New Jersey Helps Pay for Organic Certification
New Jersey has decided to start paying for up to 75% of the costs to organic certification. This is a great idea and fairly simple to implement.
Since New Jersey has about 75-100 certified organic producers, the overall expense will be relatively minor. It will be seen as the state actually trying to help the organic farming industry.
I, for one, would like to see more of this type of help from states to defray some of the costs of organic certification.
Organic farming certification costs borne, in part, by New Jersey
Interest in organic farming has been increasing in recent years due to concerns about residues remaining on crops, according to advocates for sustainable food and agriculture.
The market for organic crops is increasing as well, said Justine Cook, organic farming conservation and technical services specialist at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey.
“It’s a good thing,” she said.
To help meet demand and promote organic food products, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture has joined with the federal government to reduce the cost of organic certification through a cost-sharing program.
Those who qualify are eligible for reimbursement of up to 75 percent of costs associated with certification, up to $750, including fees and charges levied by the certifying agent.
Cook said New Jersey is home to 70 to 100 certified organic farms.
Those farmers began receiving notifications of the program in the days following the announcement.
“I’m open to anything that’s an opportunity to keep a little more money in your pocket,” said Alex Sawatzky, who runs an organic community-supported agriculture farm at Sandbrook Farm in Delaware Township.
Cook said the certification process might require proof that land was free of chemical or pesticides and a recording of crops.
The land Sawatzky farms did not have chemicals introduced to it and the property owners had to sign off that it had been like that for 10 years. He is subject to annual inspections and review. “There’s a 36-month transfer period” for a farmer starting organic practices, Cook said. However, if those practices have already been followed, Cook said, it takes only four to six months to review an application.
Typically, an inspector is sent out to the farm to see if the farmer has been following its organic system plan, Cook said.
Sawatzky decided to go certified organic last year, even though he was essentially operating that way before. However, he was not able to legally represent his crops as organic before certification.
“It means something to them,” he said of customers that look for certified crops.
He said he went through the state Department of Agriculture to obtain certification because it was less expensive than going to a private company.
Sawatzky said there is a battle between locally grown neighborhood crops and certified organic crops being imported from distant farms.
Has the designation helped?
“Hard to say,” Sawatzky said, noting that the increased customer base may be due to his community-supported agriculture operation becoming more established.
“In the process of becoming certified, we have met a lot of nice and interesting people,” said Gary Bechtold, who runs the small Holland View Farm in Holland Township.
“They are trying to promote organic certification so I think (the program) is a good thing,” Bechtold said, adding that his farm is certified in crops and eggs.
He said that certified organic products are much more expensive to produce.
“An example is that we pay $28-$30 for a bag of certified organic chicken feed while standard feed can be found for $12-$13 per bag,” he said. “Our eggs are certified organic but most people don’t want to pay twice the price for them.”
“There is a benefit to the environment and the community to be a certified organic farm, but so far not a financial benefit to the farmer,” Bechtold said.
Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, called certified organic farming a component of all New Jersey agriculture has to offer.
“It’s a highly advantageous program,” he said.
To qualify for the program, an organic producer must have been certified or incurred expenses for the continuation of certification Oct. 1, 2012, through September 2013. Certification must be through a certifying agent accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Farms may receive one reimbursement per certification or category of certification per year.
Applications are due by Nov. 19. Visitnj.gov/agriculture/grants/organiccostshare.html for an application and more information. Or contact Debra McCluskey at Debra.McCluskey@ag.state.nj.us or 609-984-2225.