Now is the Moment to Help OFRF Support Organic Farmers

Sunflowers at Hirzel FarmsEvery five years a U.S. Farm Bill is voted into law by Congress, directing hundreds of billions of dollars to flow into the food and agriculture systems.

The 2023 Farm Bill is right around the corner and now is the moment to act.

Help support farmers and advance organic agriculture in the 2023 Farm Bill. Thanks to a generous donor, contributions made today will be matched dollar for dollar up to $5,000!

OFRF heard loud and clear from organic and transitioning farmers and ranchers about their needs in the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda and OFRF touring ARS fields with member of Congresswill be focusing our 2023 Farm Bill efforts on the following to address the challenges they are facing:

  • Increase the amount of funds dedicated to organic research at the USDA.
  • Push organic agriculture as a climate solution across USDA agencies and ensure organic and transitioning farmers receive resources they need to be successful.
  • Support the expansion of organic farming systems.

Together we can ensure organic farmers are properly supported for the following five years. And remember, the work to affect policy change isn’t just needed in the six months before a Farm Bill, but instead it requires constant pressure, collaboration, education, commenting, and relationship-building all year long.

There are many ways to give to OFRF. And don’t forget: donate today and your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, thanks to a generous donor.

By |2022-05-10T22:13:48+00:00May 10th, 2022|News|

Free Webinar Shares Findings from 2022 National Organic Research Agenda

Join us online as OFRF Research & Education Manager Thelma Vélez, PhD, discusses results from the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda (NORA).

This free webinar from OFRF and eOrganic takes place on Thursday, May 5, 2022 at 11AM Pacific / 12PM Mountain / 1PM Central / 2PM Eastern Time. Advance registration is required.

“The 2022 NORA is the most comprehensive and thorough iteration of OFRF’s national farmer studies to date. Over 1,100 organic producers gave us their opinions and the stories the data tells is striking. We need to continue building capacity for organic growers across the nation and developing programs and policies to support them,” said Vélez.

About the Webinar
The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) regularly surveys organic growers, farmers, ranchers across North America to understand their challenges and research needs. The findings are published in the National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) report, which informs OFRF research, education and advocacy programs and has also historically served as a critical roadmap to inform the USDA and Congress on how to leverage public investments in organic research and technical assistance. In 2019-2020, OFRF surveyed over 1,000 farmers and held 16 focus groups with both established certified organic growers and transitioning growers. In this presentation we will summarize the findings of the most recent NORA report.

Survey respondents provided input and perspectives on their current organic production systems, including the use of regenerative soil health management practices, water conservation, organic inputs, and organic seed. Findings confirm that organic producers lead the nation in adoption of soil health management and climate-friendly practices. The 2022 NORA also examines current farmer concerns in organic agriculture, farmers’ preferred sources and modes for information-sharing, and the impacts of COVID on organic producers. Respondents also shared their production and non-production challenges, which OFRF then analyzed by region, farming experience, and race/ethnicity.

By |2022-05-02T20:34:38+00:00May 2nd, 2022|News|

Organic Producers Lead the Nation in Soil Health Practices

Organic production starts with healthy soils which regulate water, sustain plant and animal life, filter and buffer potential pollutants, manage nutrients, and provide physical structure to support strong plant roots. According to the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda (NORA), organic producers lead the nation in adoption of soil health and environmental stewardship practices. Such practices include cover cropping, crop rotations, and perennial conservation plantings.

Cover crop plants include legumes (such as clover, vetch, peas, and beans) and non-legumes (including cereals, grasses, and broadleaf species). Approximately 76% of organic field crop farmers plant cover crops regularly; in contrast, only 10% of conventional field crop farmers follow this soil-building practice.

The National Organic Program (NOP) defines crop rotation as “the practice of alternating the annual crops a grown on a specific field in a planned pattern or sequence.” Approximately 63% of 2022 NORA respondents reported using crop rotations very often. Among transitioning to organic farmers, three-quarters of respondents participate very often in crop rotations. In addition, 83% of transitioning farmers reported using soil-building intercropping practices as well.

To conserve biodiversity, organic producers also implement perennial conservation plantings. Nearly three-quarters of 2022 NORA survey respondents reported maintaining some of their certified land in one or more of the following:

  • buffer strips and border rows
  • hedgerows, windbreaks or shelter belts
  • wildflower strips
  • other plantings such as woodland, prairie, or natural areas.

Perennial conservation plantings promote beneficial and pollinator habitat, reduce the wind and water erosion, intercept runoff and pesticide drift, and enhance soil health and sequesters carbon within the area covered by perennial vegetation.

One National Organic Research Agenda respondent stated, “Soil is very important, and it is the building block of everything else. And if you treat it poorly, it will pay you poorly for years to come. If you treat it well, it will serve you well. You have to be constantly vigilant on your soil, and it is pretty darn important.” 

Soil health and organic farming guide books are available online to help beginning farmers implement practices such as cover cropping and  also provide additional information for more experienced producers.

By |2022-04-22T20:35:56+00:00April 22nd, 2022|News|

Staff Spotlight on OFRF’s Deputy Director

Dominica Navarro Martinez (she/ella/they) is OFRF’s new Deputy Director. She brings to this role an extensive background in nonprofit management, finance, administration, and strategic programmatic development. She has direct organic farming experience and previously worked for OFRF in an office management and programs capacity from 2015-2018.

Dominica currently resides in Central Oregon with her family and dog Xochitl (pronounced Sochi), and enjoys sailing, hiking, seeking out hot springs in remote locations, growing food, and processing and preserving goods her family has grown, foraged, caught, or hunted.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a Chicana Borinqueña (Mexican and Puerto Rican American) with a strong food culture. I was raised in Southern California where I grew up cooking with family, sailing the pacific coast, and traveling Mexico.


I’ve always had a close relationship with my food and after a decade of veganism and two degrees from the University of California Santa Cruz (specializing in food, agriculture and social justice), I have devoted my professional career to food systems work. At home, I have a vegetable garden on an eighth of an acre where I grow using organic principles.

Why do you care about organic farming and/or organic research?

Organic agriculture is important to me because it protects people and the planet. I personally don’t agree with agricultural systems that depend upon toxic pesticides to grow food. Food is meant to nourish us, not make workers and consumers sick or poison natural ecosystems. Organic research is especially important because we must also learn to meet the growing demand for organic foods and growing pest pressure.

Who is your farming, research and/or food hero – and why?

My food hero is all the abuelitas (grandmothers) out there who have held onto their strong food cultures and who continue to share it with their loved ones. I am always amazed at how much knowledge we as a society have lost in the last few generations when it comes to food preparation and preservation. Some things should take time and be made with lots of love, food is one of them!

What are you excited about working on at OFRF?

It’s exciting to be a part of such a small yet mighty organization making real strides in the organic sector. From educational materials, to research grants, to federal policy feats, OFRF is always pushing for better representation and support for organic farmers. As a returning staff member, I am once again proud to be a part of this work!

By |2022-04-13T17:35:59+00:00April 12th, 2022|News|

2022 National Organic Research Agenda and 2022 State of Organic Seed Reports Released


As the Organic Industry Booms, Grower Challenges and Seed Needs Loom Large
Two new assessments underscore the need for targeted investments in organic research

(SANTA CRUZ, Calif., March 15, 2022) — Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) are proud to announce the release of the National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) and State of Organic Seed (SOS). The two reports are published every five years to examine organic farming challenges across the U.S., identify research needs, and better understand the organic seed needs of producers.

The organic food market experienced incredible growth in 2020, with sales surpassing $56 billion, a 12 percent increase from 2019. The organic seed market has also grown in recent years due to this demand for organic food as well as a dramatic rise in gardening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reports released today provide comprehensive assessments and recommendations for ensuring the ongoing growth and success of organic farming in the U.S. Specifically, NORA details organic research needs with the goal of informing future investments that support the success of organic farmers and ranchers and those transitioning to organic production. SOS details trends in organic seed sourcing, challenges faced by organic seed producers, public investments in organic plant breeding, and more.

In 2019, OFRF and OSA were jointly awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) for the NORA and SOS projects. The following year, OFRF and OSA launched a national survey of organic farmers and ranchers, in addition to a survey targeting transitioning-to-organic operations, to better understand these producers’ challenges, needs, and perspectives. More than 1,100 producers responded to the survey and an additional 100 producers attended 16 listening sessions across the country. Overall, farmer participation reflected the same demographics of those in the U.S. farming sector as documented in the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Services 2019 Organic Survey.

Highlights from the National Organic Research Agenda

“Organic farming has been historically under-invested in, in terms of research, education and extension,” says OFRF Executive Director Brise Tencer. “The 2022 National Organic Research Agenda presents incredible feedback directly from organic farmers and provides a compelling roadmap for how to best support the growth of this important sector of agriculture.”

Survey respondents provided input and perspectives on their current organic production systems, including the use of regenerative soil health management practices, water conservation, organic inputs, and organic seed. Findings confirm that organic producers lead the nation in adoption of soil health management and climate-friendly practices. The 2022 NORA also examines current farmer concerns in organic agriculture, farmers’ preferred sources and modes for information-sharing, and summarizes the impacts of COVID on organic producers.

Respondents also shared their production and non-production challenges, which OFRF then analyzed by region, farming experience, and race/ethnicity. This particular NORA compares the experiences of both Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and White farmers, and reveals BIPOC producers are experiencing many organic production challenges and at a higher rate than their White counterparts.

In addition to identifying gaps in current organic and transitioning-to-organic production challenges, NORA highlights farmer-identified solutions and strategies shared during its focus group discussions. NORA also provides comprehensive recommendations to guide OFRF’s research and policy initiatives. Proposed investments and focus areas include, but are not limited to, technical assistance, organic research, and racial equity programming.

Highlights from State of Organic Seed

The State of Organic Seed report is part of an ongoing project to monitor organic seed systems in the U.S. More than ever, organic seed is viewed as the foundation of organic integrity and an essential component to furthering the principles underpinning the organic movement. Every five years, SOS serves as a progress report and action plan for increasing the organic seed supply while fostering seed grower networks and policies that aim to decentralize power and ownership in seed systems.

The update released today includes substantially more data than the 2016 report, including a deeper examination of organic seed producer/company challenges and their networks. This and other data can be explored through an interactive website where users can sort five data sets by region, crop type, and other identifiers (see:

Organic farmers produce food differently, and that means they need different seed for the crops they grow – seed developed to thrive without synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and adapted to their local climate and soil conditions. Organic seed is also a regulatory requirement. The USDA’s National Organic Program requires the use of organic seed when commercially available.

Unfortunately, OSA’s recent findings show no meaningful improvement in organic producers using more organic seed compared to five years ago. This lack of progress puts at risk the viability of the organic seed industry and the integrity of the organic label. In particular, the largest organic operations still use relatively little organic seed, and data suggests that organic certifiers’ enforcement of the organic seed requirement could be strengthened.

However, OSA’s data points to progress in other areas, including public investments going toward organic plant breeding and other organic seed research initiatives. More than $39 billion have been invested in these types of projects in the last five years alone. This represents the largest public investment in organic seed systems that OSA has ever recorded. More organic plant breeders are having success releasing new varieties as well.

“The findings are clear, and they underscore the urgent need to modernize organic seed policy, support the success of existing and new seed producers, and confront the dire risks climate change poses to our seed supply,” says OSA’s Kiki Hubbard, lead author of the report.

Each report is available online at and


Download this Press Release (214 KB, PDF)

Media Contacts
Caroline Baptist, Organic Farming Research Foundation,, (831) 204-8116
Kiki Hubbard, Organic Seed Alliance,, (406) 544-8946

About Organic Farming Research Foundation
Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) works to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production.

About Organic Seed Alliance

Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) works nationally to advance ethical seed solutions to meet food and farming needs in a changing world. Through research, education, and advocacy, OSA fosters organic seed systems that are democratic and just, support human and environmental health, and deliver genetically diverse and regionally adapted seed to farmers.

By |2022-03-15T16:47:34+00:00March 15th, 2022|News, Press Release|

Federal Funding for Organic Research for the Current Fiscal Year 2022

By Ferd Hoefner, OFRF policy advisor

On March 9, Congress finally produced the government funding bill for the fiscal year that started last October. Since October the government has been funding by a series of continuing resolutions that tracked the previous year’s budget amounts. Congress will now vote on the new final appropriations bill over the course of the next week, at which point it will be signed into law by the President. With April 1, the halfway point of every federal fiscal year, close at hand, it thankfully will not be held up any longer, and hope springs eternal that they would finish the annual appropriations process by the September 30 deadline each year.

The following are some brief bill highlights from the organic research perspective:

Organic Transitions Research – After winning a $1 million increase last year, we were successful in adding another half million increase this year, bringing the Fiscal Year 2022 (FY 22) total to $7.5 million. In report language added by the Senate, USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is directed to focus the increase on the role of organic in mitigating climate change.

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education  – Though not an organic-only research and extension program, SARE was an early and continues to be a regular contributor to organic research. Following on a $3 million increase last year, the new bill for FY 22 includes another $5 million increase, bringing the total for the current year to $45 million for this NIFA competitive grants program.

Agriculture and Food Research InitiativeAFRI, by far the largest of the NIFA competitive grants programs, does not contribute nearly as much to organic farming research as it should, but has nonetheless been an occasional source of organic-specific funding or more frequently research that may contribute to organic systems less directly. It will receive its third straight $10 million annual increase, to reach $445 million for FY 22. In its report language, the Senate also directs NIFA to increase the number of organic research projects funded under AFRI, so that will bear watching as grants are awarded later this year.

Agricultural Research Service – While the final FY 22 bill does not include any specific funding provisions for organic farming research by the federal labs and field stations that make up ARS, earlier House report language requires the agency to develop a five-year plan for organic food and agricultural research encompassing all relevant crop, animal, nutrition, and natural resource national programs. We expect that plan to help bear fruit when Congress takes up the FY 23 agricultural appropriations bill later this year.

Organic Production and Market Data Initiative – The new bill includes level funding of $500,000 for the National Agricultural Statistics Service and an increase of $500,000, to a total of $1 million, for the Agricultural Marketing Service to further the objectives of the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative. Congress directs the increase for AMS to improve annual reporting by organic certifiers to calculate organic acreage and yield estimates more accurately on a country-by-country basis.

Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative – In an exciting comeback story, Congress is providing $14 million for the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI), a technical assistance and outreach program within the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s conservation technical assistance budget. Well managed grazing land is central to organic livestock and dairy production and plays a predominate role in climate change mitigation efforts. GLCI has not been funded by Congress for well over a decade, so its rebirth this year is a most welcome addition to the conservation and grazing toolbox.

By |2022-03-10T15:51:20+00:00March 10th, 2022|News|

Organic Agriculture Research Forum at EcoFarm Conference 2022

Organic Farming Research Foundation is hosting the 2022 Organic Agriculture Research Forum (OARF) at the 42nd Annual EcoFarm Conference. This year’s event will be held virtually, March 9-18, with field days scheduled in April-June 2022.

The following OARF workshops will be conducted online:

Research Report-Back: Soil Health on Organic Farms in the Central Coast
Tuesday, March 15, 1:15PM-2:30PM PT

Scientists from the UC Berkeley Soil Health Project will present the results of their soil ecology, bird ecology, and social science research on the topic of soil health on organic vegetable farms. We studied 18 organic farms to learn about different farming practices and innovations farmers are using to protect the soil. Organic lettuce and vegetable growers along the Central Coast of California use many different practices to support soil health, from cover cropping and composting to planting hedgerows. How does the farming model affect the challenges and opportunities for using soil health practices? How does the use of these practices impact nutrient cycling and soil carbon, suppression of foodborne pathogens in soil, and conservation of bird communities? In this session, we report back on our research over the past two years and share our findings on the benefits and challenges of implementing practices that build soil health.

Findings from the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda and Listening Session
***Presented by OFRF
Wednesday, March 16, 1:15PM-2:30PM PT

The Organic Farming Research Foundation regularly surveys organic growers, farmers, ranchers across North America to understand their challenges and research needs. They use these findings to publish the National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) report. This report informs OFRF research, education and advocacy programs and has also historically served as a critical roadmap to inform the USDA and Congress on how to leverage public investments in organic research and technical assistance. In 2019 OFRF surveyed over 1,000 farmers and held 16 focus groups with both established certified organic growers and transitioning growers. In this listening session we will summarize the findings of the most recent NORA report, and then open the floor for dialogue on the future needs within organic production systems.

Farmer to Farmer Panel on Soil Health/ Grupo de agricultor a agricultor sobre la salud del suelo
Thursday, March 17, 11:15AM-12:30PM PT (Note: En Español / In Spanish)

Two organic vegetable farmers with highly diversified organic production will share their experiences with using practices to build soil health. What works? What have they changed over time? And what challenges do they face that they are still working on? These two growers have participated in the UC Berkeley Soil Health Research project and will share some data about their farms in terms of soil microbial diversity and fertility as well as their reflections on how their farming practices have influenced these measurements.

Agricultores de productos orgánicos con alta diversidad en la producción orgánica compartirán sus experiencias con el uso de prácticas para crear la salud del suelo. ¿Qué es lo que funciona? ¿Qué es lo que ellos han cambiado a través del tiempo? Y, ¿cuáles son los retos en los cuales ellos todavía están trabajando? Estos tres agricultores han participado en el UC Berkeley Soil Health Research (proyecto de Investigación de la Salud del Suelo de UC Berkeley) y compartirán algo de los datos acerca de sus operaciones agrícolas en términos de la diversidad microbiana y la fertilidad, así como sus reflexiones sobre cómo sus prácticas agrícolas han influenciado estas medidas.

Controlling Spotted Wing Drosophila Organically
Friday, March 18, 1:15PM-2:30PM PT

Despite increasing pressure associated with SWD on a wide range of fruits, there are few organic options for its control. This session will explore research on integrated techniques that are proving effective without the use of prohibited insecticides. Some of these techniques include attractants, netting, trapping, biological control, and more. Because this pest is now widespread in soft fruit, fighting it is very important.

By |2022-03-09T15:54:00+00:00March 9th, 2022|News|

OFRF Engaged in Agency Discussions to Promote Reform

By Ferd Hoefner, OFRF policy advisor

Engaging with government agencies on topics of mutual interest is a critical aspect of working to advance improved public policy and resource allocations for organic farming. OFRF does that type of work on an ongoing basis. Two recent examples – concerning conservation and research – illustrate the point.

In February, OFRF hosted a working meeting with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff and a wide variety of organic stakeholders. Over 20 people participated, including representatives of NRCS, OFRF, the Organic Trade Association, National Organic Coalition, Organic Farmers Association, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and National Center for Appropriate Technology, among others.

It was the first organic stakeholders call on conservation programs in several years and OFRF was pleased to organize and facilitate the conversation. Participants dove into a variety of topics, including organic issues related to:

  • the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, including the organic initiatives, state allocations, participation rates, and conservation enhancements beneficial to organic systems;
  • the difficulty in finding organic certifiers who are interested in writing conservation plans and ways to expand outreach;
  • the recent transition from Conservation Activity Plans (including so-called CAP 138, the Transition to Organic CAP) to a more flexible, three-part framework of Conservation Planning Activities, Design and Implementation Activities, and Conservation Evaluation and Monitoring Activities;
  • the Conservation Reserve Program’s Organic Field Border Buffer Initiative;
  • the role of organic in USDA plans to promote climate-smart farming; and
  • emerging plans for a USDA organic transition initiative.

The conversation was lively and aided immensely by the knowledge, commitment and passion of Lindsay Haines, a 34-year NRCS veteran who serves as the agency’s National Organic and Pest Management Specialist and is herself a farmer. Coming out of the call, three subgroups were formed for follow-up conversations. One of those, on new and revised CSP enhancements to better serve organic farmers has already occurred in early March. At that time, OFRF consultant Mark Schonbeck shared with the group a detailed list of enhancements for agency consideration for the 2023 CSP enrollment year and beyond. A second small group, on issues related to Technical Service Providers and conservation planning activities will meet later in March. The third group, on organic’s role in climate mitigation will happen in early April.

OFRF has also been involved in agency discussions about organic research activities and funding with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. In 2021, OFRF had several meetings with ARS national program leaders as well as one with the agency head to prod the agency to develop a comprehensive plan for organic research and substantially ramp up funding. We proposed that today’s meager funding reach at least a pro rata share compared to organic’s position in the marketplace, which would come to about $100 million a year, about an eight-fold increase over current funding levels.

We are very pleased to report that recent meetings with ARS national program leaders have demonstrated a renewed commitment to organic farming research. A plan has been put together along with an associated budget.  It is still in the agency clearance process, so we have not yet seen the full details. We do know, however, that it would include organic systems research, research on diverse faming environments, climate mitigation research, and cross disciplinary research funds. Among the outcomes anticipated would be new crop varieties, innovative pest management techniques, new organic feed options, climate change mitigation advances, and post-harvest improvements. We commend ARS for taking our concerns to heart. OFRF will share a summary once the details become publicly available.

By |2022-03-09T14:04:23+00:00March 9th, 2022|News|

Staff Spotlight on OFRF’s Research & Education Program Manager

Thelma Velez, PhD (she/her/hers) is OFRF’s Research & Education Program Manager. Thelma joined Organic Farming Research Foundation in 2021 and brings over 12 years of experience in organic agriculture and sustainable food systems to the organization.

Thelma's Dog MochaWhen she isn’t working, Thelma enjoys cooking and baking, rock climbing, and making art. She resides in Florida with her family and dog Mocha (a Boykin Spaniel and Lab mix), and visiting the Everglades National Park (both pictured right).

Tell us about yourself.

I am a creative problem solver.
I love to cook and make things with my hands.
I am a Latina of Afro-Caribbean and Indigenous descent.

Why do you care about organic farming and/or organic research?

My mother exposed me to organic food in the early 90’s. When my friends were out eating fast food, my mother was insistent on feeding us healthy and organic salads, legumes, and home cooked meals. By the time organic became a health fad, I was already attuned to the deeper value of organic farming for the benefit of the environment and our many ecosystems. I choose organic for the planet, not just for my health.

Who is your farming, research and/or food hero – and why?

Sunrise at Flamigo Campground, Everglades National ParkMy farming and food-system hero is Leah Penniman, the founder and co-Director of Soul Fire Farm and author of Farming While Black. Leah is a pioneer, a visionary, and a doer, and I find her tenacity and drive inspiring. The mission and work being done at Soul Fire Farm is honorable and just, and to top it all off, she is a kind and compassionate human with a stellar smile.

What are you excited about working on at OFRF?

In terms of projects, I am excited about working to develop educational and research materials that help us support farmers. I enjoy working at OFRF because I see value in the work that we do with farming communities across the nation. I am also excited to work on ways to better engage diverse audiences and support BIPOC farmers and researchers.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I really appreciate (and like) the entire OFRF team. Our staff is great!

By |2022-02-08T21:15:17+00:00February 8th, 2022|News|

Crager Hager Farm – Sharing Insight on USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program

Bryan Hager with CollardsOrganic farmer and OFRF Board Chair Bryan Hager knows about organic farming and the process it takes to get certified. Hager and his wife Wendy own Crager Hager Farm, a diversified fruit and vegetable farm in Carroll County, Georgia. Their farm is a year-round operation that grows salad and cooking greens such as lettuce and spinach, and popular market items such as tomatoes, beans, squash, and cucumbers. Crager Hager Farm also grows apples, pears, and heirloom strawberries and blueberries. In total, the farm grows 120 varieties of vegetable and fruit crops.

Hager has been involved in farming most of his life, using organic practices since he was 16 years old. He started growing and selling for market in 2001 and certified organic in 2017. It was at this time that Hager first participated in the USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP). This important program provides reimbursement for agricultural producers and handlers who are obtaining or renewing their organic certification under the National Organic Program (NOP).

Bryan Hager eating corn.To participate in the program, eligible operations must submit their OCCSP applications to State agencies or to their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices. Crager Hager Farms took the latter approach and was the first operation in their county to apply for this program. Together, Crager Hager Farm and FSA navigated the application. The subsequent two years went well, but since then, the process has taken longer and longer to complete with reimbursement payments extremely delayed.

When Crager Hager Farms first applied to the cost share program, the USDA provided up to $750 in reimbursements which covered roughly 75% of the farm’s certification fees. Since then, the amount for Crager Hager Farm to certify organic has nearly doubled, though the OCCSP has reduced their cost share to $500.

For Crager Hager Farm, the financial and time costs of organic certification keep rising while the farm is getting smaller. The farm previously offered an internship program and employed five full-time employees in peak season. Over the last two years, the farm has scaled back their operations. Currently, they attend one farmers market and employee one part-time farm employee. The burdensome cost of certification and reduced funding from the cost share program has had its effect on Crager Hager Farm.

Bryan Hager with mushroom logThough the operational decision to downsize reflects a personal interest for Hager and his wife to invest their time elsewhere, Hager admits that running a farm has become increasingly more stressful. “Every year, there seems to be a new requirement to get certification,” says Hager. “The ‘time-cost’ and financial cost continues to go up on top of the problems with climate and changing markets. The increasing complexity of certification adds a lot of stress to being a farmer.”

Crager Hager Farm has dropped their USDA organic certification, though they still practice the same techniques that help improve soil fertility and grow nutritious produce free of synthetic inputs. “We’ve been committed to growing organically for 40 years, well before we got certified,” says Hager. They are an organic pioneer in their state and have a strong reputation at farmers markets that’s been cultivated over the years.

Today, Hager plans to rejoin the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) program, an independent grassroots initiative offering peer-review certification to farmers. More than 750 farmers and beekeepers participate in the CNG certification throughout the United States and Canada, though the USDA does not offer any cost share incentives for this process.

And although Crager Hager Farm has encountered issues with the Organic Certification Cost Share Program, Hager says, “If someone is considering getting certified, they should definitely look into the program as it can reduce some of the financial burden.”

By |2022-02-04T21:09:00+00:00February 4th, 2022|Farmer Stories, News|
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