Apr 12, 2023
USDA invests $75 Million in conservation assistance for producers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has invested $75 million in conservation assistance for producers transitioning to organic production.

As part of the multi-agency Organic Transition Initiative (OTI), USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will dedicate financial and technical assistance to a new organic management standard and partner with new organic technical experts to increase staff capacity and expertise.

Investment to support organic producers

The investment, which includes funds from the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), will help build new and better markets and income streams, strengthen local and regional food systems and increase affordable food supply for more Americans, while promoting climate-smart agriculture and ensuring equity for all producers.

“Producers transitioning to organic can count on NRCS for assistance through the process,” said NRCS Chief Terry Cosby. “By strengthening our technical proficiency and providing technical and financial assistance through new tools and practices, we can better support producers through the challenges of organic transition.”

New organic management standard

NRCS will dedicate $70 million to assist producers with a new organic management standard under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

NRCS will help producers adopt the new organic management standard, which allows flexibility for producers to get the assistance and education they need such as attending workshops or requesting help from experts or mentors. It supports conservation practices required for organic certification and may provide foregone income reimbursement for dips in production during the transition period.

Higher payment rates and other options are available for underserved producers including socially disadvantaged, beginning, veteran, and limited resource farmers and ranchers.

Application process

Eligible producers include farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and other producers beginning or in the process of transitioning to organic certification.

NRCS will announce state-specific deadlines later this year, after which producers can apply through NRCS at their local USDA Service Center.

Funding of new positions

NRCS will dedicate $5 million to partner with six organic technical experts through five-year agreements. The organic experts will develop regional networks and support NRCS staff who provide services to USDA customers. These services include hosting hands-on organic training and fielding organic-related staff questions. One organic research position will support this network.

NRCS will post a Notice of Funding Opportunity on grants.gov this week, which outlines requirements for proposals from regional organizations and partners.

Organic Transition Initiative  (OTI)

These NRCS investments are part of the OTI, a multi-agency $300 million effort to support organic and transitioning producers. OTI also includes farmer-to-farmer mentoring, direct support for crop insurance, and market development projects.

In addition to NRCS, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and Risk Management Agency (RMA) are the primary agencies supporting OTI and are closely collaborating on implementation. As part of OTI’s cross-agency coordination, NRCS organic specialists will be closely connected with the AMS Transition to Organic Partnership Program regional partners, to align and share resources and best practices.

NRCS and AMS’s National Organic Program also plan to coordinate data collection activities, to prevent transitioning farmers from having to submit duplicative information as much as possible. AMS will also soon announce a funding program to support the creation of new and improved markets for domestically produced organic products and provide critical companion resources to existing and transitioning organic producers.

RMA reminds producers interested in the Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program, also part of OTI, to visit with their crop insurance agent for more information. Premium benefits for eligible policies will be automatically applied to the producer’s billing statement later this year.

Other organic assistance

OTI complements existing assistance for organic producers, including FSA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program which helps producers obtain or renew their organic certification.

RMA also administers federal crop insurance options, including Whole Farm Revenue Protection and Micro Farm, which may be good options for organic producers.  The National Organic Program is a federal regulatory program, administered by AMS, that develops and enforces consistent national standards for organically produced agricultural products sold in the United States.

For more information, visit farmers.gov/organic.

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