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USDA pandemic assistance available to organic farmers

covid-19 news
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Certified organic farmers or farmers transitioning to organic can apply for additional funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help cover expenses incurred due to COVID-19.

Through Jan. 7, 2022, interested farmers can apply for the USDA’s Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program, which is offering $20 million to help with costs for maintaining or obtaining organic certification.

The program is part of the USDA’s broader Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative and will reimburse farmers for expenses during fiscal years 2020, 2021 and 2022.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and mitigation response have wreaked havoc with all agricultural markets and producer margins,” explained Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “This additional money for organic operations will certainly be helpful for them. They tend to sell directly to consumers and may have experienced some of the greatest market disruption early in the pandemic.”

The USDA explained that producers and handlers of organic commodities incur significant expenses to obtain or renew organic certification each year. That, combined with challenges like market losses, increased costs and labor shortages, created an additional burden.

Transitional operations also sustained high costs while implementing practices to meet the organic certification—expenses that couldn’t be offset with premium pricing typically received for organic commodities.

For each year, OTECP funding may cover 25% of a verified operation’s eligible certification expenses, up to $250 per category—crop, livestock, wild crop, handling and state organic program fee. This includes application and inspection fees, USDA organic certification expenses and more.

Additionally, crop and livestock operations transitioning to organic production may be eligible for 75% of eligible expenses, up to $750 for each year. This includes fees for certifying agents or consultants for pre-certification inspections, and for developing an organic system plan.

Interested producers should apply through their local Farm Service Agency office. Farmers who need help with the application process can receive one-on-one support by calling 877-508-8364.

To learn more about the OTECP and eligibility requirements and for a full list of covered expenses, visit farmers.gov/otecp.