The USDA is reminding growers of specialty crops, which includes fruits and vegetables, of a Jan. 31 deadline to apply for the agency’s Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops program.

The Jan. 31 deadline is for expenses incurred in 2022. The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will accept applications for 2023 costs from Feb. 1, 2023, to Jan. 31, 2024. 

FSA is making available up to $200 million through the FSCSC program, which is part of USDA’s broader effort to transform the food system to create a more level playing field for small-scale agricultural operations and a more balanced, equitable economy for everyone working in food and agriculture, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Specialty crops growers experienced many challenges meeting regulatory requirements and accessing additional markets due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux. 

“Many of these producers had to pivot quickly as demand shifted away from traditional markets, like restaurants and food service, and many continue to feel the impacts of those abrupt changes. 

“By helping mitigate the costs of on-farm food safety certification, the Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops program will help create new markets and opportunities for small-scale producers. In turn, these producers will have another tool to leverage as they work to become more nimble and more resilient in the face of unforeseen challenges, serve their local and regional economies, and support fairer and more transparent markets.”

The USDA initiated this program in 2022. The program assists specialty crop operations that incurred eligible on-farm food safety certification and expenses related to obtaining or renewing a food safety certification in calendar years 2022 and 2023 for certifications issued on or after June 21, 2022.

To be eligible for FSCSC, the applicant must: 

·         Be a specialty crop operation. 

·         Meet the definition of a small business or very small business.  

·         Have paid eligible expenses related to 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.  

FSA calculates FSCSC payments for each category of eligible costs. FSA set a higher payment rate for underserved farmers and ranchers, which includes socially disadvantaged, limited resource, beginning and veteran producers who have a CCC-860 on file with FSA.  

FSA will issue payments at the time of application approval for 2022 and after the application period ends for 2023. The 2023 application period opens Feb. 1, 2023, and closes Jan. 31, 2024. If calculated payments exceed the amount of available funding, payments will be prorated. 

Interested specialty crop producers can apply by completing the application, FSA-888. 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 to find their local FSA office. Specialty crop producers can also call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee. 

Producers can visit for additional program details, eligibility information and forms needed to apply.