WSDA eyes new organic fees, logo

OLYMPIA — Washington’s organic fees and logo are due for an overhaul, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

The department is in the early stages of revising rates to collect more money from the 1,100 organic producers, handlers and processors it inspects, certifies and advises.

The department also plans to adopt a new label for the state’s organic products, replacing George Washington’s image with something more distinctively organic, said Brenda Book, organic program supervisor.

“We want people to want to use the logo,” she said. “We want to make it a little more modern and up-to-date.”

The department has not proposed specific fees or unveiled a new logo, but hope to have both in place by the beginning of next year. Book said the department needs to take in more money to keep the program self-supporting and build a cushion, though some businesses may not see their fees rise.

“We don’t anticipate increases across the board,” she said.

A new-look label, different than the USDA organic logo, should help market the state’s products, Book said. The department has been working with a graphic designer, she said. “None of the draft concepts include (Washington’s) head anywhere.”

The department certifies that organic products meet USDA standards. Annual fees range from $200 for growers with less than $15,000 in sales to $2,200 plus 0.11 percent of gross sales for growers with sales of more than $75,000.

The department has a separate list of fees for handlers and processors.

The department’s current budget estimates the department will collect $6.5 million in fees over two years to support the equivalent of 35.5 full-time positions.

The department is not ready to say how much more money it wants to collect. A detailed proposal will be due in the fall. In the meantime, the department will meet with organic producers, Book said. “We’re still determining what’s that magic number we want to get to,” she said.

Fees last had a major overhaul more than 15 years ago.

“Salaries and benefits are at a different amount than 15 years ago,” Book said. “We held off as long as we could, to the point we really need to do it now.”

The state agriculture department does not have a monopoly on organic certification in Washington. Some 15 other USDA-accredited organizations based outside the state are willing to certify organic farms in Washington, according to a USDA’s National Organic Program database.

“We have to be competitive because people have a choice,” Book said. “We are proud of being the most affordable certifier in the state.”