July 18, 2014
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of approximately $13 million in Farm Bill funding for organic certification cost-share assistance for organic producers and handlers. Payments for certification-related expenses incurred from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014 can cover up to 75 percent of an individual producer’s or handler’s certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 per certification. The certification assistance is available from two noncompetitive Organic Certification Cost Share programs: the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) and the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program (AMA), both administered by the National Organic Program (NOP) at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).
The assistance provided through AMA and NOCCSP is essential in helping farmers, especially small and mid-scale farms, become organic operations and maintain their organic status. As USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack put it, “Consumer demand for organic products is surging across the country. To meet this demand, we need to make sure that small farmers who choose to grow organic products can afford to get certified.”
As recently reported in our blog post on organic agriculture and local food in our series on 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 one or both of these USDA organic cost share certification programs. 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. In 2012 alone, USDA issued close to 10,000 cost-share reimbursements totaling over $6.5 million, to support the organic industry and rural America.
NOCCSP provides organic producers and handlers with certification assistance 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 United States Virgin Islands. AMA provides organic producers (but not handlers) with certification assistance in 16 states that have a historically low participation rate in the Federal Crop Insurance Program: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. While producers in AMA states are eligible for reimbursement under both the NOCCSP and the AMA, they may not receive reimbursement for the same certification costs under both programs.
The 2014 Farm Bill provides $1.5 million annually in mandatory funding for AMA through 2018 and $11.5 million annually in mandatory funding for NOCCSP through 2018. For NOCCSP, this amount represents more than double the just over $5 million that was available annually for the program in the 2008 Farm Bill. NSAC advocated for restoring and increasing funding for NOCCSP in the new Farm Bill, a victory we first reported back in February, soon after the Farm Bill’s passage. NSAC developed the original proposal for NOCCSP in 2001 and championed its passage as part of the 2002 Farm Bill. As the sector has grown, funding was increased in the 2008 Farm Bill and now again in the 2014 Farm Bill. The program and its funding has been championed in Congress by many Senators and Representatives, led by former Senate Agriculture Committee chairmen Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Tom Harkin (D-IA).
To receive cost share assistance, organic producers and handlers must contact their State agencies for guidelines and requirements for reimbursement. State contact information can be found on the NOP Cost Share Website, www.ams.usda.gov/NOPCostSharing. With the deadline for States to apply for certification cost share funding having recently passed on June 20, 2014, not all states are currently accepting applications, but the majority are or are making preparations to do so. A list of estimated allocation amounts for organic certification cost share funds for each State is available here.
For additional information, contact Dana Stahl, USDA Organic Certification Cost Share Program Manager, Dana.Stahl@ams.usda.gov, (540) 361-1126. Additional information is also available on the NOP website at www.ams.usda.gov/NOPCostSharing.