USDA Announces Organic Transition Certification

Last week, The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) announced a new program that will give US producers transitioning to organic the ability to obtain a “transitional certification,” that will allow them to access the organic price premium before their three year organic transition period is complete. 

This development removes a large barrier to certification for US producers, and is yet another step toward increasing the US certified organic supply: in December, the USDA expanded its National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) to include transitional certification fees. Producers can also get reimbursed for up to 75% of their transition fees through the NOCCSP by applying through their local Farm Service Agency office.

These new supports are part of a long list of loans and financial supports that the USDA now offers organic producers, making it clear that growing its organic supply is a priority. Prior to this development, the NOCCSP did not cover organic transition costs, but did offer financial assistance for crop losses due to natural disasters and for the establishment of buffer zones. There are also various financing support options and low-interest loans to help organic farmers with cash flow.

In Canada, there is no dedicated federal support for organic farmers. Some provinces have varying degrees of support and regulation, but Canada lacks a clear strategy for how to ensure that the organic agriculture sector continues to grow at pace with other countries, which provide targeted supports and ongoing increases in funding.

OCO advocates for certification subsidies as part of our work to get an Ontario Organic regulation in place. Both OCO and the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) have asked for the next agricultural policy framework to include financial supports for this. Quebec’s UPA (similar to Ontario’s OFA) has also made a similar request.

Without comparable supports and funding, Canada’s organic sector will not grow at the same pace as other regions, and will be at a competative disadvantage. Yet organic demand in Canada continues to grow. By limiting dedicated supports for Organic, Canada sets itself up for an ever increasing reliance on organic imports.

Should Canada adopt a transitional organic standard and develop supports to cover certification costs for new organic producers? Let us know what you think.

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