NSAC's Blog

New Guidebook Will Help Organic Farmers Access Conservation Programs

November 19, 2015

On Thursday, November 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) published a new handbook to help NRCS field staff work more effectively with organic and transitioning-to-organic producers. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which along with several of its member organizations contributed to the new guide, issued a press release on the project earlier today.

In the past, NRCS has faced challenges when working with organic and transitioning-to-organic farmers and ranchers, who must comply with strict standards set by the National Organic Program (NOP). The handbook explains how NRCS conservation activities align with NOP standards, and how NRCS staff can help producers meet conservation and regulatory objectives simultaneously.

The following individuals from ten NSAC member organizations worked with 16 NRCS staff members to develop the handbook as part of a multi-year Conservation Innovation Grant project to modify NRCS conservation programs and operations to better serve sustainable and organic agriculture:

  • Keith Baldwin, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, North Carolina
  • Jo Ann Baumgartner, Wild Farm Alliance, California
  • Harriet Behar, Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service, Wisconsin
  • Ben Bowell and Sarah Brown, Oregon Tilth, Oregon
  • Traci Bruckner, Center for Rural Affairs, Nebraska
  • Rex Dufour, National Center for Appropriate Technology, California
  • Jennifer Miller, Northwest Center for Alternative to Pesticides, Idaho
  • Jose Perez, Florida Organic Growers, Florida
  • Jeff Schahczenski, National Center for Appropriate Technology, Montana
  • Mark Schonbeck, Virginia Biological Farming Association, Virginia

The handbook is broken out into four main sections:

  • An overview of organic agriculture and typical conservation needs and challenges;
  • An overview of NOP standards and certification;
  • An explanation of conservation planning for organic and transitioning-to-organic operations; and
  • An assessment of key conservation activities for organic systems, including nutrient management, cover crops, crop rotations, and more.

“Organic farming systems reflect several fundamental principles that early innovators established through careful observation of soils, crops, livestock, and life processes in natural and agricultural systems,” the handbook begins. “Practitioners have refined, updated, and expressed these principles in different ways over the past 75 years, yet the foundational principles of organic agriculture remain relatively constant.”

The handbook notes that, while producers are responsible for ensuring that they are in compliance with NOP standards, conservation practices and enhancements from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) can help producers meet those standards. As we detailed in our previous post, What’s the CSP “makeover” all about?, NRCS is in the process of overhauling CSP for the 2016 enrollment period. NRCS recognized the important conservation value of conservation enhancements for organic systems in its new handbook, and we hope they continue to do so by retaining the enhancements as part of the new CSP.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Organic

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