Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Alisa Boswell
Portales Managing Editor 

Organic certification incurs additional fee


May 31, 2017

PORTALES — New Mexico Department of Agriculture officials visited Portales on Tuesday to tell ag producers they will be charged an additional fee for becoming organic certified.

NMDA Marketing and Development Division Director David Lucero referenced a meeting with locals in August 2016 to discuss with them the possibilities for NMDA’s organic program. In August, Lucero had told ranchers and dairy operators that program fees were not offering enough financing to keep the self-sustaining program operational, and they needed suggestions of what they could do with the program to remedy that.

“At the time, the program was running at about $125,000 deficit,” Lucero said.

He said NMDA took two pieces of legislation to the Legislature in the last session.

One was asking for $125,000 from the state to cover the deficit. The bill was tabled in the second committee it went though. The second piece of legislation asked to repeal the fee section of the state statute for the organic program. It passed in early May.

Tuesday’s meeting was to present area ag producers with NMDA’s solution to the funding problem, which will entail the state organization restructuring fees charged for services.

Rather than organic ag producers being charged based on their business’ income for the on-site process of certifying them, ag producers will be charged an hourly rate of $65 — a change that will benefit larger operations while hurting smaller operations, according to Lucero.

The application fees of $250 for new applicants and $200 for renewals will remain the same.

“In order for us to cash flow the program, we feel like one of the most equitable ways of doing this would be to charge an hourly rate for the work that we do for certification,” he said. “Your application fee will cover everything up to the point that we go onto your farm and do an inspection. The $65 an hour does not start until we come on your farm. We do not charge for travel time. We do have to charge for mileage and per diem.”

On-site inspection includes the inspection of equipment as well as products used in the producer’s operation to approve the operation as an organic process.

Lucero said if an inspector is inspecting multiple operations in Roosevelt County during the same time, they would split the mileage and per diem costs among all of the operations being inspected.

Jamie Kulesa, manager of Nature’s Way Dairy in Roosevelt County, told NMDA officials on Tuesday that the timeliness of having products approved for organic certification is something else he would like to see improve.

“The time it takes to get a product approved needs to be much, much quicker. It’s taken a couple of weeks sometimes, and we won’t use a product until it’s approved for a lot of reasons,” he said.

Lucero and NMDA Deputy Director Anthony Parra ensured everyone in the room that response times to producers will no longer take so long, saying that the program is almost fully staffed again.

“We just need to be afforded a little bit more time to get those staff in place, and you have the commitment on my behalf and the secretary’s (Jeff Witte) behalf that we will address our inefficiencies,” Parra said. “How we were operating before was not acceptable. Waiting six weeks to get a response is not acceptable, and you have my assurance today that we will address that.”

Lucero said there was a lot of uncertainty with the program for a while with the previous director retiring and another staff member quitting. He said the inspector who quit has returned as well as another being hired, and he plans to add a third inspector later in the year.

“That $65 per hour rate we’re charging you does cover the cost of 4 1/3 staff, so we budgeted for three inspectors, one educator and a one-third-time administrative assistant one year from now,” Lucero said.

Parra said they would like all final input on the new rule in the statute to them no later than May 31, then they will have a formal hearing with final input. He said he would like to have the new rule signed into law no later than September, and it will go into effect on Jan. 1.

“I’m very excited,” Katy Kulesa told the NMDA officials at the end of the meeting. “We want to stay with New Mexico (for certification), so I am very encouraged with the changes you made to ensure that we know you’re going to be around.”

For more information, producers can call 575-646-4929 or email [email protected]


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