Farmers discuss organic certification cost share program

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COLUMBIA - While some farmers believe the National Organic Cost Share Program offers incentive for businesses to become certified organic, others aren't so sure the incentives are large enough to overcome the long process involved.

Liz Graznak, owner of Happy Hollow Farm, an organically certified farm in Jamestown, Missouri, said the cost share program is beneficial to organic farmers but doesn't necessarily offer incentives for new farmers to become certified.

"You have to be really invested and know for sure that you're going to be raising food, produce and meat for the long haul. It's too much of a long-term commitment, she said. "Once you've made the decision to become organic, then I would hope that knowing that there's a cost share program out there and that it's available, maybe that would be an incentive to become certified organic."

Graznak said the company she goes through to become certified each year asks for a flat fee, with an additional percentage of the farmer's annual sales. 

"Me, as a small scale vegetable grower in Missouri, I'm not paying the same amount to be certified as like a thousand-acre almond farm in Texas. We all pay the flat fee but the remaining amount is a percentage of our sales," Graznak said.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture announced in late March that funds were available for the 2015 National Organic Cost Share Program through the United States Department of Agriculture.

The Missouri Department of agriculture announced it received more than $127,000 in funds to reimburse farmers and food processors for organic certifications.

The USDA Organic Certification Cost Share Program provides as much as 75% for the certification expenses, up to $750.

Some farmers don't believe that being certified organic offers additional benefit to their operation. 

The Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture is not certified organic but does use organic practices in growing their crops. 

Billy Polanski, executive director of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, said it does not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides at his farm. 

"For us, we're right here in the city and we're a very transparent, accessible operation. People can come here and see exactly what we're doing. All of our sales are direct to the consumer. Where organic is really important is where you're not selling directly to your consumer," Polanski said. 

Polanski said organic certification offers grocery stores a third-party verification that their products are organic, something that his operation does not need.

He said, considering the costs and paperwork that go into becoming organically certified, the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture does not see an additional benefit to become certified organic. 

"We're not going to get higher prices. It's not going to change our practices. For other growers, there's definitely benefits. But for the types of sales we do, we won't see a benefit," Polanski said. 

Graznak said while the cost share program is helpful for farmers, there's a lot of things that need to change in the food system and in consumers' views of organic food to benefit organic farms in the future. 

For farmers to participate in the program, businesses must obtain or renew their certifications, complete an application and document certification costs before September 30.