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Are you a small or very small specialty crop producer? And have you had to pay costs to comply with regulatory food safety certification requirements or buyers’ food safety certification requirements? Then keep reading because the USDA has just announced plans to provide up to $200 million to help specialty crop growers offset eligible costs associated with obtaining or renewing required regulatory or market-driven food safety certifications for 2022 or 2023.
USDA’s new Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops (FSCSC) program is designed to offset costs for specialty crop producers to comply with regulatory requirements as well as market-driven food safety certification requirements. Specialty crop operations can apply for assistance for eligible expenses associated with on-farm food safety certificates issued on or after June 21, 2022. The FSCSC program 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. For each year, FSCSC covers a percentage of the specialty crop operation’s cost of obtaining or renewing their certification, as well as a portion of their related expenses. Socially disadvantaged, limited resource, beginning and veteran farmers and ranchers receive a higher payment rate for most of the eligible cost categories.
Eligible Specialty Crop Operations
To be eligible for the FSCSC program, you must:
be a specialty crop operation;
meet the definition of a small business or very small business (see below);
have obtained or renewed a 2022 food safety certification that was issued between June 21, 2022, and December 31, 2022, or a 2023 food safety certification that was issued during the 2023 calendar year; and
have paid (not just incurred) eligible expenses related to obtaining the certification.
A small business is an operation that sold an average of between $250,000 and $500,000 in specialty crops annually during the 3-year period preceding the program year. A very small business is an operation that sold an average of no more than $250,000 in specialty crops annually during the 3-year period preceding the program year.
Specialty crop operations that obtain food safety certification through a group model under a food safety management system are eligible to apply for assistance for their share of eligible expenses paid by the group, in addition to any eligible expenses they incur individually.
Eligible specialty crop operations can receive assistance for the following costs:
Developing a food safety plan for first-time food safety certification (e.g., costs of seminars, costs of hiring a consultant).
Maintaining or updating an existing food safety plan.
Food safety certification (e.g., application fees, inspection costs, user fees, inspection fees).
Certification upload fees (e.g., costs to upload audit reports and certification documentation into commercial audit databases as required by buyers).
Microbiological testing for products, soil amendments and water specified in a food safety plan or food safety management system.
FSCSC payments are calculated separately for each category of eligible costs based on the percentages and maximum payment amounts assigned to each above-listed category of cost. 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 https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/food-safety.
The program will also cover 100% of the costs of food safety training for specialty crop operations up to $300 for socially disadvantaged, limited resource, beginning, and veteran farmers or ranchers and up to $200 for all other specialty crop operations.
The program does not cover costs for infrastructure improvements, equipment, supplies, salaries and benefits, or fees or penalties for late payment.
The Farm Service Agency will issue payments for program year 2022 following approval of your application. For program year 2023, payments will be issued after the end of the application period. USDA may prorate 2023 final payments if calculated payments exceed the amount of available funding.
Applying for Assistance
The FSCSC application period for 2022 is June 27, 2022, through January 31, 2023. The application period for 2023 will be announced at a later date.
You can apply by completing the FSA-888, Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops (FSCSC) Program Application. Complete the form according to the FSA-888 instructions.
These forms will also be required if not already on file with FSA:
SF-3881, ACH Vendor/Miscellaneous Payment Enrollment Form. This form will be used to collect your banking information to allow USDA to make payments to you via direct deposit.
CCC-860, Socially Disadvantaged, Limited Resource, Beginning and Veteran Farmer or Rancher Certification (if applicable). This form allows you to certify that you, or the entity or joint operation, are a member(s) of a socially disadvantaged group; qualify as a limited resource producer(s); are beginning farmer(s) or rancher(s); or are veterans. Complete the form according to the CCC-860 instructions.
You might be required to provide additional documentation to FSA to substantiate the expenses reported on your application. Examples of supporting documentation include paid invoices, purchase receipts, test results, food safety plans, and certifications, and training documentation.
The application, along with other required documents, can be submitted to the FSA office at any USDA Service Center by mail, fax, hand delivery, or via your eAuthentication account at FSCSC Application Portal.
Visit farmers.gov/service-locator if you need to find your local FSA office.
Specialty crop producers can call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee.
Visit https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/food-safety for additional program details, eligibility information and the forms needed to apply.