By Melody Meyer
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last week new funding opportunities to help cover certification and education expenses for certified organic and transitioning operations under the Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP).
OTECP budgets $20 million to reimburse producers and handlers who are certified organic and transitioning to organic for eligible expenses incurred during fiscal years 2020, 2021, and/or 2022. For each year, OTECP covers 25 percent of an operation’s eligible certification expenses, up to $250 per certification category.
This program builds on USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program, which reimburses a portion of certification costs producers and handlers incur when obtaining or renewing their organic certification.
Zach Ducheneaux, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator, said, “Transitional operations face the additional financial challenge of implementing practices required to obtain USDA organic certification without being able to obtain the premium prices of certified organic commodities. To be eligible, applicants must have paid eligible expenses during fiscal years 2020, 2021 and 2022 [and] be [a] certified or transitioning operation at the time of application”.
Each year OTECP covers 25 percent of an operation’s eligible certification expenses, up to $250 per certification category.
According to Ducheneaux, for each program year, OTECP will also cover 75 percent, up to $200 per year, for registration fees to attend educational events. Eligible events include both in-person and remote conferences, training programs, and workshops with educational content that includes organic topics. The goal is to increase technical production expertise and marketing practices to improve operations, increase resiliency, and expand marketing opportunities.
New funding is also available to reimburse the cost of testing soil micronutrient deficiency, Ducheneaux said. OTECP covers 75 percent, up to $100, of the expense of soil testing required under the National Organic Program (NOP) to document micronutrient deficiency for both certified operations and transitional operations.
“Transitional operations face the additional financial challenge of implementing practices required to obtain USDA organic certification without being able to obtain the premium prices of certified organic commodities.” – Zach Ducheneaux
“As with all pandemic assistance, the goal of this program is to assist as many producers as equitably as possible. Tackling many challenges and finding opportunities to build a better future for generations to come,” he said. “COVID-19 revealed the vulnerabilities in our food system. As we build back better, we must create better and fairer markets for producers and consumers alike. The food system of the future needs to be fair, competitive, and resilient.”
Zach Ducheneaux, Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator, USDA
Ducheneaux called for the creation of a level playing field for small and medium producers and a more balanced, equitable economy for everyone working in food and agriculture.
“We will build a fairer, more transparent food system rooted in local and regional production where small can compete with big so that a greater share of the profit will go to those growing, harvesting, and preparing our food,” he said. “Doing so will increase farmers’ and ranchers’ earnings, deliver greater value to workers, and offer consumers affordable, healthy food produced closer to home.”
“COVID-19 revealed the vulnerabilities in our food system. As we build back better, we must create better and fairer markets for producers and consumers alike. The food system of the future needs to be fair, competitive, and resilient.” – Zach Ducheneaux
USDA’s Risk Management Agency also announced improvements to the Whole-Farm Revenue Program. Ducheneaux said changes to the program expand limits for organic producers to $500,000 or 35 percent, whichever is higher. Previously, small and medium-size organic operations were held to the same 35 percent limit to expansion as conventional practice producers.
“Producers can now report acreage as certified organic, or as acreage in transition to organic, when the producer has requested an organic certification by the acreage reporting date,” he said. “Many USDA agencies serve the growing organic sector. Whether you're already certified organic, considering transitioning all or part of your operation, or working with organic producers, we have resources for you.”
Visit www.usda.gov/organic to learn about programs, services, and educational materials that can help your organic farm or business.
To apply for OTECP assistance, reach out to the Farm Service Agency at your local USDA Service Center. The application period for program years 2020 and 2021 is November 8, 2021 through January 7, 2022.