Aug 11, 2020
National Organic Coalition, Organic Farmers Association: Reduced organic certification reimbursements an outrage
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced yesterday that they would be reducing reimbursement rates for the organic certification cost
share program, which provides reimbursements to organic farms and handling operations.
Yesterday’s Federal Register notice stated that FSA is “revising the reimbursement amount to 50% of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.” The 2018 Farm Bill clearly set reimbursement rates at 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope.
“The National Organic Coalition 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 at the National Organic Coalition. “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 Certification Cost-Share Program is especially important for small and mid-size organic farms,” said Kate Mendenhall, Director of the Organic Farmers Association. “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.”
This action by USDA is unwarranted and completely unacceptable. The 2018 Farm Bill provided new funding for the program and also directed 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. 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. In addition, the FSA has done a huge disservice to the organic community in this time of crisis by delaying the release of funds by many months while organic operations struggle to stay in business as they weather a pandemic and loss of markets. Organic, direct market, and diversified operations have largely been excluded from existing USDA pandemic relief programs, including the Coronavirus Food
Assistance Program, while the top 1 percent of recipients got more than 20 percent of the money, totaling $1.2 billion.
Since early May, the National Organic Coalition (NOC) and Organic Farmers Association (OFA) have advocated strongly with USDA and Congress to reimburse organic certification agencies directly for certification fees, as an emergency measure during the pandemic, and to increase the reimbursement rate to 100 percent to provide producers with support during this time of crisis.
NOC and OFA are currently working with Congressional allies and House and Senate Agriculture Committee members to ask for assistance to rectify this egregious disregard by USDA’s Farm Service Agency for Congress’s allocation of funds for the certification cost-share program.
NOC is asking that organic community members take action and voice their concern to the Senators and Representative: https://www.nationalorganiccoalition.org/action-alerts
In addition, NOC and OFA urge organic operations to apply for certification cost-share assistance as soon as they are able to do so with their state agency or local FSA office:
Operations have until November 2, 2020, to apply for funding. FSA has stated that “if additional funding is authorized at a later time, FSA may provide additional assistance to certified operations that have applied” for the organic certification cost-share program.