USDA Forms New Partnerships to Support Organic Transition, Conservation Assistance

May 22, 2024

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with Oregon Tilth and Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) to strengthen organic expertise for conservation programs and expand relationships among producers wanting to transition to organic. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is investing $5 million in these five-year partnerships, which are part of USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative (OTI), a Department-wide effort to support agricultural producers interested in transitioning to organic. Additionally, NRCS encourages organic and transitioning producers to apply for assistance through its conservation programs that currently have boosted funding from the OTI as well as the Inflation Reduction Act. 

“Organic standards are closely aligned with NRCS conservation practices, so producers transitioning to organic are a natural fit for us,” said Jeanne Hamilton, NRCS State Conservationist in Oklahoma. “These new partnerships will enable us to raise our organic proficiency so we can better assist producers with organic transition.” 

These OTI partnerships were part of a broader organic announcement made by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on May 15, 2024, which also included the Organic Market Development Grant program and Organic Certification Cost Share Program. 

The OTI partnerships include seven new staff positions. An OFRF organic research specialist will disseminate the latest in organic research and national training to NRCS staff and Oregon Tilth will establish six organic specialists across the country who will develop regional networks, provide hands-on organic training for producers, and support NRCS staff who assist farmers transitioning to organic. The organic specialist positions will be filled by staff from Oregon Tilth working with organic partners including Marbleseed, California Certified Organic Farmers Foundation, and Organic Agronomy Training Service.  

Conservation Assistance 

As part of OTI, NRCS introduced a new organic management standard in 2023 to allow producers flexibility to get assistance and education, such as attending workshops or requesting help from experts or mentors. The management standard supports conservation practices required for organic certification and may provide foregone income reimbursement for dips in production during the transition period.  

In 2023, NRCS allocated $12 million in 22 states, signing 112 contracts with transitioning producers.  

In addition to the new standard, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help with conservation plans supporting organic transition and organic management, cover cropping and crop rotation, field borders and hedgerows, high tunnels, irrigation practices, nutrient management, mulching and pest management. Many of these practices are NRCS’ Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Activities and eligible for Inflation Reduction Act funding.

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

Producers beginning or in the process of transitioning to organic certification are encouraged to apply at their local USDA Service Center. If a state deadline is missed, applications will be considered for the next fiscal year. 

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