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Organic Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Amaya Atucha

Federal support is bringing new production systems and researchers to organic agriculture in the upper Midwest

Dr. Amaya Atucha is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), specializing in crop ecophysiology and production of small fruit and cold climate viticulture. Until recently she had not worked with organic production systems. “One of the reasons why I was not working on organic production,” she explains, “is because of the difficulty of being able to produce organic fruit in climates like the upper midwest.”

While strawberries represent the third largest fruit crop in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin ranks in the top 10 states for organic production in the United States, organic strawberry production is negligible in the region. This is despite what preliminary research shows: that there is an interest among growers in organic strawberry production, there is an excess demand from consumers in the region, and premium prices are being fetched for organic strawberries at local markets.

Dr. Atucha’s current research project, Transitioning to organic day-neutral strawberry production in the upper midwest – A systems approach, funded by USDA/NIFA’s Organic Transitions Program (ORG), has provided opportunities for her to expand her research into organic production and is providing growers with research-based information on the profitability of new production systems for organic strawberries.

 “Something that I would share with other researchers like me who were not doing any research on organic production is that if you want to expand on organic production and you might not feel that you are an expert, the ORG is a wonderful opportunity to get your foot into doing organic research. It will allow you to become an expert and become familiar with organic practices, and then to expand into these great production systems that can have fantastic benefits for our stakeholders.”  -Dr. Amaya Atucha

To help increase organic production of strawberries, the project is taking a systems approach. The production system currently used in the region is a perennial matted row system that increases weed, insect, and disease pressure over multiple seasons that are challenging to control with organic practices. Her project proposes a shift from a perennial to an annual production system, and is evaluating yields, pest pressure, fruit quality, and profitability of day-neutral strawberries grown on four different mulches.

To keep up to date on this research project, visit UW’s Fruit Program website. See an excerpt from OFRF’s conversation with Dr. Amaya Atucha about the importance of the ORG program for her research and farmers in her region here:

This research is funded by the USDA/NIFA’s Organic Transitions Program. To learn more about OFRF’s advocacy work to protect and increase this type of funding, and how you can help become an advocate for organic farming with us, see our Advocacy page.

By |2023-11-28T17:23:25+00:00November 28th, 2023|Education, News|

TOPP West Resources

The Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP)

Farmers across the U.S. may now receive up to $750 per scope for organic certification costs

As a farmer or a technical service provider to farms, you understand the importance of organic certification. It not only adds value to your products but also opens doors to a growing market of health-conscious consumers. However, the process of obtaining and maintaining organic certification can be costly. The good news is that financial assistance is available through the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) to help ease this burden. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the basic steps to access up to $750 in financial assistance for each organic certification scope, covering expenses paid between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023.

Note: all of this information is summarized in printable, downloadable PDF’s, available in English and Spanish, at the bottom of this blogpost.

Nota: toda esta información se resume en archivos PDF imprimibles y descargables, disponibles en inglés y español, al final de esta publicación de blog.

1. Start with Research

Before diving into the application process, it’s wise to build up some knowledge of the program and who you will apply to. The OCCSP is administered by the USDA, and their website provides a wealth of general information. Additionally, some states have their own supplements to the program. If you’re in Arizona, California, or Texas, consider checking your state’s agriculture agency website for state-specific resources.

Below are factsheets from the USDA about the OCCSP, one in English and one in Spanish.

2. Finding the Right Application 

Certified organic operations can apply for OCCSP assistance through their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office or, in some cases, through a participating State Agency. Here’s how to proceed:

Through FSA: If you choose to apply through the FSA, you’ll need to use their specific OCCSP application form and follow the instructions provided. This ensures that your application is processed smoothly and efficiently.

Through a State Agency: If your state participates in the OCCSP, you likely have the option to apply through your state agency. In this case, use the application form provided by your state’s program. States like Arizona and California have their own forms, while Texas offers an online application platform along with a Request for Assistance (RFA) providing information.

3. Gathering Financial Information

To access government payments through OCCSP, you’ll need to provide certain financial information. The information must be provided in the correct format, depending on how you are applying. Here’s a brief explanation of the options in the Southwest: 

FSA: If you’re applying through the FSA, they typically require an IRS W-9 form as part of your application.

California: In California, you’ll need to complete a Payee Data Record Form as part of your application.

Arizona: In Arizona, they require an AZ W-9 form to be submitted along with your application.

Texas: If you’re applying through Texas’ online platform, you’ll need to provide a Tax ID to operate on their system, obtain one here.

4. Compiling Required Documents

Alongside your application and financial information, you’ll also need to include certain documents:

  • A copy of your organic certification.
  • Proof of payment for your certification fees.
  • Itemized receipts for any other covered expenses related to organic certification that you’re seeking reimbursement for.

Covered expenses under the OCCSP include application fees, inspection costs, fees related to equivalency agreement/arrangement requirements, travel/per diem for inspectors, user fees, sales assessments, and postage. However, covered expenses do not include equipment, materials, supplies, transitional certification fees, late fees, and inspections necessary to address National Organic Program regulatory violations.

5. Submission

Once you’ve gathered all the required information and documents, it’s time to submit your OCCSP application. Double-check your application to ensure everything is complete and accurate. Ensure you send this information to the appropriate state or federal agency office based on your chosen application method.

The OCCSP can be a valuable resource for farmers and technical service providers seeking financial assistance for their organic certifications. By following these steps and meeting the program’s requirements, you can access up to $750 to support your commitment to organic farming practices.

For more detailed information and access to specific application forms, be sure to visit the OCCSP USDA website or consult your state’s agriculture agency website if they operate their own OCCSP program (Arizona, California, Texas). Your organic journey just got a little more affordable.

Apply for OCCSP assistance now, and reap the benefits of a more affordable path to organic certification. Your commitment to organic farming deserves the support it needs.

All of this information is summarized in a printable, downloadable PDF below, available in English and Spanish.


OFRF's OCCSP Factsheet

OCCSP Español

OFRF's OCCSP Factsheet (Español)

By |2023-10-25T19:12:59+00:00September 26th, 2023|News, TOPP West|
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