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Wheat & Small Grains Transition period

Get a Refund for Your Organic Certification Fees Through Cost Share

Wheat field

The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program offers funds to organic producers and handlers to assist them with costs of certification.

Who Qualifies?

If you:

  • are an organic farmer, processor or retailer,
  • received/updated your organic certification from October 1, 2013- September 30, 2014,
  • have an organic operation with a scope in crops, wild crops or livestock,

you may be eligible for a refund of up to 75% of your certification costs, with a maximum of $750 per scope of operation.

What fees can be reimbursed?

For WSDA Organic Program clients, fees eligible for a refund include: Annual Fees, Application Fees, Site Fees, Certification Fees, Inspection Fees and Expedite Fees as designated under chapter 16-157 WAC.

How to Apply?

  • If you are certified Organic through the WSDA Organic Program: complete, sign, and submit the Statewide Payee Registration form. The form can be found here:
  • If you are certified Organic through another USDA accredited certifier and your business is located in Washington State: complete, sign, and submit the Statewide Payee Registration form, along with a proof of organic certification and an itemized paid receipt of fees paid for certification

Submit your application directly to WSDA before December 1, 2014

  • By e-mail at
  • By fax to: Attention: Organic Program, 360-902-2087
  • By mail to: Washington State Dept of Agriculture, Attention: Organic Program, PO Box 42560, Olympia WA 98504-2560

Find more information about the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program.

Profitable Transition Strategies

Before being certified organic and being able to receive an attractive organic premium for their crops, growers must undergo a three-year period of transition that can be financially challenging. For three years, they must adopt organic production practices, which can be expensive to set up and result in lower yield. During that time however, they do not receive an organic premium price for their crops. With diminished yields, investment requirements, and low crop prices, is there a profitable way to approach the transition period?

The first step is to understand that the transition period is temporary: the losses incurred during that time do not necessarily reflect the profitability of your system. “You must consider the transition period as an investment, a loan you are taking out at the bank”, says Kathleen Painter from the University of Idaho. With that in mind, you can set two objectives for your transition period:

1. Minimize financial losses during the transition period

2. Use the transition period to maximize gains for the first years of certified organic production (for example, by building soil nitrogen)

Researchers from Idaho and Washington examined 9 different organic systems over 5 years. The first three years were a transition period, different for each system. Year 4 and 5 (both certified organic) were spring wheat followed by winter wheat for all systems.

System 1 had exclusively cereals during the transition periods, while System 9 relied on an alfalfa-oat mix for the entire three years. All other systems included a mix of legumes (for grain or plowed down for green manure) and cereals.

The lesson from the experiment? Stay away from grains during the transition period. The system relying on three years of alfalfa not only minimized losses, but also increased revenue during the certified organic years. Alfalfa increased nitrogen levels and provided weed control, which resulted in greater wheat yields during years 4 and 5, right when the crop could be sold with the organic price premium.

To learn more about alternative transition systems, take a look at this poster: Profitable Strategies for Transitioning to Organic.


Building Soil N during the Transition Period: Is More Green Manure Best?

In our region where manure is hard to find, legumes are necessary to build soil fertility in organic production. But water can be scarce and the lack of moisture make it challenging to use cover crops (planting a legume then go into a small grain the same year) or intercropping (planting a legume between the wheat rows for example, and take out the legume later in the season).

Ideally, the first crop that is certifiable organic should have the best yield potential to reap the benefits of the organic price premium. One way to achieve good levels of soil nitrogen on that first certified year is to make sure to build it up during the transition period. Using legumes plowed into the soil instead of being harvested, or “green manure” is an efficient way to achieve that.

So is it preferable to maximize legumes on the transition period? Are three years under green manure better than two or one?

Kristy Borelli and other researchers compared different transition phase rotations: out of 9 different systems, two included 3 years of grain, two included two years of grain followed by one year of green manure, two included one year of grain followed by two years of green manure and one included three straight years of green manure.

At the end of the transition period, the researchers compared the total gain in nitrogen: it was higher for any rotation that had at least one year of green manure. Three years of green manure resulted in slightly higher levels of N than rotations with only one or two years of green manure. More importantly, spring wheat in the first certified organic year was higher after three years of green manure than after one or two; but winter wheat yield on the second year of the certified organic phase was no different whether the transition had had one, two or three years of green manure. Protein levels in spring or winter wheat were the highest in any rotation than had had one, two or three years of green manure.

Bottom line: successive years of green manure in the rotation to transition to organic are likely not necessary. A transition phase rotation should plan on a green manure legume for at least its last year: rotations that only had small grain translated in lower soil N levels, lower yields and lower protein content in the certified organic phase.

To go further: read more about this study here and here.


Table from Kristy Borelli
Rotation systems experimented for transitioning to organic. Table from Kristy Borelli
Washington State University