Beginning on March 20, 2017, the USDA will accept applications for financial assistance from farmers transitioning to or maintaining organic certification, the agency announced this week.
Farmers will be able to apply at more than 2,100 USDA Farm Service Agency locations (FSA) to apply for reimbursement.
“USDA reimburses organic producers up to 75 percent of the cost of organic certification, but only about half of the nation’s organic operations currently participate in the program,” FSA Administrator Val Dolcini, said in a statement. “Starting March 20, USDA will provide a uniform, streamlined process for organic producers and handlers to apply for organic cost share assistance either by mail or in person at USDA offices located in almost every rural county in the country.”
Eligibility for the program is measured by whether producers or handlers have paid fees to the USDA for organic or transitional certifications. Reimbursement qualifications include fees related to applications, inspections, required arrangements, travels and per diems for inspectors, user fees, sales assessments and postage fees are all eligible.
Among the biggest barriers in transitioning to organic and maintaining organic certification are the ongoing costs related to maintaining USDA certified organic status. The agency hopes that the changes will increase participation in the National Organic Program as demand for certified organic products continues to rise.
The USDA is also hoping to increase participation in both the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program while also encouraging more participation in other USDA programs such as disaster protection and farm loans.
Acreage of organic farming hit more than four million acres in the U.S. in 2016.
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