November 18, 2015
This fall, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released two resources aimed at helping producers transition to organic production, with one more expected soon. Here is a brief rundown, plus a quick review of major USDA conservation program decisions coming down the pike.
New Business Planner
On November 13, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program published a new business planner for producers interested in transitioning to organic production. The 180-page guide, entitled Organic Transition: A Business Planner for Farmers, Ranchers and Food Entrepreneurs, is intended to help farmers, ranchers, and food business entrepreneurs decide whether or not to transition to organic. For those who decide that transitioning makes business sense, the planner can help them plan for that transition.
The planner was written by Gigi DiGiacomo at NSAC member organization, Minnesota Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (MISA), Robert P. King at MISA and North Central SARE, and Dale Nordquist at the Center for Farm Financial Management.
According to SARE, “The Organic Transition Planner contains explanations of key concepts, real-life examples from transitioning farmers and detailed worksheets covering farm operations, marketing, human resources and finances.” Electronic versions of the worksheets and other planning documents are available on MISA’s website.
“Generally, a business plan describes future intentions and strategies related to operations, marketing, human resources and financial management,” the authors write. “It also identifies the resources you will need to achieve your goals—outlining how to use existing resources and how to acquire needed resources. A business plan can be likened to a roadmap that describes where you want to take the business (i.e., organic certification), how you will get there (i.e., transition) and when you will begin the journey.”
The planner is organized into the following sections:
Click here to download the full guide. You can also visit the SARE website for a list of funded projects related to organic and transitioning-to-organic agriculture; or visit SARE’s Learning Center for additional resources, including books, bulletins, and guides on transitioning to organic production.
In addition to the new transition planner, NSAC member group Florida Organic Growers (FOG) and USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) recently released a series of 26 videos to help make organic certification more accessible for farmers interested in transitioning. The video series, entitled Organic Certification Made Simple: Bite by Bite, “provides a step-by-step overview of organic production requirements and the process of organic certification—by farmers, for farmers.”
As Marty Mesh, FOG’s Executive Director explains, “Our series is meant to help direct-market growers who are using sustainable practices understand that getting certified organic may not be a huge stretch for them, and many consumers and wholesalers are looking for certified organic products, so getting certified could open up markets for them and make their businesses more viable.”
Coming soon from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will be a guidebook to help NRCS field staff and the farmers they serve navigate the conservation practice side of organic agriculture and the linkages between conservation practices and programs and organic transition and certification. The Guidebook is one of several concrete results flowing from an earlier NSAC Conservation Innovation Grant from NRCS. We will report on it more in-depth once it becomes available.
Improving USDA’s Organic Initiative and Conservation Stewardship Program
We applaud USDA for partnering with experts in the field to develop new resources for producers. More education and technical guidance is critical. At the same time, however, the Department should make changes to its existing Organic Initiative–administered as part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program–to improve accessibility and functionality. In recommendations submitted to USDA’s NRCS in September 2015, we outlined the primary barriers that producers face when trying to use the Initiative, and we proposed ways for USDA to address those barriers. We will continue to work with NRCS to make the Organic Initiative work better for transitioning producers in future years.
In addition, as we detailed yesterday, NRCS is in the midst of doing a major overhaul of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). From a strictly organic agriculture perspective, some key questions related to this program makeover will be whether organic-related conservation enhancements, currently part of CSP, are continued, expanded, and strengthened; whether bundles or suites of conservation practices and enhancements are included and highlighted to attract more organic producers to the program and to stimulate more interest in organic transition; and whether improvements are made to further streamline the CSP and NOP conservation requirements in a farmer-friendly fashion. At this point we do not know the answers those questions, but according to the agency the new program will be up and running by January, and hence presumably answers will be known soon.