WASHINGTON, DC – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced details of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) $300 million investment, including with U.S. bailout funds, in a new organic transition initiative that will help create new and better markets and income streams for farmers and producers. Organic production allows producers to occupy a unique position in the market and thus win a greater share of the food dollar.
According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of non-certified organic farms actively transitioning to organic production has dropped nearly 71% since 2008. With the overall support provided by this initiative, the USDA hopes to reverse this trend, opening up opportunities for new and beginning farmers. and expanding direct consumer access to organic food through increased production.
The initiative will provide comprehensive technical assistance, including farmer-to-farmer mentorship. It will also provide direct support through conservation financial assistance and additional crop insurance assistance, as well as market development projects in targeted markets.
“Farmers face difficult technical, cultural and business changes when transitioning to organic production and even in the first few years after successful organic certification,” Vilsack said. “Through this multi-phase, multi-agency initiative, we are expanding USDA support for organic farmers to help them through every stage of their transition as they strive to become certified and secure markets for their produce. .”
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Risk Management Agency (RMA), and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are the primary agencies supporting the Initiative, which will focus on three areas.
Transition to the Organic Partnership Program
Through this initiative, the USDA aims to ensure farmers transitioning to organic have the support they need to navigate this transition, including a complete supply chain for U.S. consumers who demand organic choices daily. in their supermarkets. AMS will establish partnership networks in six regions of the United States with trusted local organizations that provide direct training, education and outreach to farmers. Organizations will connect transitioning farmers with mentors to create paid mentorship networks to share ideas and practical advice. Each regional team will also provide community building, including mentor training as well as technical assistance, workshops and field days covering topics such as organic production practices, certification, planning for conservation, business development (including navigating the supply chain), regulations and marketing. to help transitioning and recently transitioning producers navigate technical, cultural and financial changes during and immediately after certification. The USDA will provide up to $100 million for this program.
Direct assistance to farmers
The NRCS will develop a new organic management conservation practice standard and provide financial and technical assistance to growers implementing the practice. Payments will be modeled on those already offered to growers who meet existing standards of nutrient conservation and pest management practices. The USDA will provide $75 million for this effort. This will include increasing biological expertise in all of its regions, creating biological experts in each of its regional technology support centers. These experts will train staff who will provide direct services to USDA clients. These services include arranging hands-on organic farming training for NRCS state and field staff and answering staff questions related to organic farming.
The USDA will provide $25 million to RMA for the new Transitional and Organic Producer Assistance (TOGA) program that will support the transition and participation of certain certified organic producers in crop insurance, including coverage for part of their insurance premium.
Support for the development of targeted organic markets
Stakeholders shared that specific organic markets present market development risks due to inadequate organic processing capacity and infrastructure, lack of certainty in market access and insufficient supply of some organic ingredients. This AMS initiative will focus on key organic markets where the need for domestic supply is high, or where additional processing and distribution capacity is needed for more robust organic supply chains. Examples of markets seeking support include organic grains, animal feed, pulses, other rotational edible crops, livestock and dairy. The USDA will invest up to $100 million to help improve organic supply chains in targeted markets. The ministry will seek feedback from stakeholders on these identified initiatives beginning in September, resulting in an announcement of specific policy initiatives later this year.
Other USDA Organic Help
This USDA initiative complements existing support for organic producers, including the FSA’s Organic Certification Cost-Sharing Program (OCCSP) as well as the Organic and Transitional Certification and Education Program (OTECP). OCCSP is helping producers obtain or renew their organic certification, and OTECP is providing additional funding to certified and transitioning producers during the pandemic.
The NRCS offers conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which can provide assistance to help manage weeds. and pests as well as establishing high tunnels, improving soil health and implementing other key practices. organic operations. The RMA also administers federal crop insurance options available to organic producers, including whole-farm and micro-farm income protection.
The National Organic Program (NOP) is a federal regulatory program, administered by the AMS, that develops and enforces consistent national standards for organically grown agricultural products sold in the United States.