AMA, organic producers (but not handlers) in the 12 Northeast states (CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, WV) plus Hawaii, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming are eligible to participate. The application is the same regardless of the funding stream.
Strong rates of participation in the USDA organic certification cost-share programs correlate with those states having high rates of organic sales or high numbers of organic farms. As NSAC noted in our blog post on organic and local agriculture in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, all of the top ten states in either the number of organic farms or organic sales had strong rates of participation in either NOCCSP or AMA or both. The top ten states for number of organic farms and total organic sales also accounted for 70 percent or more of the funds allocated for NOCCSP or AMA.
Every year, USDA invites states to submit their applications for their federal allocation of organic certification cost-share funds. Beginning in 2017, organic producers and handlers can apply directly through their FSA county office, and in states that opt to also offer OCCSP through their State Department of Agriculture, applicants can apply either through the state or through FSA. Because states process applications on a first-come, first-serve basis, applicants are encouraged to apply as early as possible as funds may run out.
The popularity and success of organic certification cost share programs is evident in the near-depletion of the $22 million in funding provided for NOCCSP in the 2008 Farm Bill. Due to the delay in passing a new farm bill, no funds were available for Fiscal Year 2013. The 2014 Farm Bill rectified this problem, providing $11.5 million a year in mandatory funding for the program. The AMA organic cost share program continues to receive $1.5 million a year in mandatory funding. For 2017, $12.5 million in cost share funding is available through both programs under the unified banner of Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP). Reimbursements are available for expenses paid between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017.
For more information about OCCSP and how to apply, please see the AMS website.
Find contacts on the State Agency points of contact list for NOCCSP and AMA.
NSAC developed the original proposal for NOCCSP in 2001 and championed its passage as part of the 2002 Farm Bill. The 2002 Farm Bill provided $5 million in mandatory funding to launch the NOCCSP over the five-year life of the bill.
Due to the success of the program and the continued growth of the organic sector, Congress reauthorized the program in the 2008 Farm Bill and increased total funding to $22 million through 2012, or approximately $4.4 million annually. The 2008 Farm Bill also increased the maximum annual payment from $500 to $750 per operation and increased funding for certification cost share through AMA from $1.0 million to $1.5 million per year. A reporting requirement was also added, requiring the Secretary to submit a report to Congress by March 1 of each year describing the requests by, disbursements to, and expenditures for each State under the program during the current and previous fiscal year, including the number of producers and handlers served by the program in the previous fiscal year.
NSAC advocated for restoring and increasing funding for NOCCSP in the 2014 Farm Bill, which more than doubled funding to $11.5 million annually. Funding for AMA remained unchanged from 2008 Farm Bill levels.
Organic Certification Cost Share Program Annual Funding
|Fiscal Year||Total Mandatory Funding Available|
AMA: $1.5 M
AMA: $1.5 M
AMA: $1.5 M
AMA: $1.5 M
AMA: $1.5 M
|5 yr total||NOCCSP:$57.5
Please note: The funding levels in the chart above show the amount of mandatory funding reserved by the 2014 Farm Bill for this program to be provided through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation. However, Congress does at times pass subsequent appropriations legislation that caps the funding level for a particular year for a particular program at less than provided by the farm bill in order to use the resulting savings to fund a different program. Therefore, despite its “mandatory” status, the funding level for a given year could be less than the farm bill dictates should the Appropriations Committees decide to raid the farm bill to fund other programs under its jurisdiction. In addition, NOCCSP and AMA are subject to automatic cuts as part of an annual sequestration process established by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Section 10004 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 amends Section 10606(d) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 6523(d) authorized NOCCSP.
Last updated in April 2017.