The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Thursday that approximately $13 million in farm bill funding is now available for organic certification cost-share assistance, making certification more accessible than ever for small certified producers and handlers.

"Consumer demand for organic products is surging across the country," said Secretary Tom Vilsack. "To meet this demand, we need to make sure that small farmers who choose to grow organic products can afford to get certified. Organic food is now a multi-billion dollar industry, and helping this sector continue to grow creates jobs across the country."

The certification assistance is distributed through two programs within the Agricultural Marketing Service. Through the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, $11.5 million is available to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. Territories. Through the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, an additional $1.5 million is available to organic operations in Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

These programs provide cost-share assistance through participating states to USDA certified organic producers and handlers for certification-related expenses they incur from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014. Payments cover up to 75 percent of an individual producer's or handler's certification costs, up to a maximum of $750 per certification. To receive cost-share assistance, organic producers and handlers have to contact their state agencies. Each state will have their own guidelines and requirements for reimbursement, and the National Organic Program (NOP) will assist states as much as possible to successfully implement the programs. State contact information can be found on the NOP Cost Share Website, www.ams.usda.gov/NOPCostSharing.

In 2012 alone, USDA issued close to 10,000 cost-share reimbursements totaling over $6.5 million, to support the organic industry and rural America.

USDA has a number of new and expanded efforts to connect organic farmers and businesses with resources that will ensure the continued growth of the organic industry domestically and abroad. During this administration, USDA has signed four major trade agreements on organic products, and is also helping organic stakeholders access programs that support conservation, provide access to loans and grants, fund organic research and education and mitigate pest emergencies. Through the NOP, USDA has helped organic farmers and businesses achieve $35 billion annually in U.S. retail sales. The organic community includes more than 25,000 organic businesses in more than 120 different countries around the world, according to USDA.