Changes to this program would cause Maine’s organic producers to lose access to more than $122,000 in 2020 alone
Washington, D.C. — In a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue, U.S. Senator Susan Collins urged the agency to quickly reverse the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) recent changes to the Organic Cost Share Program (OCCSP). This program provides cost share assistance to producers and handlers of agricultural products who are obtaining or renewing their certification under the National Organic Program (NOP).
The FSA recently announced that they are revising the reimbursement rate to 50 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope. The 2018 Farm Bill explicitly set reimbursement rates at 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope through fiscal year (FY) 2023.
“The OCCSP has long been an invaluable tool in helping to reduce the barriers to entry into the organic marketplace, providing critical assistance to beginning and smaller-scale farmers,” wrote Senator Collins. “These unexpected adjustments to the reimbursement structure are particularly harmful to Maine’s growing organic agriculture industry in the midst of a pandemic.”
Maine farmers utilize this cost share program at a high rate, and this shift in the reimbursement structure would cause Maine’s organic producers to lose access to more than $122,000 in 2020 alone, on top of the COVID-19-related losses they have already experienced.
Beth Schiller, Owner of Dandelion Spring Farm and Board President of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association said, "As an organic farmer, I feel this is one of the few federal programs that really helps every certified organic operation. It's completely unacceptable for the USDA to reduce this program when Congress has already mandated the funding."
This change would also harm USDA-accredited Organic Certifiers, like the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), which have established payment plans with many clients and would be prevented from receiving the full amount of fees under this new structure. Organic Certifiers are essential to ensuring the integrity and success of the organic label, and weakening their standing would only threaten the sector.
Click HERE to read the full letter.