Last month the Farm Service Agency (FSA), on behalf of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), announced changes to the availability of funding and payment calculation for certified organic operations, which are required based on expected participation levels and limited funding, under the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP).
The Organic Certification Cost Share Program is an important tool that offsets the cost of organic certification, helping small- and mid-sized organic farm businesses to become certified organic. FSA plans to lower the rate to 50 percent of eligible expenses, despite clear Congressional intent in the 2018 Farm Bill supporting a reimbursement rate at 75 percent of the certified organic operation's eligible expenses.
Congressman Jimmy Panetta
On the heels of the proposed change, last week Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) joined House Agriculture Subcommittee Chairwoman Stacey E. Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) and several of his colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, expressing strong concern about the reduction of the OCCSP.
Speaking with OPN, Congressman Panetta said, “In August, and without any advance warning, the USDA unexpectedly changed the reimbursement rate and maximum assistance permitted under the Organic Certification Cost Share Program. That modification not only is against the intent of the bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill, but also it comes at a very difficult time for the agriculture sector, including organic farmers on the Central Coast.”
The bi-partisan letter asks that the maximum amount of assistance through the OCCSP be restored. “Democrats and Republicans are troubled by this amendment to a program that works so well for so many of the farmers we proudly represent,” said Panetta. “That is why I will continue to work with my congressional colleagues to press the UDSA to restore the program so it can support organic farmers and ranchers.”
The costs associated with organic certification include application fees, inspection fees, and state organic program fees. The process of becoming certified organic can be expensive and is an essential step for producers who are helping meet the growing demand for certified organic food in the United States.
A copy of the bipartisan letter can be view here: https://agriculture.house.gov/uploadedfiles/plaskett_usda-occsp.pdf
This reduction comes in the middle of a global pandemic and economic crisis - when organic farmers need more support to continue to provide essential organic food. Organic businesses need this support now more than ever because of the lost markets and increased costs to keep workers safe during the pandemic.
All certified organic farmers should apply for cost share assistance as soon as possible with their state agency or local FSA office. Operations have until October 31, 2020 to apply for funding.
If you farm in California, CDFA administers the Organic Certification Cost Share. If you farm outside California, contact your state's department of agriculture to ask about application procedures and deadlines in your state.