USDA Reductions to the Organic Certification Cost Share Program

MOA expressed outrage to Montana’s US Delegation that the Farm Service Agency is reducing support for the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP). This program provides organic farmers and handling operations with modest reimbursement of up to $750 to cover a portion of their annual certification fees. This decision was announced via an August 10 Federal Register notice that stated FSA is “revising the reimbursement amount to 50 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.”

This unilateral action by the USDA is unwarranted and completely unacceptable. It disregards the Congressional funding directives in the 2018 Farm Bill that set reimbursement rates at 75% of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope.  In Montana, these funds helped 174 recipients with $132,881.22 in dispersed cost-share funds. Montana has over 300 certified organic operations; this represents about a 51% use rate. Montana’s Department of Agriculture Organic Program encourages all entities to sign up for cost-share funds.

Organic farming and food are the few bright spots in the US economy. With COVID, according to Organic Trade Association reports, organic food sales volumes have increased by more than 18%.  With 351,335 acres in certified organic production, Montana is second in the US with the number of organic acres in production and is the number one organic wheat producing state in the US and is in the top three organic pulse producing states. Building on these milestones and successes, Montana’s position serves it well to develop and strengthen its certified organic operations in the increasingly important organic sector. Funds for this program, while a minimal component of the USDA budget overall, have a significant impact on Montana’s organic farm and ranch businesses.  OCCSP is an essential tool that helps organic farmers and producers stay in business. Organic businesses need this support now more than ever because of the lost markets and increased costs to seek new markets and to keep workers and customers safe during the pandemic.

MOA urged Senator Jon Tester, Senator Steve Daines, and Congressman Greg Gianforte to communicate with FSA to reinstate the full OCCSP reimbursement. Further, it urged Montana’s representatives in Washington, DC that given USDA’s delay in announcing the funding availability and the current pandemic crisis, that they request that the FSA extend deadlines for state agencies to apply to administer the program and for organic operations to apply for the assistance.

Copies of the letters were also sent to  Georgana Webster, Montana Department of Agriculture Organic Program and Benjamin Thomas, Secretary Montana Department of Agriculture.

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