In what was a huge month for local and organic agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made major announcements in December, 2016, regarding federal reimbursement for Organic certification and relaxing marketing restrictions for farmers markets. Just as importantly, the USDA released a monumental report that revealed impressive economic benefits of local agriculture.
Starting on March 20, 2017, organic producers and handlers will be able to visit over 2,100 USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices around the country to apply for federal reimbursement to assist with the cost of receiving and maintaining organic or transitional certification.
“Organic [farmers] are getting recognized as important businesses to the local economy and will finally be able to have the same assistance large farms receive,” said Georgia Organics farm member Nicolas Donck of Crystal Organic Farms. “It feels great to be recognized.”
Previously, cost reimbursement was handled by state agencies like our incredible partners at the Georgia Department of Agriculture, who already work with Georgia Organics to provide cost-share reimbursement through our 200 Organic Farms Campaign. Unfortunately, according to the USDA, only half of the nation’s organic operations participated in the cost-share program.
Now, farmers will have more access to such resources.
“USDA is committed to helping the organic sector grow and thrive through a wide variety of programs, and part of that commitment is making it easy for stakeholders to access our services. That’s why, starting March 20, producers will be able to visit their local FSA offices to access organic certification cost-share reimbursements for up to 75 percent of the cost of organic certification,” said FSA Administrator Val Dolcini. “This will provide a more uniform, streamlined process nationwide; and it will give organic producers a chance to learn about other valuable USDA resources, like farm loans and conservation assistance that can help them succeed.”
Additionally, USDA released results of their first Local Food Marketing Practices Survey, an important step in gathering data to pinpoint positive trends in local food markets.
The survey found that more than 167,000 farms across the U.S. produced and sold food locally through direct marketing outlets. In 2015, this resulted in $8.7 billion in revenue.
The largest revenues, $3.4 billion, came from farmers selling at an intermediate level, such as through wholesalers that locally branded the products or food hubs.
The second largest category of revenues – $3 billion – came from direct-to-consumer sales, such as farmers markets.
That is just the beginning. With the USDA’s recent ruling that allows farmers markets to use federal funds to inform consumers of their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) acceptance and participation in other Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) programs, there is even more potential for this sector to grow.
“Lifting these restrictions will enable many farmers markets to increase their reach into the community, said Sagdrina Jalal, Executive Director of the Georgia Farmers Market Association. “GFMA believes that local food should be accessible to everyone; this rule change allows additional avenues for us to share what Georgia producers have to offer.”
Rachael Kane, the Program Director for Wholesome Wave Georgia, sees a major opportunity for farmers and consumers alike.
“All of our partner farmers markets and farmers will feel the impact of this change in promotion as the opportunity to use SNAP benefits at farmers markets will become common knowledge among recipients of federal nutrition assistance benefits, driving more customers to the markets and CSAs to purchase fresh, healthy, local food,” said Kane
In all, 2016 saw a boon for organic agriculture. It was also a watershed year for the USDA to acknowledge, and document with a comprehensive report, the vital roles that direct sales play in the economic realities of farmers. This is another way of saying “Know Your Farmer” has a meaning that transcends warm and fuzzy feelings we all experience at farmers markets.
Farmers who become members of Georgia Organics and participate in our 200 Organic Farms Campaign are also eligible to receive additional reimbursement funding, marketing support, and discounted passes to our annual conference.
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