Feds offer funds for transition to organic farming

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on May 5 a special three-week sign-up for farmers in the process of converting to organic farming to receive technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a move applauded by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and its grassroots member organizations across the country.

The organic conversion assistance was provided for by the 2008 Farm Bill. Confusion over the EQIP program slowed progress in state and local offices of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. As a result, in a majority of states organic farmers and transitioning farmers were simply not being served.

"This was a was a wrong that needed righting, and with today's
announcement USDA is not only setting it right, but doing so in an
innovative and farmer-friendly manner," said Aimee Witteman, NSAC
Executive Director.

Today's announcement sets aside $50 million out of the $1 billion
EQIP program for a special three-week sign-up for farms converting to organic production, farms expanding their organic production, or
existing organic farms who desire conservation support to reach even higher levels of environmental performance.

The sign-up period begins Monday, May 11 and goes through Friday, May 29. Six core conservation practices (conservation crop rotation, cover cropping, integrated pest management, nutrient management, rotational grazing, and forage harvest management) are being made available to transitioning organic farmers on a nationwide basis.

Each state may also add a variety of "facilitating" conservation practices specific to the type of agriculture in their region.

"We will work quickly to get the word out far and wide and our member organizations with expertise in organic agriculture will be helping farmers understand their options under the new program terms, Witteman said"

Organic farming has strong environmental benefits for soil and water
quality, climate change mitigation, and biodiversity. Congress retooled the EQIP program in the 2008 Farm Bill to provide a general EQIP priority for organic farming in the program overall as well as a specific EQIP subcomponent for farms converting in whole or in part to organic farming.

The new initiative addresses the special "organic conversion
assistance" component of EQIP in particular. Funding under the
organic conversion section of the farm bill is capped at not more
than $20,000 per farm per year, and not more than $80,000 per farm in any 6-year period. Organic farmers may opt to compete in this
special pool, with the tighter payment caps, or may opt instead to
compete in the regular EQIP pool for which the 6-year cap is

Under the terms of the new initiative announced today, farmers will receive higher payments, relative to conventional EQIP rates, for five of the six national core practices for organic conversion option. The higher payment rates reflect the higher management costs associated with the mandatory three-year organic transition period and the higher ongoing management costs associated with organic farming.

"We expect this program to evolve and grow over time," Witteman said.

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