NRCS ORGANIC INITIATIVE 2013:
The Organic Initiative is administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is available in all states and all counties through local field offices. Find your local office. Click on your state and then on your county to find the contact information.
NRCS List of Organic Points-of-Contact for NRCS in Each State
The Initiative provides EQIP conservation payments to existing certified organic farmers and those transitioning to organic production. These include:
SPECIAL FUNDING POOLS
Farmer applications to this Initiative will be treated as two separate ranking pools, one for transitioning farmers without any current certified organic production, and one for existing certified organic farmers who are either adding new transitional production or adopting new conservation measures on existing organic production. In both cases, those in these special funding pools will be competing only against others in the special pool rather than in the much, much larger general EQIP pool. The State Conservationist in each state will decide how to split that state’s allocation between the two ranking pools.
As provided by law, there is a $20,000 per year ($80,000 over 6 years) payment limit for applications within this special pool.
While the Organic Initiative is a targeted initiative within EQIP, organic and transitioning farmers are eligible and can apply for regular EQIP funds. Farmers who choose to apply to regular EQIP will be competing in a larger pool of applicants and will be subject to higher payment limitations per contract than in the Organic Initiative.
TIMING AND DEADLINES
EQIP is a continuous sign-up program. That means that farmers may submit applications to the program at any time. During the course of the year, state NRCS offices pick cut-off dates for ranking and award purposes. Applications that come in after cut-off dates go into the hopper for the next round.
CONSERVATION PRACTICES AND PAYMENTS
The 2009 Organic Initiative had “6 core” practices that farmers could apply for and which also had higher payment rates. Additionally, states could identify “facilitating” practices that were also considered part of the Initiative.
The Organic Initiative no longer mandates that states offer the 6 core practices. Instead, states must select which conservation practices will be offered under the Initiative. National headquarters has provided states with a comparison chart identifying conservation practices that align with National Organic Program requirements.
The Organic Initiative has a minimum practice list of 62 conservation practices. This includes Conservation Activity Plan 138, which assists transitioning-to-organic farmers with the development of a conservation plan. States must advertise the conservation practices offered through the Organic Initiative.
Applications for the Organic Initiative will be ranked based on national and state-level criteria included in the bulletin, as well as local criteria, which is to be set by the states. National ranking criteria will account for 25 percent of available ranking points, while state criteria will account for 40 percent of the points. Local ranking criteria will account for 25 percent of available ranking points. A cost efficiency score will determine the remaining 10 percent.
Unlike in FY 2012, there are no absolute ranking threshold cut-off points for the Organic Initiative in FY 2013.
HOW THE APPLICATION PROCESS WORKS
To sign up, farmers must go to their local field offices and speak with a staff person there. They will have to fill out an NRCS-CPA-1200 application to sign up officially; whatever information farmers cannot fill out on their own, they should fill out with the help of NRCS staff.
Existing Organic Farmers
Applicants that are existing organic farmers will have to submit a copy of the current Organic System Plan (OSP) with their application. NRCS will use the OSP to verify compliance with provisions in the statute and as the basis for the EQIP Plan of Operations.
The applicant must also provide the name and contact information of the USDA-accredited certifying agent for the operation.
Farmers Transitioning to Organic Production Systems
Applicants who are transitioning to organic production will have to submit a “self-certification” letter that includes a statement that the applicant “agrees to develop and implement conservation practices for certified organic production that are consistent with an organic system plan” and the name of the USDA-accredited certifying agent contacted to begin the certification process.
CONSERVATION ACTIVITY PLAN AND PAYMENT
A few states have given transitioning farmers the option to sign up for the Initiative to develop a Conservation Activity Plan (CAP). In general, a CAP is a specialized conservation practice(s) plan that may require a higher level of expertise than typical NRCS staff is able to provide and does not fall under the regular technical assistance provided by NRCS. The participant must hire a Certified Technical Service Provider (see below) to develop a CAP in order to be eligible for NRCS financial assistance. A CAP must be approved in a participant’s contract as a financial assistance item in order for the participant to receive payment for development of a CAP. Once the Technical Service Provider (TSP) completes the CAP, the participant pays the TSP for the service and requests the payment from NRCS for completing the contracted item.
Specific to this Initiative, a “Conservation Plan Supporting Organic Transition” CAP will provide financial assistance to pay for the conservation planning portion of the Organic Systems Plan required for organic certification. The CAP option does not apply to existing certified organic producers.
The payment amount for the CAP will be set independently by the state offices. State offices will be looking for information on the costs associated with developing a CAP for organic transition to determine the payment amount. NRCS will be able to pay up to 75% of the cost. For beginning farmers and ranchers and socially-disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, NRCS will pay up to 90% of the cost. The value of the CAP payment will count against the $20,000 per year payment limit.
TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE AND TECHNICAL SERVICE PROVIDERS
NRCS provides assistance in the form of technical assistance (TA) to farmers to implement conservation practices on their lands through NRCS’ conservation programs. NRCS provides TA for developing a conservation plan, outreach and education, and for engineering and putting in place conservation practices.
For many activities, NRCS has people on staff to provide TA. There are instances, however, when NRCS staff is not capable of providing TA. Implementation of organic practices and transition to organic agriculture are likely to fall into this category, given that many NRCS offices have close to no experience working with organic farmers. To address this problem, NRCS depends upon Technical Service Providers (TSP) to provide technical assistance.
Technical Service Providers are people not on NRCS staff who can provide technical expertise on any number of conservation practices. An individual interested in becoming a TSP must apply for TSP certification through the NRCS webpage dedicated to TSPs.