• USDA offers cost-share assistance program to help farms get certified as organic

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2000px-USDA_organic_seal.svgWith the growth of the local foods movement in recent years, many consumers are more aware of the health benefits of eating organically grown food. But in Alaska, getting certified as organic is a challenge due to high costs and no accredited certifying agents being in the state.

In an effort to meet the growing demand for organic food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced two cost-share assistance programs to increase the number of farmers and manufacturers working with organic products. The programs cover three-quarters of the certification costs, up to $750 per category (up to $3,000 total), for each of the four categories of organic food — crops, livestock, processed products, and wild crops.

“The organic industry saw record growth in 2014, accounting for over $39 billion in retail sales in the United States,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The organic certification cost-share programs help more organic businesses succeed and take advantage of economic opportunities in this growing market.”

The USDA Agriculture Marketing Service National Organic Program (NOP) has allocated approximately $11.9 million to participating state departments of agriculture to help defray the costs of organic certification incurred by organic producers and processors. Reimbursements to organic operations will be made under the Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) Certification Cost Share Program or the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP).

The cost-share programs were included in the 2014 Farm Bill. NOCCSP has approximately $11 million available for producers and processors in participating states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. AMA has $900,000 for producers in 16 participating states (Alaska is not in the AMA program).

Each state has its own application process, and Barbara Hanson from the Alaska Division of Agriculture in Palmer is Alaska’s contact for the NOCCSP program. She can be contacted at (907) 761-3854 or barbara.hanson@alaska.gov. The program this year is for organic certification costs incurred between Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015.

Organic certification is important because no food can claim to be organic without the certification, even if it’s grown or processed following organic standards. In Alaska, this has been a challenge because it’s difficult to get a USDA-accredited certifying agent out to our farms and there are none based in our state. So many Alaska farms go without the label. Click this link to learn more about the process for becoming certified as an organic farm.

• 2014 Alaska USDA organic certification cost-share program letter

• 2014 Alaska USDA organic certification cost-share program application

• What Is Organic Certification Fact Sheet

• USDA Organic Cost-Share Programs Information Sheet

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