UNITY, Maine — USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) recently announced that they would be reducing reimbursement rates for the Organic Certification Cost Share Program from 75 percent to 50 percent, despite the 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress clearly setting the reimbursement rates at 75 percent. This is a huge blow to organic producers who rely on this funding, especially as farmers are still dealing with the pandemic and loss of markets. In 2018, 360 operations in Maine received $253,900 in cost share reimbursements.
Sarah Alexander, Executive Director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) noted, “Many farmers rely on these reimbursements to maintain their organic certification each year, and this year, margins are even slimmer as farms are still dealing with the impacts of the pandemic. We hope that Congress will step in to correct this situation.”
The Federal Register notice stated that FSA is “revising the reimbursement amount to 50 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.” The 2018 Farm Bill clearly set reimbursement rates at 75 percent of the certified organic operation’s eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per scope, and provided new funding for the program. It also directed the USDA to use the program’s carryover balances from previous years. Given these sources of funding, there should be plenty of funds available for the program’s operation in fiscal year 2020.
Beth Schiller, Owner of Dandelion Spring Farm, and Board President of MOFGA shared, “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.”
In addition, the FSA has done a huge disservice to the organic community in this time of crisis by delaying the release of funds by many months while organic operations struggle to stay in business as they weather a pandemic and loss of markets. Organic, direct market, and diversified operations have largely been excluded from existing USDA pandemic relief programs, including the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, while the top 1 percent of recipients got more than 20 percent of the money, totaling $1.2 billion.
Local organic producers are more important now than ever as we deal with the impacts of COVID-19. MOFGA is asking members of the community to take action to support organic producers by contacting their Members of Congress and voicing their concerns about this unwarranted and unnecessary cut to the certification cost share program. An action alert is available at https://actionnetwork.org/
–Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
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