$300 Million Invested into New Organic Transition Initiative
September 15, 2022
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the long-awaited details of its plan to assist organic producers. Utilizing American Rescue Plan funds, the Organic Transition Initiative (OTI) is USDA’s recent program aimed at helping “build new and better markets and streams of income for farmers and producers,” by providing producers with technical assistance, including farmer-to-farmer mentoring, financial assistance for conservation and crop insurance, and support developing markets. Three USDA agencies are tasked with the roll-out and administration of this program: Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Risk Management Agency (RMA), and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The Organic Transition Initiative will provide:
$75 million for Direct Farmer Assistance to producers implementing the new Organic Management conservation practice standard. Financial assistance will be provided based on producers meeting the existing nutrient and pest management conservation practice standards that conform with organic management practices. Along with financial and technical assistance, NRCS is directed to increase organic expertise throughout its regions by creating organic experts at each of its regional technology support centers to train NRCS staff to better provide services to organic producers.
USDA is also providing an additional $25 million to RMA for the new Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program (TOGA). This program will help support transitioning and certain certified organic producers’ increased participation in crop insurance programs, including coverage of a portion of their insurance premium.
$100 million for the Transition to Organic Partnership Program to support producers transitioning to organic production. The program will assist producers in navigating the transition process and accessing new organic markets. Led by AMS, six regional partnership networks will be created across the US with local organizations that connect transitioning farmers with mentors. These partnerships will also prioritize building paid mentoring networks to share practical knowledge and advice between established organic farmers and those transitioning. This includes train-the-mentor support, as well as technical assistance, workshops, and field days covering topics on managing an organic operation, such as production practices, certification, conservation planning, business development (for example, navigating the supply chain), regulations, and marketing.
$100 million for Organic Market Development Support to address certain market risks due to inadequate organic processing capacity and infrastructure, lack of certainty about market access, and insufficient supply of certain organic ingredients. AMS will focus on where additional processing and distribution capacity is needed for more robust organic supply chains and will also focus on preserving other key organic markets where the need for domestic supply is high. Organic markets needing support include organic grain and feed; legumes and other edible rotational crops; and livestock and dairy. Stakeholder input will be sought to help inform policy initiatives later this year.
Last year the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) submitted recommendations to USDA which included investments in organic research and procurement. Several priorities were unfortunately not included as a part of this recent announcement, yet they remain priorities for NSAC. However, given the challenges organic programs have recently faced, including the funding shortfall of the National Organic Certification Cost-Share program, USDA’s commitment to supporting organic producers will help boost productivity and consumer confidence in the organic standard and markets.