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Good news for organic producers, handlers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced that starting March 20, 2017, organic producers and handlers will be able to visit over 2,100 USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices around the country to apply for federal reimbursement to assist with the cost of receiving and maintaining organic or transitional certification.

"USDA is committed to helping the organic sector grow and thrive through a wide variety of programs, and part of that commitment is making it easy for stakeholders to access our services. That's why, starting March 20, producers will be able to visit their local FSA offices to access organic certification cost-share reimbursements for up to 75 percent of the cost of organic certification," said FSA Administrator Val Dolcini. "This will provide a more uniform, streamlined process nationwide; and it will give organic producers a chance to learn about other valuable USDA resources, like farm loans and conservation assistance that can help them succeed."

The Organic Trade Association, in a statement, says it "welcomes USDA’s move to expand the reach of the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) to include transitional certification fees and State Organic Program fees. For over a year, OTA has worked directly with California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), producers seeking transitional certification, and Californian organic operations who must pay additional fees to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CFDA) to operate their businesses in the state of California, to make the case for this expansion of the NOCCSP.  USDA heard these concerns and has responded directly to the issues raised by OTA and its members.  USDA’s move will utilize the full authority of the program as established in the Farm Bill to bring more opportunity to farmers and handlers across the country."

"OTA also commends USDA for leveraging its FSA network to make this program more available to organic producers and handlers while continuing to allow State Departments of Agriculture to administer NOCCSP—recognizing the importance of the involvement of State Departments of Agriculture in organic as a choice for farmers and entrepreneurs, the Organic Trade Association said.

According to USDA:

The changes are being made to encourage increased participation in the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program, and at the same time provide more opportunities for organic producers to access a full range of USDA programs, such as disaster protection and loans for farms, facilities and marketing. Producers can also access information on nonfederal agricultural resources, and get referrals to local experts, including organic agriculture, through USDA's Bridges to Opportunity service at the local FSA office.

In the past, state departments of agriculture administered the cost share programs. States that still want to administer the program will have the opportunity to do so by applying for funding by Feb. 17, 2017.

"The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the National Organic Program look forward to this exciting opportunity to leverage the Farm Service Agency's rural footprint to reach more organic producers and handlers," said AMS Administrator Elanor Starmer. "At the same time it is important to recognize and continue the valuable partnerships with states that remain at the core of the program."

Eligible producers include any certified producers or handlers who have paid organic or transitional certification fees to a USDA-accredited certifying agent. Application fees, inspection costs, fees related to equivalency agreement/ arrangement requirements, travel/per diem for inspectors, user fees, sales assessments and postage are all eligible for a cost share reimbursement from USDA.

Once certified, producers and handlers are eligible to receive reimbursement for up to 75 percent of certification costs each year up to a maximum of $750 per certification scope—crops, livestock, wild crops and handling. Today's announcement also adds transitional certification and state organic program fees as additional scopes.

To learn more about organic certification cost share, pvisit www.fsa.usda.gov/organic or contact a local FSA office by visiting http://offices.usda.gov.

Under the Obama administration, USDA has signed five major organic trade arrangements and has helped organic stakeholders access programs that support conservation, provide access to loans and grants, fund organic research and education and mitigate pest emergencies. To learn more about USDA support for organic agriculture, visit our updated organic portal at www.usda.gov/organic.

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