Natural farmer and OFRF Board Chair Bryan Hager is aware of about natural farming and the method it takes to get licensed. Hager and his spouse Wendy personal Crager Hager Farm, a diversified fruit and vegetable farm in Carroll County, Georgia. Their farm is a year-round operation that grows salad and cooking greens equivalent to lettuce and spinach, and fashionable market objects equivalent to tomatoes, beans, squash, and cucumbers. Crager Hager Farm additionally grows apples, pears, and heirloom strawberries and blueberries. In complete, the farm grows 120 styles of vegetable and fruit crops.
Hager has been concerned in farming most of his life, utilizing natural practices since he was 16 years outdated. He began rising and promoting for market in 2001 and authorized natural in 2017. It was at the moment that Hager first participated within the USDA’s Natural Certification Value Share Program (OCCSP). This vital program supplies reimbursement for agricultural producers and handlers who’re acquiring or renewing their natural certification beneath the Nationwide Natural Program (NOP).
To take part in this system, eligible operations should submit their OCCSP purposes to State businesses or to their native Farm Service Company (FSA) county places of work. Crager Hager Farms took the latter method and was the primary operation of their county to use for this program. Collectively, Crager Hager Farm and FSA navigated the applying. The next two years went nicely, however since then, the method has taken longer and longer to finish with reimbursement funds extraordinarily delayed.
When Crager Hager Farms first utilized to the fee share program, the USDA supplied as much as $750 in reimbursements which lined roughly 75% of the farm’s certification charges. Since then, the quantity for Crager Hager Farm to certify natural has practically doubled, although the OCCSP has diminished their price share to $500.
For Crager Hager Farm, the monetary and time prices of natural certification hold rising whereas the farm is getting smaller. The farm beforehand provided an internship program and employed 5 full-time workers in peak season. During the last two years, the farm has scaled again their operations. At present, they attend one farmers market and worker one part-time farm worker. The burdensome price of certification and diminished funding from the fee share program has had its impact on Crager Hager Farm.
Although the operational resolution to downsize displays a private curiosity for Hager and his spouse to speculate their time elsewhere, Hager admits that working a farm has change into more and more extra hectic. “Yearly, there appears to be a brand new requirement to get certification,” says Hager. “The ‘time-cost’ and monetary price continues to go up on prime of the issues with local weather and altering markets. The growing complexity of certification provides a number of stress to being a farmer.”
Crager Hager Farm has dropped their USDA natural certification, although they nonetheless observe the identical methods that assist enhance soil fertility and develop nutritious produce freed from artificial inputs. “We’ve been dedicated to rising organically for 40 years, nicely earlier than we acquired licensed,” says Hager. They’re an natural pioneer of their state and have a robust repute at farmers markets that’s been cultivated through the years.
In the present day, Hager plans to rejoin the Licensed Naturally Grown (CNG) program, an impartial grassroots initiative providing peer-review certification to farmers. Greater than 750 farmers and beekeepers take part within the CNG certification all through the US and Canada, although the USDA doesn’t provide any price share incentives for this course of.
And though Crager Hager Farm has encountered points with the Natural Certification Value Share Program, Hager says, “If somebody is contemplating getting licensed, they need to positively look into this system as it may scale back among the monetary burden.”