Recent changes to the Farm Service Agency's Organic Certification Cost Share Program have drawn questions from lawmakers.
On Aug. 10, USDA's FSA announced changes in reimbursement. Because of the change, certified producers and handlers are now eligible to receive reimbursement for up to 50% of the certified organic operation's eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500. This is effective through 2023. Previously, producers were able to receive up to $750, or up to 75% of certification costs.
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Stacey E. Plaskett, D-Virgin Islands, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research; committee members Rodney Davis, R-Illinois and Anthony Brindisi, D-New York; and others expressed concern with the changes to the Farm Service Agency’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program. Of particular concern to the lawmakers is a proposed reduction in the reimbursement rate and maximum assistance permitted under the program, as in Plaskett’s case, it is becoming increasingly costly for certified organic growers in rural areas like the U.S. Virgin Islands to maintain their certification.
“This change in the reimbursement rate was not anticipated by stakeholders, and we believe it directly contradicts the intent of the overwhelmingly bipartisan Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 which reauthorized and funded OCCSP,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.
“These amendments to OCCSP come at a difficult time for the agriculture sector, particularly for those small-scale producers who benefit most from cost share assistance,” they added. “The spread of COVID-19 dramatically impacted supply chains and the agricultural workforce, resulting in decreased productivity and tighter margins during an already stressed time in the agriculture economy. For organic producers who have struggled to receive assistance via other USDA programs, the OCCSP was seen as a reliable form of support.”
“At a time when the agriculture industry is still recovering from major supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture must utilize all available authorities and funding to provide assistance to our organic farmers, ranchers, and handlers,” said the lawmakers in the letter.
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