WASHINGTON, DC, US — The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) is making changes to its reimbursement rates for the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP).

OCCSP provides cost-share assistance to producers and handlers of agricultural products for the costs of obtaining or maintaining organic certification under the USDA’s National Organic Program. The FSA has lowered the reimbursement rates for OCCSP

Due to expected participation levels and the limited funds available, the FSA said it has revised the reimbursement amount available through fiscal year 2023. Certified producers and handlers are now eligible to receive reimbursement for up to 50% of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.

If the US Congress authorizes additional funding, the FSA said it may provide additional assistance to certified operations that have applied for OCCSP, not to exceed 75% of their eligible costs, up to $750 per scope.

Applications for eligible certification expenses paid between Oct. 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020, are due Oct. 31, 2020.

The change in reimbursement rates has disappointed some organic industry associations. There is concern that the reduction of reimbursement will further organic producer’s financial loss brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

 “The National Organic Coalition (NOC) is outraged that USDA’s Farm Service Agency has chosen to reduce reimbursements to organic producers in the midst of a pandemic,” said Abby Youngblood, executive director of the NOC. “Producers and other organic operations need this support now more than ever because they are faced with loss of markets due to COVID-19 and increasing costs as they modify their operations to keep workers and customers safe and implement new sanitation and staffing procedures.”

The Organic Farmers Association (OFA) is concerned this decrease in reimbursement is creating more obstacles for organic farmers than reducing them.

“The Organic Certification Cost-Share Program is especially important for small and mid-size organic farms,” said Kate Mendenhall, director of the OFA. “If the USDA wants organic farms and our regional economies to survive and thrive, they should be making it easier to get certification cost share and covering the whole cost of certification. Instead they are doing the opposite.”

According to the ROC and OFA, the 2018 farm bill provided new funding for the program and directed the USDA to use the program’s carryover balances from previous years to fund the program for fiscal years 2019 through 2023.

“Given these sources of funding, there should be plenty of funds available for the program’s operation in fiscal year 2020,” the associations said. “Either USDA’s accounting for this program is flawed or the agency has decided to disregard the congressional funding directives in the 2018 farm bill.”

The FSA did note in its reimbursement rate change notification that, “if additional funding is authorized at a later time, FSA may provide additional assistance to certified operations that have applied for OCCSP.”

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