DOAG: National Organic Standards and the Organic Cost-Share Program

This article appeared in the August 14, 2013 edition of the Ag Report.
 
 

National Organic Standards and the Organic Cost-Share Program

Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Preservation

 

 

In 2013, 53 Connecticut crop or livestock producers have chosen to certify their farming operations under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s National Organic Program (NOP).  These 53 farming operations made a commitment to follow USDA NOP standards and have successfully passed an intense inspection process performed by an accredited USDA certifying agent.

 

Upon successful completion of this process, the farms receive a USDA NOP certificate and are listed on USDA NOP’s website, http://apps.ams.usda.gov/nop/.  This also allows these operations to market their products as certified organic and use the USDA NOP certified organic seal.

 

The USDA NOP regulations are identified in 7 CFR Section 205. This federal regulation includes organic standards, prohibited practices, requirements producers need to meet, and the list of allowed and prohibited materials. The complexities of this certification have created the hardest commodity standards any producers have to comply with.

 

The grower or livestock producer who wishes to become certified organic must provide proof of using approved USDA organic standards and methods. These standards and methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

 

All growers or livestock producers wishing to market their products as certified organic must follow the laws that regulate the creation, production, handling, labeling, and trade of their organic products.  These producers are also subject to random sampling verifying these practices are being followed. Through these methods, the integrity of organic products is maintained, and with the inspections and product testing, consumers can purchase these items with confidence, knowing organic standards are being followed.

 

There are some exemptions for small producers that allow them to advertise their products as “organic” without going through an inspection by a USDA NOP accredited certifying agent.  These exemptions can be used by farms with less than $5,000 in gross annual sales.

 

These farms are exempt from two requirements. These operations do not need to be certified in order to sell, label, or represent their products as organic, but they may not use the USDA NOP seal on their products or refer to them as certified organic. The second item these operations are exempt from is the requirement of documenting the specific practices and substances used to produce and/or handle organic products.

      

These operations must still follow all other requirements listed in the USDA organic regulations, including production and/or handling requirements and record keeping to verify the production practices used on products labeled as organic. For more information see the USDA NOP Organic Certification fact sheet on this topic.

       

Wayne Hansen, owner of Wayne’s Organic Garden in Oneco, has been producing certified organic products for 25 years and is still “plugging along”.  He can be found offering certified organic produce at a number of farm “Going through the applications and inspections each year, paying the fees, and getting credit from customers for growing organically was never really a choice for us—I never wanted to do it any other way,” Mr. Hansen said.  “While it takes more time and money to get certified, it pays off in many ways, like not having to explain so much to consumers how we operate, and feeling justified in charging a premium for our produce.”

 

“Sunday morning at the Coventry Regional Farmers Market, as I look astounded at the long line of familiar faces waiting for the opening bell to ring,” he continued, “I’m very glad to be certified organic.  And the 75 percent reimbursement of the annual fees doesn’t hurt either.”

 

The reimbursement to which Mr. Hansen referred is the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s (DoAg) Organic Cost Share Program. Thanks to the reauthorization in the 2008 Farm Bill for the National Organic Cost Share Program, 16 states including Connecticut have been awarded funds by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to disperse funds to provide financial aid to certified organic agricultural producers.

 

DoAg, through this funding, can reimburse Connecticut’s certified organic farmers for a portion of their certification fees. The amount reimbursed is up to 75 percent of the certification cost, or a maximum of $750. The program is administered on a first-come, first-served basis until funds are exhausted.

 

Certified organic farmers who would like to take advantage of this program will need to submit to DoAg the following items:

  • A copy of their 2013 certification certificate the accredited certifying agent
  • W-9 Form
  • SP-26 Vendor Form

These forms can be found on  DoAg’s website at http://www.ct.gov/doag/cwp/view.asp?a=3243&Q=465932 or by contacting Rick Macsuga at 860-713-2544 or Richard.Macsuga@ct.gov.

 

Consumer demand for organic products has seen huge growth over the past decade. The combination of high consumer demand and the financial assistance from the state and federal government has allowed Connecticut certified organic farms to grow and thrive.

 

For those interested in learning more about becoming a certified organic farm, please see the USDA NOP website.