Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops Program FAQ

Frequently asked questions about Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops Program (FSCSC).

Last Updated: June 16, 2022

USDA’s Farm Service Agency will accept FSCSC applications for calendar year 2022 from June 27, 2022, through January 31, 2023. Visit farmers.gov/food-safety to learn more. The application period for 2023 will be announced at a later date. 

About FSCSC

What is the Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops (FSCSC) program? 

USDA’s Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops (FSCSC) program provides assistance to specialty crop operations that incurred eligible on-farm food safety program expenses related to obtaining or renewing a food safety certification in calendar years 2022 and 2023.  
 
What USDA agency is administering FSCSC? 

FSCSC is administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). 
 
When does the signup period for FSCSC open and close? 

USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will accept FSCSC applications for 2022 from June 27, 2022 through January 31, 2023. The application period for 2023 will be announced at a later date.
 
Why was the FSCSC program established? 

The need to develop, implement, and maintain on-farm food safety programs has resulted in additional costs for many specialty crop operations that seek alternate markets for their products due to changes in demand from traditional markets such as restaurants and food service.  As they identify new markets, many specialty crop operations also find they need to undergo food safety audits and absorb the additional costs to achieve food safety certification through a private or government-based certification program in order to meet buyers’ requirements to sell their products. 

Are FSCSC funds a loan that must be repaid? Is there a fee to apply? 

No. FSCSC is not a loan program and there is no fee to apply. 
 
I haven’t previously participated in any USDA programs. Can I apply for FSCSC? 

Yes. Participation in other USDA programs is not a prerequisite to apply for FSCSC. 
 
Is there an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limit to receive FSCSC assistance? 

No, there is not an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limit in order to receive FSCSC assistance.

What is the funding source for FSCSC? 

Funding for FSCSC will be provided through the Commodity Credit Corporation.  
 

 

Eligibility

Who is eligible for FSCSC? 

To be eligible for FSCSC, you must be a specialty crop operation; a small business or very small business; and have obtained or renewed a:

  • 2022 food safety certification that was issued between June 21, 2022 and December 31, 2022
  • 2023 food safety certification issued during the 2023 calendar year
  • Be located in the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Have paid eligible expenses

FSCSC is open to specialty crop operations located in the United States and territories. Visit farmers.gov/food-safety for a full list of program eligibility requirements. 

 What is the definition of a small business or of a very small business? 

A small business means an applicant that had an average annual monetary value of specialty crops the applicant sold during the 3-year period preceding the program year of more than $250,000 but not more than $500,000.  

A very small business means an applicant that had an average annual monetary value of specialty crops the applicant sold during the 3-year period preceding the program year of no more than $250,000.

 

Eligible Expenses

What time period does FSCSC cover?

FSCSC provides assistance for eligible on-farm food safety certification and related expenses in order to obtain or renew expenses paid by the applicant during the 2020, 2021, and 2022 calendar years.   

  • 2022 food safety certification issued between June 21, 2022 and December 30, 2022
  • 2023 food safety certification issued at any time during the 2023 calendar year

A separate application must be submitted for each year. 

What specific expenses are eligible?

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
  • Training

What specific food safety plan expenses are eligible for first-time food safety certification?

A food safety plan is a requirement for any specialty crop operation or group undergoing formal food safety certification, and the majority of costs associated with food safety plan development occur the first year an operation undergoes food safety certification. FSCSC will cover a percentage of the costs of specialty crop operations developing their own plan or hiring a consultant. For specialty crop operations that develop their own plans, FSCSC will cover a percentage of the costs of seminars and tools used to create a food safety plan. For those that hire a consultant, FSCSC will cover a percentage of the consulting fees and other associated expenses.  

What is included for operations who are maintaining or updating their existing food plans?

Certification programs typically require an annual review of the food safety plan to ensure it is current and addresses any new audit or regulatory requirements, as well as incorporates any new hazards. FSCSC will cover a percentage of the costs of maintaining and updating existing food safety plans.

What specific food safety certification expenses are eligible?

FSCSC will cover a percentage of the cost of obtaining food safety certification issued by a certifier, including application fees, inspection costs, inspection fees (including travel costs and per diem for certifiers), user fees or certifier sales assessments, and postage.

What specific microbiological testing expenses are eligible?

FSCSC will cover a percentage of the cost of microbiological testing, up to five tests per category, for products, soil amendments, and water as specified by a food safety plan or food safety management system. 

The FSMA Produce Safety Rule requires covered farms to test their agricultural water, and commercial food safety standards may require additional testing to determine if water meets the microbial requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water standard. 

Retail, food service, and institutional buyers are also increasingly requiring microbiological testing of finished product.   

Testing of soil amendments, particularly amendments of animal origin (composting) is also required by many food safety audit programs.

What expenses are not eligible for FSCSC?

Ineligible expenses include infrastructure improvements, equipment, supplies, salaries and benefits, and fees or penalties for late payment.
 

 

Producer Payments

How will FSCSC payments be calculated for eligible producers? 
 
Payments will be equal to the applicant’s eligible expenses multiplied by the percentage for the applicable category in the table below, not to exceed the maximum payment amount for the category, if applicable.   

Category of Eligible Expenses Payment Amount of Eligible Costs 
Historically Underserved Farmer or Rancher  All other applicants 
Development of a food safety plan for first-time certification  75 percent (no maximum)  50 percent (no maximum) 
Maintaining or updating a food safety plan 75 percent, up to a maximum of $375 50 percent, up to a maximum of $250
Food safety certification 75 percent, up to a maximum of $2,000 50 percent, up to a maximum of $2,000
Certification upload fees 75 percent, up to a maximum of $375 50 percent, up to a maximum of $250
Microbiological testing - products 75 percent, up to 5 tests 50 percent, up to 5 tests
Microbiological testing - soil amendments 75 percent, up to 5 tests 50 percent, up to 5 tests
Microbiological testing-water 75 percent, up to 5 tests 50 percent, up to 5 tests
Training 100 percent, up to a maximum of $300 100 percent, up to a maximum of $200

An applicant must report any previous cost share assistance received for the expenses included on their application. The amount of the applicant’s FSCSC payment plus the reported additional cost share assistance cannot exceed the total amount of eligible expenses for each category.

My operation is certified as part of a group under a food safety management system. Can I still apply and how?

Yes. 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 you have incurred individually. You may be asked to provide documentation of your portion of the group’s expenses from the entity responsible for maintaining the group’s certification if requested by FSA.

What is the definition of a socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher?

A socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher is someone who is a member of a group whose members have been subject to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities. Groups include: American Indians or Alaskan Natives, Asians or Asian Americans, Blacks or African Americans, Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and women.

For entities requesting to be considered socially disadvantaged, at least 50% of the interest must be held by socially disadvantaged individuals.

What is the definition of a limited resource farmer or rancher?

A limited resource farmer or rancher is a farmer or rancher that meets the criteria for both of the following:

  • A producer whose direct or indirect gross farm sales do not exceed the amount identified in the Limited Resource Farmer/Rancher Self-Determination Tool in each of the two calendar years that precede the complete taxable year before the relevant program, adjusted upwards in later years for any general inflation, and
  • A producer whose total household income was at or below the national poverty level for a family of four in each of the same two previous years referenced above.

A limited resource farmer or rancher status can be determined through this self-determination tool: https://lrftool.sc.egov.usda.gov/.

For entities requesting to be considered limited resource farmer or rancher, all members must be a limited resource farmer or rancher.

What is the definition of a beginning farmer or rancher?

A beginning farmer or rancher is a person or legal entity for which both of the following are true for the farmer or rancher:

  • Has not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years, and
  • Materially and substantially participates in the operation.

For entities to be considered a beginning farmer or rancher, at least 50% of the interest must be beginning farmers or ranchers.

What is the definition of a veteran farmer or rancher?

A veteran farmer or rancher is a farmer or rancher who has served in the Armed Forces and who:

  • Has not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years total, or
  • Has obtained status as a veteran during the most recent 10-year period.

For entities requesting to be considered a veteran farmer or rancher, at least 50% of the interest must be held by veteran farmers or ranchers.

When are FSCSC payments expected to begin? 
 
FSA will issue payments for program year 2022 following application approval. For program year 2023, payments will be issued after the signup period has ended. USDA may prorate program year 2023 final payments if total calculated payments exceed the total funding allocated for FSCSC.
 
Is FSCSC a first-come, first-served program? Do I need to get my application in first to ensure there will be funding?

No. FSCSC is not a first-come, first-served program. FSA will issue payments for program year 2022 following application approval. For program year 2023, payments will be issued after the signup period has ended. USDA may prorate program year 2023 final payments if total calculated payments exceed the total funding allocated for FSCSC.

 Can FSCSC payments be withheld to satisfy a debt? 

Yes. These payments will be subject to administrative offset. This means the payments will be withheld to satisfy any USDA debts and be offset by Treasury. 
 
Are FSCSC payments going to be counted as taxable income? 

The Farm Service Agency reports program payments to the Internal Revenue Service and program participants on a CCC-1099-G. This report is a service to help program participants report taxable income. Please consult with the IRS or your tax preparer for any additional questions on how this income impacts your business.  

 

How to Apply

How can I prepare to apply for FSCSC? 
 
A full list of program eligibility requirements and information on applying is available at farmers.gov/food-safety. We recommend you review this list before initiating your application. 
 
Your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) staff will work with you to fill out the FSCSC application. Visit farmers.gov/service-locator to find contact information for the FSA office at your local USDA Service Center. FSA staff are available to support you in preparing your application. You may also call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee ready to offer assistance or answer any questions. 
 
How do I apply for FSCSC? 
 
You can apply for FSCSC through the FSA office at your local USDA Service Center. Visit farmers.gov/food-safety for a full set of application requirements, including forms that will be needed to finalize your application. USDA staff are available to assist with every step of your application process. 
 
Do I need to work with a third-party entity to complete my FSCSC application? 
 
No. USDA helps applicants complete program applications and other paperwork free of charge. USDA Service Center staff can guide you through the process of preparing and submitting required paperwork to apply for FSCSC on your own, with no need to hire a paid preparer. Language translation services are available in all USDA Service Centers, so one-on-one assistance with a Service Center employee can be translated in real time for applicants requiring translations. 
 
What documents do I need to submit with my FSCSC application? 
 
The forms needed to complete your FSCSC application are available for download at farmers.gov/food-safety. These include the program application form – FSA-888 – along with forms to confirm your personal information and certify compliance with USDA conservation compliance provisions, among others. If requested by FSA, you may need to provide supporting documentation to verify eligibility. 
 
What types of supporting documents may be required? 
 
If requested by USDA, you must provide documentation to verify eligibility and the information included on the application. Specialty crop operations certified as part of a group under a food safety management system must provide documentation of the applicant’s portion of the group’s expenses from the entity responsible for maintaining the group’s certification if requested by FSA.
 
My local USDA Service Center is not open for walk-in service. How does this impact how I’ll submit my application? 
 
We are committed to delivering USDA services while taking safety measures in response to the pandemic. Many USDA Service Centers are open for visitors, but some may remain open by appointment only. Contact your local Service Center to determine their open status or make an appointment. Service Center staff continues to work with agricultural producers via phone, email, and other digital tools. Please call the FSA office at your local USDA Service Center to schedule an appointment if you’d like assistance or have questions about applying for FSCSC.    
 
A call center is available for applicants who would like additional one-on-one support with the FSCSC application process over the phone. Please call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee ready to offer support. The call center can provide service to non-English speaking customers. Customers will select 1 for English and 2 for Spanish. For other languages, customers select 1 and indicate their language to the call center staff. 
 
I’ve never worked with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) previously. How do I connect with my local FSA office to get started with my application? 
 
There is an FSA office located in nearly every county across the United States. Visit farmers.gov/service-locator to find the contact information for your local office. We recommend you call your office to connect directly with FSA staff who can talk with you about the program, eligibility requirements, and how to apply. You may also contact our call center at 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee ready to offer support. At USDA, we are here to make your application process as easy as possible and will provide support every step of the way.