Organic producers and farmers transitioning to organic production can apply for funding to help their initiatives in natural resource conservation.
This year through the Organic Initiative, the USDA is making up to $50 million available for producers to plan and implement conservation practices that address natural-resource concerns in ways that are consistent with organic production. For example, organic producers and those transitioning to organic production may use the funding to plant cover crops, establish integrated pest management plans or implement nutrient management systems consistent with organic certification standards. Fiscal year 2011 marks the third year of the initiative.
“Increasing consumer demand for organically grown foods is providing new opportunities for small and mid-size farmers to prosper and stay competitive in today’s economy,” says Kathleen Merrigan, the deputy secretary of agriculture. “The 2008 Farm Bill calls for this assistance, and we want to help these farmers protect the natural resources on their land and create conditions that help foster organic production.”
Eligible producers include those certified through USDA’s National Organic Program, those transitioning to certified organic production, and those who meet organic standards but are exempt from certification because their gross annual organic sales are less than $5,000. In fiscal year 2010, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service obligated nearly $24 million through the Organic Initiative to help producers implement conservation practices.
Organic Initiative funding is provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a voluntary conservation program administered by NRCS that promotes agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible national goals. The 2008 Farm Bill provided for assistance specifically for organic farm operations and those converting to organic production.
Under Organic Initiative contracts, producers are paid 75 percent of the cost for the organic conservation measures they implement. Beginning, limited-resource and socially disadvantaged producers are paid 90 percent. The program provides up to $20,000 per year per person or legal entity, with a maximum total of $80,000 over six years.
Producers interested in applying for Organic Initiative funding must submit applications through their local NRCS Service Center. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis, with the cutoff date set for March 4, 2011.