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Would You Throw $750 Into the Compost Heap?

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2018 April Issue Newsletter

By Laura Davis, Certification Assistance Coordinator and Soil Technical Assistance Coordinator

Organically certified farmers are not collecting the money that the USDA has set aside for their certification fee, according to Sonny Perdue, the Secretary of Agriculture. For the year 2016 only 67% of the money allocated to Massachusetts organic farmers was collected.  Just 100 out of 277 certified organic operations filed for their reimbursement. 

Now, the House and Senate Agricultural committees are looking at cutting the funding since farmers are not taking advantage of it.  On a national basis only 61% of the $10.8m available was actually paid out. If you are one of those farmers that count on this money, there is still time to make your voice heard since Farm Bill negotiations are just underway, here is the action alert that NOFA/Mass posted last month. 

The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program was authorized and funded by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 and reauthorized by the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bill.  This authorization also requires the USDA to provide the House and Senate Agricultural committees with updates on how much money was paid out and how many farms benefited. 

So how much money did these farms leave on the table? For a farm with revenue between $75,000-100,000, the organic certification fee would be $1,100 if certified by Baystate Organic Certifiers (BOC). In September, BOC sends out a statement of fees paid and the information they need to send in for reimbursement.  By sending a copy of their invoice and a short form to MDAR they would receive up to $750 back per scope of certification (crops, wild crops, livestock, processing are scopes within the NOP). That means the farmer’s net costs for certification would be $350. If you are already a registered farmer at the Farm Service Agency, you can complete their form and submit with the invoice.  The Farm Service was added as an additional source of organic cost share reimbursement in 2017, making reimbursement more accessible than in years past. 

Why did farmers not apply for their reimbursement?  Did the farmer not open their mail in September? Are they anti-establishment and don’t want the government’s money? Are they independently rich? This lack of participation could jeopardize other investments that the USDA makes in organic. 

The Organic Foods market has now reached almost $50 billion per year according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). 85% of households in Massachusetts are buying some form of organic product.  That demand is pushing more farms to certify organic. The number of certified organic operations grew by 13% on a national level according to the Organic and Non-GMO Report.  I checked in with Baystate Organic Certifiers to see if new applicants for certification were keeping up with the national average.  In 2016 BOC saw 19% growth over 2015 and in 2017 saw 9% growth over 2016 for new applicants.  It looks like 2018 will be another high growth year based upon the new applicants who had already applied in January. 

The USDA organic label is the most trusted label known to consumers.  According to OTA, 75% of total buyers put their trust in the organic label.  There is a large benefit for farmers to certify organic as they start a new farming venture. The label gives customers the confidence that your growing practices are ones that they can align with and support.  In addition, organic farmers can see 35% higher profitability than those not certifying according to a study at Washington State University. 

When I hear others criticize the USDA organic label, I try to give them the benefit of what I see on local organic farms as an Independent Organic Inspector.  There is a huge commitment by these operations to operate by the letter of the NOP program. These farms constantly strive to improve fertility of the soil, use more organic seeds, create pollinator habitat and educate their staff and communities on organic growing practices.  The consumer should feel very confident about what organic farmers are doing locally.  It is hard for me to speak for large corporate organic farms shipping product all over the country.

If you are a new farmer and want to establish your farm and are considering organic certification please get in touch. Applicants that apply to BOC by May 1, 2018 can be certified within 6-8 weeks, that means you can still sell your produce as organic this growing season.

Laura Davis is a certified organic vegetable farmer at Long Life, LLC. As the Organic Certification Assistance and Soil Technical Assistance Coordinator for NOFA/Mass, Laura can help you navigate the process of Organic Certification as well as give you a recommendation for soil amendments and fertility planning based upon your soil report.  Laura is also an Independent Organic


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