Beginning Organics

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The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations…Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.

This page will give you the resources you need to get started on organic farming/gardening or converting your operation to organic.

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Price premiums for organic products are continuing to hold in most sectors. The demand for organic products is outpacing production, so there's plenty of room for growth. The USDA's Economic Research Service estimates that only 0.5 percent of our national cropland is currently in organic production. But the economic benefits of organic production go deeper than that. By its nature, organic farming is a diversified production system. With a wider variety of products being grown, including livestock on some farms, the risks of market fluctuations and weather are minimized. Dependence on costly outside inputs is dramatically reduced. And because organic farmers generally think about building relationships, identifying new markets and working directly with consumers, they're generally open to new, value-added opportunities. They may also be more open to working cooperatively with other farmers to market and add value to their products. (Source: Organic Trade Association)

Example

 

Organic Certification Cost Share

The National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP) provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers as well as organic product handlers to help defray the costs of organic certification.  This program provides up to 75 percent of the annual certification costs up to a maximum payment of $750 per year.

Handlers in all states, and farmers and ranchers in every state except the 12 Northeast states plus HI, NV, UT, and WY, are eligible to receive cost share assistance under this program.  A separate but nearly identical program called the Agricultural Management Assistance Program provides cost share assistance to farmers or ranchers in the 12 Northeast states plus HI, NV, UT, and WY.

In either case, the assistance is made available to farmers, ranchers and organic product handlers through the State departments of agriculture.  Recipients must be certified by a USDA accredited certifying agent under the National Organic Program.

How Do I Start?

Farmers, ranchers and organic product handlers should inquire and apply with the State Department of Agriculture. The Agricultural Marketing Service directs the funding through State Departments of Agriculture.  The organic certifier you are working with will be able to assist you in applying for the cost-share.

A complete list of organic contacts for each state is available from the National Association of State Organic Programs.

Resources

The National Organic Program of the United States Department of Agriculture regulates the standards for any farm, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced.

 

 

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Organic Initiative provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who are transitioning to organic systems and those already conducting organic practices and want to add acres and/or livestock or just improve their conservation.

Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) provides farmers and agricultural professionals with resources, trainings, and information about organic and sustainable farming.

Organic Farm Certification & the National Organic Program: Farmers planning to market their products as "organic" must become certified. This guide outlines the considerations involved in "going organic" and the basic steps to organic certification.

New Farm Guide to US Organic Certifiers: Browse certifiers, use the certification forum to describe your experience with a certifier or certification process and share questions and/or experiences learned.

Certifying Agents: Help for those looking to become a certified organic producer or certifying agent.

The Organic Trade Association offers "pathways" for producers and processors.

The Rodale Institute recently launched a new membership organization for organic farmers. 

Frequently Asked Questions regarding organics.

Learn More

 

Contact Stephanie Enloe, stephaniee@cfra.org or 563.875.0066

For the USDA, contact Bob Pooler, Agricultural Marketing Specialist, National Organic Program, Bob.Pooler@usda.gov, 202-720–3252.