The USDA announced it is making $20 million available through a new program that will offer pandemic assistance to agriculture producers who are certified organic or transitioning to organic.
The Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP) is part of the USDA’s broader Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, which provides new, broader and more equitable opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers. OTECP will have $20 million available to provide assistance to cover certification and education to organic producers. Certified organic and transitional operations faced challenges due to the loss of markets, increased costs and labor shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Certified organic producers also incur costs related to obtaining or renewing their organic certification, and transitional operations faced the added financial challenge of implementing practices required to obtain organic certification.
“Producers and handlers of organic commodities incur significant costs to obtain or renew organic certification each year,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a media release. “The economic challenges that arose due to the pandemic made obtaining and renewing organic certification financially challenging for many operations. This is one more instance of USDA continuing to provide support for those who need it most, invest in the food supply chain and Build Back Better.”
The OTECP funding is available for eligible expenses paid during the 2020, 2021 and 2022 fiscal years. For each year, OTECP covers 25% of a certified operation’s eligible certification expenses, up to $250 per certification category (crop, livestock, wild crop, handling and State Organic Program fee). This includes application fees, inspection feeds, USDA organic certification costs, state organic program fees and more. Crop and livestock operations transitioning to organic production may be eligible for 75% of a transitional operation’s eligible expenses, up to $750, for each year. This includes fees charged by a certifying agent or consultant for pre-certification inspections and development of an organic system plan.
For both certified operations and transitional operations, OTECP covers 75% of the registration fees, up to $200, per year, for educational events that include content related to organic production and handling in order to assist operations in increasing their knowledge of production and marketing practices that can improve their operations, increase resilience and expand available marketing opportunities. Additionally, both certified and transitional operations may be eligible for 75% of the expense of soil testing required under the National Organic Program (NOP) to document micronutrient deficiency, not to exceed $100 per year.
Producers can apply through their local Farm Service Agency office from Nov. 8, 2021, through Jan. 7, 2022. They can also learn more by calling 877-508-8364 or visiting farmers.gov/otecp.