Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Last Updated: November 8, 2021 

USDA’s Farm Service Agency will accept OTECP applications for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 from November 8, 2021, through January 7, 2022. Visit farmers.gov/otecp to learn more. 

About OTECP

Q: What is the Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program? 

A: USDA’s Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP) provides assistance for certified operations and transitional operations that incurred eligible expenses in fiscal years 2020, 2021, and/or 2022. This includes eligible certification expenses, eligible transitional expenses, educational event registration fees, and soil testing for micronutrient deficiencies. This new program is part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative

Q: Why is this program being offered? 

A: Producers and handlers incur significant expenses to obtain or renew USDA organic certification each year, and the economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic made obtaining and renewing USDA organic certification financially challenging for many operations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these operations faced challenges due to loss of markets, increased costs, and labor shortages, in addition to costs related to obtaining or renewing their USDA organic certification, which producers and handlers of conventionally produced commodities do not incur. Transitional operations also faced the financial challenge of implementing practices required to obtain USDA organic certification without being able to obtain the premium prices associated with certified organic commodities.

For organic operations requesting an addition or update to their existing certification, the new land or facility must quickly move through the certification process, which typically includes an on-site inspection. Certified organic products must also meet very specific packaging and labeling requirements. Overall, this leads to reduced flexibility and unique supply chain challenges for organic businesses and farms when on-site inspections are not possible, as has often been the case during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Q: What USDA agency is administering OTECP? 

A: OTECP is administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency. 

Q: When does the signup period for OTECP open and close? 

A: USDA’s Farm Service Agency will accept OTECP applications for 2020 and 2021 from November 8, 2021, through January 7, 2022. The application period for 2022 will be announced at a later date. 

Q: Are OTECP funds a loan that must be repaid? Is there a fee to apply? 

A: No. OTECP is not a loan program and there is no fee to apply. 

Q: I haven’t previously participated in any USDA programs. Can I apply for OTECP? 

A: Yes. Participation in other USDA programs is not a prerequisite to apply for OTECP. 

Q: What is the funding source for OTECP? 

A: $20 million will be made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.  

Eligibility

Q: Who is eligible for OTECP?

A: OTECP is available to any certified organic operation or transitional operation that incurred eligible expenses in fiscal years 2020, 2021, and/or 2022. 

Certified operation means a crop or livestock production, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation, or portion of such operation, that is certified by an accredited certifying agent as utilizing a system of organic production or handling as described by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, as amended (7 U.S.C. 6501-6524) and the regulations in 7 CFR part 205. 

Transitional operation means a crop or livestock production operation that is transitioning to organic production in anticipation of obtaining USDA organic certification, and that has an organic system plan or written documentation from a certifying agent accredited by the National Organic Program (NOP)

Q: What if I have a suspended, revoked, denied, or withdrawn USDA organic certification. Am I still eligible? 

A: Operations with suspended, revoked, denied, or withdrawn USDA organic certifications at the time of application are ineligible for OTECP. 

Eligible Expenses

Q: What time period does OTECP cover?  

A:  OTECP provides assistance for expenses paid by the applicant during the following fiscal years:  

  • Fiscal Year 2020: October 1, 2019 – September 30, 2020  
  • Fiscal Year 2021: October 1, 2020 – September 30, 2021  
  • Fiscal Year 2022: October 1, 2021 – September 30, 2022  

A separate application must be submitted for each fiscal year. 

Q: I have expenses that I have not yet paid for. Are these still eligible? 

A: Expenses that have been incurred by the applicant, but have not been paid, are not eligible for assistance through OTECP. 

Q: What expenses are eligible for certified operations? 

A: Certified operations may receive assistance for the following expenses for obtaining or renewing their USDA organic certification for the crop, livestock, wild crop, handling, and State organic program categories: 

  • Application fees; 
  • Inspection fees, including travel expenses and per diem for organic inspectors; 
  • USDA organic certification expenses, including certification fees necessary to access international markets with which AMS has equivalency agreements or arrangements; 
  • State organic program fees; 
  • User fees or certifier sales assessments; and 
  • Postage. 

Q: What expenses are eligible for crop and livestock operations transitioning to organic? 

A: For transitional crop and livestock operations, eligible expenses include fees charged by a certifying agent or consultant for pre-certification inspections and development of an organic system plan. 

Q: During the fiscal year, I went from being a transitional operation to certified. Can I apply for expenses as both a transitional and certified operation? 

A: No. Operations that incur eligible expenses prior to USDA organic certification but became certified prior to the end of the fiscal year may not receive cost share for the same expense as both a certified and a transitional operation. 

Q: What are the eligible expenses that apply to both certified operations and transitional operations? 

A: For both certified operations and transitional operations, soil testing and educational event registration fees are eligible expenses. Soil testing means soil tests to document micronutrient deficiency. Educational events include any event, such as a conference, training program, or workshop, that provides educational content addressing topics related to organic production and handling, such as farming and production methods, NOP requirements, and marketing. It includes both in-person and remote events. 

Q: What expenses are not eligible? 

A: The following expenses are not eligible for cost share under OTECP: 

  • Inspections due to violations of USDA organic regulations, or State organic program requirements; 
  • Expenses related to non-USDA organic certifications; 
  • Expenses related to any other labeling program; 
  • Materials, supplies, & equipment; 
  • Late fees; 
  • Membership fees; 
  • Consultant fees, except for transitional operations; 
  • Expenses related to educational event attendance other than registration fees; and 
  • Expenses for tests other than soil testing. 

Producer Payments

Q: How will OTECP payments be calculated? 

A:  For each year, OTECP covers 25% of a certified operation’s eligible certification expenses, up to $250 per certification category (crop, livestock, wild crop, handling, and State Organic Program fee). It also covers 75 % of a transitional operation’s eligible expenses, up to $750, for each year. 

For both certified operations and transitional operations, OTECP covers 75%, up to $200, per year for registration fees for educational events that include content related to organic production and handling in order to assist operations in increasing their knowledge of production and marketing practices that can improve their operations, increase resilience, and expand available marketing opportunities. OTECP also covers 75%, up to $100, of the expense of soil testing required under the National Organic Program (NOP) to document micronutrient deficiency for both certified operations and transitional operations. 

Eligible Applicants Category of Eligible Expenses Payment Amount of Eligible Expenses per Category
Certified Operations Organic Certification – Crops 25% up to $250
  Organic Certification – Livestock 25% up to $250
  Organic Certification – Wild Crop 25% up to $250
  Organic Certification – Handling 25% up to $250
  State Organic Program Fees 25% up to $250
Transitional Operations Eligible Transitional Expenses 75% up to $750
Certified Operations and Transitional Operations Educational Event Registration Fees 75% up to $200
  Soil Testing 75% up to $100

Q: When are OTECP payments expected to begin? 

A: Farm Service Agency will issue payments after the end of the application period for each of the fiscal years. For 2020 and 2021, this will be after January 7, 2022. If calculated payments exceed the amount of available funding, payments will be prorated.

Q: Is there a payment limitation for OTECP? 

A: No. There is no payment limitation for OTECP. 

Q: Can OTECP payments be withheld to satisfy a debt? 

A: No. These payments will not be subject to administrative offset. This means the payments will not be withheld to satisfy any USDA debts nor will they be offset by Treasury. 

Q: Are OTECP payments going to be counted as taxable income? 

A: 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

Q: How can I prepare to apply for OTECP? 

A: A full list of program eligibility requirements and information on applying is available at farmers.gov/otecp. 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 OTECP 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. 

Q: How do I apply for OTECP? 

A: You can apply for OTECP through the Farm Service Agency office at your local USDA Service Center from November 8, 2021, through January 7, 2022.

Visit farmers.gov/otecp 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. 

Q: Do I need to work with a third-party entity to complete my OTECP application. 

A: 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 OTECP 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. 

Q: What documents do I need to submit with my OTECP application? 

A: The forms needed to complete your OTECP application are available for download at farmers.gov/otecp. These include the program application form – FSA-883 – along with forms to confirm your personal information and banking information, among others. You must submit a separate FSA-883 for each fiscal year. If requested by FSA, you may need to provide supporting documentation to substantiate the information on your application. 

Q: My local USDA Service Center is not open for walk-in service. How does this impact how I’ll submit my application? 

A: We are committed to delivering USDA services while taking safety measures in response to the pandemic. Some USDA offices are open to limited visitors by appointment only. Service Center staff also continue to work with agricultural producers via phone, email, and other digital tools. Please call the Farm Service Agency office at your local USDA Service Center to schedule an appointment if you’d like assistance or have questions about applying for OTECP.    

A call center is available for applicants who would like additional one-on-one support with the OTECP 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. 

Q: 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? 

A: There is a Farm Service Agency (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.