The process of becoming organically certified can be expensive, but it is an essential step for farmers who want to tap into the growing demand for certified organic food in the U.S. Thankfully, the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) can help alleviate some of the costs of certification for small and mid-sized organic farm businesses, which are a core part of the domestic organic supply chain. Without them, many companies would be forced to source from abroad in order to meet the nation’s demand for organic products.
Learn More About Organic Cost Share:
OCCSP is a financial assistance program administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) that helps defray the costs of organic certification for organic farmers and processors. This cost share program provides reimbursements of up to 75 percent of annual organic certification costs, up to a maximum payment of $750 per year per farm or handler.
Allowable costs include application fees, inspection fees, certification costs, state organic program fees, user fees or sale assessments, and postage. To receive certification cost share reimbursement, a USDA-accredited agent must certify the farmer or handler (see the Agricultural Marketing Service webpage to locate a certifying agent).
OCCSP 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 2000+ county FSA offices. OCCSP is also still available through some State Departments of Agriculture that opt to offer the program as an additional option.
To receive reimbursements through OCCSP, applicants must be certified organic (either as a newly certified or re-certified organic operation) under the National Organic Program.
OCCSP pulls its funding from two sources – the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP), and the Agricultural Marketing Assistance (AMA) Organic Certification Cost Share Program. The funding source is determined by the region of the applicant’s operation.
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 in NOCCSP. For AMA, organic producers (but not handlers) in 16 states (CT, DE, HI, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NV, NY, PA, RI, UT, VT, WV, WY) 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. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, certified organic farms have increased by 39 percent since 2012, and sales of organic commodities had doubled over the same period from $3.1 billion to $7.3 billion.
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. Farmers utilizing OCCSP are of all scales and production types. For example, a Massachusetts vegetable grower reported that the OCCSP brings the cost of certification in line with affordability for her farm and many others. Farmers have testified before Congress that OCCSP helps connect them with new customers and expand the markets for local and regional food and farm products.
Every year, USDA invites State Departments of Agriculture to submit applications to administer organic certification cost-share funds for farmers and handlers in their state. As of 2017, organic producers and handlers can apply directly through their FSA county office. 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.
For information and applications, go to your FSA regional Service Centers or to your state FSA office. You can also locate all of the contact information by clicking on your state on the FSA’s Service Center Locator.
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NSAC developed the original proposal for NOCCSP in 2001 and championed its passage as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, which provided $5 million in mandatory funding to launch this new program.
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 million to $1.5 million per year. A reporting requirement was also added, requiring the Secretary to submit an annual report to Congress describing the requests by, disbursements to, and expenditures for each State under the program, including the number of producers and handlers served by the program in the previous fiscal year.
NSAC advocated for increased 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.
During debate of the 2018 Farm Bill, NSAC pressed to keep funding at $11.5 million, however, the final bill ultimately reduced NOCCSP funding in half over the life of the farm bill. In total the farm bill provides $24 million for organic certification cost share over the next five years (see chart below). Unfortunately, these annual funding levels are a significant cut from previous years. While USDA estimates there is unused funding from the 2014 Farm Bill that can be carried over to partially fill funding gaps, there is still concern that funding may fall short in the later years – leaving organic farmers without assistance to become certified.
The 2018 Farm Bill also authorized an additional $1 million in AMA funding for each fiscal year.
Organic Certification Cost Share Program Annual Funding
|Fiscal Year||Total Funding Available (in millions)|
|5 yr total||NOCCSP:$24|
Please note: The funding levels in the chart above show the amount of mandatory funding reserved by the 2018 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.
For the most current information on program funding levels, please see NSAC’s Annual Appropriations Chart
Section 10105 of the Agricultural Act of 2018 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.
This page last updated in May 2019.