Helping the Cash-Starved Wannabe Organic Farmer

California would create its own program to help the state’s farmers transition to certified organic farming which takes three years and contains a variety of costs.

The program would be similar to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, created in 2002. The federal program gives $5 million to state organic programs in proportion to the number of organic producers and handlers within each state.

What is envisioned by AB 1401, sent by lawmakers to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger September 10, is different in some key ways.

The bill, by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, a San Francisco Democrat, creates a fund to subsidize farmers’ costs in switching to organic.

Unlike the federal program, aid to individual farms is capped at no more than $250 per year. No single person, an owner of multiple farms for example, can receive more than $1,000 each year.

The federal program says up to 75 percent of certification costs, can be paid for, not to exceed $750.

Ma’s proposal also allows contributions from the organic industry and private citizens to be deposited in the fund in addition to federal money. The measure prohibits any financial support from the state’s cash-starved General Fund.

 The state Department of Food and Agriculture would administer the fund that reimburses farmers up to 25 percent of their certification costs during the first of the three years of the process.

Ma argues that the first year, when growers farm organically but can’t yet sell their produce as organic, creates a “cost hurdle.”

Assuming there is money in the fund, her bill would allow a farmer to help defray inspection fees, application fees and and annual fees. The money would be released on a first-come, first-served basis.

Besides the federal program, some organic growers have created transition  funds of their own. Organic Valley family of Farms, the nation’s largest independent, farmer-owned organic dairy collective, created a program to help dairy farmers make the transition to organic in 2005.

It’s a pocketbook issue for Organic Valley: More organic dairies increases the potential for more members of their cooperative.



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