Take Action: Organic Cost Share

On August 10th, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced a reduction in the reimbursement rates for the Organic Certification Cost Share Program. The cost share program reimburses organic farms and handling operations up to 50 percent of an operation’s certification expenses, to a maximum of $500 per certification scope (crops, livestock, wild crops or handling). Previously the limit on reimbursement was 75 percent, up to a maximum of $750 per scope.

The FSA is blaming lack of funding for this change. But the 2018 Farm Bill provided new funding for the program and also clearly directed USDA to carry over balances from previous years to fund the program for the next several years. There should be plenty of funds available for the program to maintain the same reimbursement levels for 2020 as in the past. And this reduced reimbursement level comes after months of delay by the FSA in releasing the money for the program, during a period where organic farms have largely been left out of other pandemic response programs and taken on new expenses to stay in operation.

There are two things organic farmers can do right now:

1.  Apply now to receive your organic certification cost share reimbursement!

You can apply at your local FSA office, or in some states, with your state agriculture department. There is conflicting information coming out of USDA about the deadline, which is either October 31 or November 2nd. Either way, it makes sense to apply now in case funding runs short. Right now, your reimbursement would be based on the 50 percent / $500 maximum level announced this week. But FSA did say they could potentially make an additional payment to those operations that had already applied if more funding becomes available.  You can get more information on how to apply here.

2.  Tell your members of Congress to restore organic certification cost share!

Right now, the best way to reach your members of Congress is likely to be email, since many congressional offices have shifted their staffs to working remotely. You can find contact information for your Representative at www.house.gov (use the “Find Your Representative” box at the top right and then go to your member’s website and look for a Contact tab) and your two Senators at www.senate.gov (go to the “Senators” tab and then “Contact” to find the Senators from your state.)

Sample Email:

I am your constituent and an organic farmer. I urge you to make the USDA restore full funding for the Organic Certification Cost Share program, which helps organic farms stay in business.

The USDA announced it was cutting how much organic farmers could be reimbursed for their organic certification expenses, despite the fact that Congress has already provided adequate funding for this program. Congress clearly set reimbursement rates at 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope, but the USDA announced a revised reimbursement rate of 50 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.

This decision by USDA disregards the Congressional funding directives in the 2018 Farm Bill and is unacceptable, especially in light of USDA’s long delay in making these funds available at all. Organic, direct market, and diversified operations have largely been left out of the USDA’s pandemic relief programs, so to delay and then reduce this modest program for organic farms during a pandemic is inexcusable.

I urge you to ensure that the USDA’s Farm Service Agency reinstates the full organic certification cost share reimbursement. In addition, given USDA’s delay in announcing the funding availability, they should extend the deadlines for state agencies to apply to administer the program, and for organic operations to apply for the assistance.


[Your name, Your Farm Name]