The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide pandemic assistance to cover certification and education expenses to agricultural producers who are certified organic or transitioning to organic. USDA will make $20 million available through the new Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP) as part of USDA’s broader Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, which provides new, broader and more equitable opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, certified organic and transitional operations faced challenges due to loss of markets, and increased costs and labor shortages, in addition to costs related to obtaining or renewing their organic certification, which producers and handlers of conventionally grown commodities do not incur. Transitional operations also faced the financial challenge of implementing practices required to obtain organic certification without being able to obtain the premium prices normally received for certified organic commodities.
“Producers and handlers of organic commodities incur significant costs to obtain or renew organic certification each year,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The economic challenges that arose due to the pandemic made obtaining and renewing organic certification financially challenging for many operations. This is one more instance of USDA continuing to provide support for those who need it most, invest in the food supply chain and Build Back Better.”
OTECP funding is provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Certified operations and transitional operations may apply for OTECP for eligible expenses paid during the 2020, 2021 and 2022 fiscal years. For each year, OTECP covers 25 percent of a certified operation’s eligible certification expenses, up to $250 per certification category (crop, livestock, wild crop, handling and State Organic Program fee). This includes application fees, inspection fees, USDA organic certification costs, state organic program fees and more.
Crop and livestock operations transitioning to organic production may be eligible for 75 percent of a transitional operation’s eligible expenses, up to $750, for each year. This includes fees charged by a certifying agent or consultant for pre-certification inspections and development of an organic system plan.
For both certified operations and transitional operations, OTECP covers 75 percent of the registration fees, up to $200, per year, for educational events that include content related to organic production and handling in order to assist operations in increasing their knowledge of production and marketing practices that can improve their operations, increase resilience and expand available marketing opportunities. Additionally, both certified and transitional operations may be eligible for 75 percent of the expense of soil testing required under the National Organic Program (NOP) to document micronutrient deficiency, not to exceed $100 per year.
Applying for Assistance
Signup for 2020 and 2021 OTECP started Nov. 8, 2021, and runs through Jan. 7, 2022. Producers apply through their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office and can also obtain one-on-one support with applications by calling 877-508-8364. Visit farmers.gov/otecp to learn more.
Additional Organic Support
OTECP builds upon USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) which provides cost share assistance of 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope, to producers and handlers of agricultural products who are obtaining or renewing their certification under the NOP. This year’s application period for OCCSP ended Nov. 1.
Additionally, USDA’s Risk Management Agency announced improvements to the Whole-Farm Revenue Program including increasing expansion limits for organic producers to the higher of $500,000 or 35 percent. Previously, small and medium size organic operations were held to the same 35 percent limit to expansion as conventional practice producers. Also, 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. To learn more about USDA’s assistance for organic producers, visit usda.gov/organic.
As USDA looks for long-term solutions to build back a better food system, the Department is committed to delivery of financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers and businesses who have been impacted by COVID-19 market disruptions. Since USDA rolled out the Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative in March, the Department has provided support to America’s farmers and ranchers including:
· $18 billion in Coronavirus Food Assistance Program two payments, including a fourfold increase in participation by historically underserved producers since the program reopened in April 2021.
· Over $35 million in assistance for those who had to depopulate livestock and poultry due to insufficient processing access (Pandemic Livestock Indemnity Program).
· Over $7 million to date for the logging and log hauling industry (Pandemic Assistance for Timber Harvesters and Haulers). Final payments are being calculated to be disbursed soon.
· $1 billion to purchase healthy food for food insecure Americans and build food bank capacity.
· $350 million in additional dairy assistance related to market volatility.
· $500 million deployed through existing USDA programs.
For more details, visit www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance.
Submitted by Sarah Fullenkamp, county executive director, Highland County Farm Service Agency.