Jun 17, 2022
USDA specialty crop program offsets up to $200 million in food safety costs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing specialty crop growers up to $200 million to offset certain expenses incurred to receive food safety certification.

The USDA’s new Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops (FSCSC) program covers new or renewed certifications in 2022 and 2023. The funds are intended to help producers comply with regulatory requirements and market-driven food safety certification requirements, according to USDA news release.

It’s part of the agency’s broader effort to transform the food system to create a more level playing field for small and medium producers and a more balanced, equitable economy for everyone working in food and agriculture, according to the release.

Specialty crop operations can apply for assistance for eligible expenses related to a 2022 food safety certificate issued on or after June 21, beginning June 27. The program is designed to provide an emphasis on equity in program delivery while building on lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and supply chain disruptions.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the program June 17 at a Hollis, New Hampshire family farm, highlighting USDA’s efforts to help reduce costs for farmers and provide funding to cut regulatory costs and increase market opportunities to specialty crop growers.

“The ongoing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic have created substantial financial challenges for small and very small producers to meet regulatory requirements and access additional markets,” Vilsack said. “These challenges were particularly acute for specialty crop producers, many of whom needed to quickly and completely pivot their operations as demand shifted away from traditional markets, like restaurants and food service.

“As we build back better, our food systems must be both more inclusive and more competitive,” he said. “By helping mitigate the costs of on-farm food safety certification, the FSCSC program will support fair, transparent food systems rooted in local and regional production and provide small-scale producers a real opportunity to bring home a greater share of the food dollar and help create jobs.”

Program Details

FSCSC will assist specialty crop operations that incurred eligible on-farm food safety certification and related expenses related to obtaining or renewing a food safety certification in calendar years 2022 and 2023.

The FSCSC covers a percentage of the specialty crop operation’s cost of obtaining or renewing food safety certification, as well as a portion of their related expenses.

To be eligible for FSCSC, applicants must be a specialty crop operation; meet the definition of a small business or very small business; and have paid eligible expenses related to the 2022 (issued on or after June 21, 2022) or 2023 certification.

Specialty crop operations may receive assistance for the following costs:

  • Developing a food safety plan for first-time food safety certification
  • Maintaining or updating an existing food safety plan
  • Food safety certification
  • Certification upload fees
  • Microbiological testing for products, soil amendments and water
  • Training

FSCSC payments are calculated separately for each category of eligible costs. A higher payment rate has been set for socially disadvantaged, limited resource, beginning and veteran farmers and ranchers. Details about the payment rates and limitations can be found at farmers.gov/food-safety.

Applying for Assistance

The FSCSC application period for 2022 is June 27-Jan. 31, 2023, and the application period for 2023 will be announced at a later date. FSA will issue payments at the time of application approval for 2022 and after the application period ends for 2023. If calculated payments exceed the amount of available funding, payments will be prorated.

Interested specialty crop producers can apply by completing the FSA-888, Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops Program (FSCSC) application. The application, along with other required documents, can be submitted to the FSA office at any USDA Service Center nationwide by mail, fax, hand delivery or via electronic means. Producers can visit farmers.gov/service-locator to find their local FSA office. Specialty crop producers can call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee ready to assist.

Producers can visit farmers.gov/food-safety for additional program details, eligibility information and forms needed to apply.

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