USDA is funneling more assistance to producers looking to maintain their organic certification as the department also stands up a new grant program to develop markets for the products.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the new investments in remarks to the Organic Trade Association Wednesday in Washington. The investments – a new $75 million grant program and an increased cost share within the existing organic certification program – are meant to signal USDA’s overall feelings toward the organic industry, he said.

“This was reflective of a desire to send a message to the organic community that we understand and appreciate the important role that you all are playing not only in providing quality and nutritious and healthy food, but as importantly creating a value-added opportunity for farmers,” Vilsack said.

The grants will come from the Organic Market Development Program, which USDA said in a release is “intended to increase the consumption of domestic agricultural commodities by aiding in the expansion of markets or development of new markets, marketing facilities, and uses for such commodities.”

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will take grant applications through July 10. AMS is particularly encouraging “applications that serve smaller farms and ranches, new and beginning farmers and ranchers, underserved producers, veteran producers and underserved communities.”

USDA has also opted to raise the support provided through the Organic Certification Cost Share Program to the maximum amount allowed under the law; the department will share the cost of up to 75% of the costs associated with organic transitioning, including up to $750 per category (crops, wild crops, livestock, processing/handling and State organic program fees); last year, USDA’s Farm Service Agency capped the assistance at 50% and $500 per category.

OCCSP applications will open on Monday and close at the end of October.

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In a statement, the Organic Trade Association said the OCCSP is “critical for attracting new, young farmers to organic.” Securing additional funding is also a farm bill priority for the organization headed into farm bill reauthorization.

As for the grants, OTA said the program would help the industry meet its growing consumer needs.

“The demand for organic is strong. So strong that it oftentimes outpaces infrastructure development needed for organic farmers and businesses to fully expand their markets,” OTA said in a release. “Lack of processing capacity and aggregation facilities, uncertain market access, and an insufficient supply of certain organic ingredients are all challenges that organic has to face in identifying and developing its markets.”

During his remarks, Vilsack also said the funds for the previously announced Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program should be available by the end of the month. He said the department has “a couple of concerns from a legal standpoint that we have to work through in terms of the actual language of the (notice of funding availability.”

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