The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a rule to expand the number of organic farmers and handlers who may be exempt from paying into conventional commodity check-off programs.

The Washington, D.C.-based Organic Trade Association applauded the move, saying it is an important step that recognizes the industry's unique needs and lets the industry decide where its funds are best spent, according to a news release.

The proposal would modify the organic assessment exemption under 23 federal marketing orders and 22 research and promotional programs.

Currently, only growers who exclusively produce and market as 100 percent organic are eligible for an exemption.

The proposal also would allow exemptions to growers who have both conventional and organic production.

Should the USDA adopt the proposal, an estimated 10,211 producers and handlers would be eligible for the exemption compared with the current 1,493, according to the Federal Register notice.

An estimated $13.6 million in organic assessment exemptions could result from the proposed revisions.

The proposal was published in a Dec. 16 Federal Register notice.

Deadline to comment is Jan. 15, 2015.