The Inspector’s Notebook #6
Get paid for getting certified
Cost-share programs offset certification expenses up to $500. But act quickly; deadlines loom near.

By Jim Riddle

Editor’s NOTE:

Certified organic farmers do an odd thing – they pay people to visit their farms with a critical eye to assure they are adhering to every aspect of the USDA’s national organic standard.

The farmers should already be trying to produce, harvest and market their organic crops, livestock and related products by these rules. The on-farm review of fields, facilities and records by an approved inspector sent by the farmer’s accredited organic certifier is the critical point in confirming that the farmer and the farm meet the organic standards – and can prove it to anyone who needs to know.

The visits are pivotal for applying farmers to become certified, and for certified farmers to keep that certification. For the good of organics, we want to help build the foundation for effective inspection visits. We’ve asked Jim Riddle to provide an inspector’s inside view to help farmers understand an inspector’s role, responsibilities and limitations.

In the months ahead, Riddle will elaborate on many items to help farmers understand regulations that apply to them, and how to document their compliance.

Jim Riddle has been on hundreds of farms in the inspector role, and he’s been inspected himself during his time as a farmer. His leadership in bringing professional training to inspectors helped to earn greater acceptance of organic farming in the U.S. He serves as vice-chair of the National Organic Standards Board, which advises the USDA on organic agriculture policies and regulations. He has been an organic farmer, gardener, inspector, educator, policy analyst, author, and consumer.

Jim Riddle serves as vice-chair of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board and organic policy advisor for NewFarm.org. He was the founding chair of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA).

November 19, 2004: If you have received your organic certificate, congratulations! But there’s one more thing you should do, and there is no time to lose.

You can get reimbursed up to $500 or 75 percent of the costs of your organic certification.

The organic certification cost share program was first implemented in Minnesota in 1998, thanks to the late State Sen. Janet Johnson, who asked, “What can be done to “grow” more organic farmers?” A simple solution was to provide modest relief to the regulatory costs imposed on organic producers.

This is the second year for the national program, which was adopted in the 2002 Farm Bill. (Thanks, in part, to the efforts of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone.)

The organic certification cost-share program is administered by your state department of agriculture, with funds received from the USDA. Typically, you are required to fill out a simple one-page form. You will be asked to attach copies of your current organic certificate and a statement or invoice from your certifying agent that details charges incurred between 10/1/03 and 9/30/04. Reimbursable expenses include certification fees, user fees, and inspection costs.

If your operation is currently certified, and your certification is being renewed, you still qualify for the cost-share on all costs incurred. Since organic certificates no longer expire or carry expiration dates, you may need a letter from your certifier verifying that your certification has been renewed and showing the date of renewal.

Certified-organic crop farmers, livestock producers, ranchers, and handlers all qualify. If you operate a certified handling operation, and certification was separate from your organic farming operation, you can receive cost-share reimbursement for the costs of the certification of your farm and your processing facility. This will require that you fill out separate (but equally easy) forms and attach the appropriate verification of your certification and your costs.

Since each state administers its own cost-share program, deadline dates, application forms, and requirements may vary. Act quickly though as deadlines are fast approaching. Pennsylvania, for example, has a program deadline of December 3 but its department of Ag is encouraging applicants to file sooner if possible. To qualify, you must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent.

You can find a list of accredited certifiers at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/CertifyingAgents/Accredited.html

For a list of state contacts, go to: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/StatePrograms/StateContacts.html

If your certification is still in process (especially if you turned in your application this summer rather than last spring), you may want to call your certifying agent to expedite the process. You may also contact your state department of agriculture to find out what to do if you haven’t received your organic certification by their deadline. But for everyone else drop the forms in the mail, sit back, relax (it may take a while – Pennsylvania’s program, according to Martha Melton of the PA department of Ag, requires the application to clear two state offices before the check can be issued), and wait for your check.