An internal USDA memo shows a glut of funds remains available to reimburse farmers for organic certification
Like many organic farmers, Laura Davis would rather not pay hundreds of dollars to certify her farm every year. But in recent years she hasn’t had to pay the full cost. That’s because Davis, who runs Long Life Farm in Massachusetts, learned about a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) program that helps producers recoup some of the costs of organic certification. Through its cost-share program, the agency has reimbursed Davis for up to 75 percent of her annual recertification fees—about $900—during most of her farm’s seven-year tenure.
“It’s probably the easiest step in the whole certification process,” said Davis, who grows 100 varieties of vegetables and melons on more than two acres in Massachusetts. “It’s one page, and I think we have about a month from the time they send the form out until you have to send it in.”
But, unlike Davis, only about half of the nation’s organic operations participate in the USDA’s organic certification cost-share program. Since the program was created in the 2002 Farm Bill, approximately $60 million has been allocated to it. Not all of the allocated funds have been spent, and due to a series of recent hiccups that have kept that money from reaching farmers, a great deal of money allocated in the 2014 Farm Bill remains available.
Last year, the agency shifted the program from the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) after USDA officials determined that the program hadn’t been marketed effectively.
According to an internal USDA memo obtained by Civil Eats, by the end of fiscal year 2015, $4.6 million of the $11.5 million allocated annually from the Farm Bill for the cost share program and Agricultural Management Assistance program went unspent. “Despite significant outreach, AMS and the states have not attracted enough demand from organic entities to expend the available funds,” the memo reads.
When the program was under the purview of the AMS, the USDA worked through state agriculture departments to provide cost sharing. Now the FSA, which works on a county level to build rapport with producers, will administer the program, though farmers in some areas may still apply for funds through state governments.