Before crops can be certified organic, farmers must carefully manage their land without using prohibited inputs like synthetic pesticides for 36 months. During this transition period and during the first years after certification, farmers often face many technical and market challenges. The Organic Transition Initiative (OTI) is a $300 million multi-agency USDA effort to support this transition and build and strengthen organic markets. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Risk Management Agency each have a major role in the Organic Transition Initiative.
How USDA helps through the Organic Transition Initiative
USDA will provide support in three main areas: mentoring and advice; direct farmer assistance and organic market security.
Through the Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), USDA provides regionally-based farmer training and education. Partnering organizations in six regions connect farmers with local mentors and provide education and technical assistance on agronomy, certification, extension, conservation planning, business development regulations, and marketing .
Assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service
NRCS offers financial and technical assistance to farmers choosing to implement a new organic management standard.
NRCS will also increase organic expertise throughout the organization by creating positions for organic experts at each of its regional technology support centers. These positions will provide training to NRCS field staff who provide direct services to USDA customers. This is in addition to the existing NRCS assistance for organic and transitioning producers including conservation planning, conservation practice implementation and financial assistance for all offered conservation practices.
Notice of Funding for New Organic Expert Positions
NRCS will dedicate $5 million to partner with six organic technical experts through five-year agreements. The organic experts will develop regional networks and support NRCS staff who provide services to USDA customers. These services include hosting hands-on organic training and fielding organic-related staff questions. One organic research position will support this network.
The Notice of Funding Opportunity closed on June 11, 2023.
Assistance from the Risk Management Agency
RMA’s Transitional Organic Grower Assistance Program (TOGA) provides premium assistance to agricultural producers who have purchased crop insurance coverage for crops in transition to organic or a certified organic grain or feed crop. TOGA reduces a producer’s overall crop insurance premium bill and helps them continue to use organic agricultural systems.
Producers will automatically receive the premium assistance on the premium billing statements for the 2023 reinsurance year, which covers applicable policies with sales closing dates from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.
Premium assistance will automatically apply to those eligible insurance policies with sales closing dates that have passed.
Producers interested in the TOGA program, should visit with their local crop insurance agent for more information Agent Locator | Search (usda.gov).
More information about TOGA is available at Organic Crops | RMA (usda.gov).
TOGA fact sheet: Fact Sheet: Transitional and Organic (farmers.gov).
The Agricultural Marketing Service’s Organic Market Development Grant Program (OMDG) will help improve key organic markets where the need for domestic supply is high, or where additional processing and distribution capacity is needed for more robust organic supply chains. OMDG will fund businesses transitioning to organic or initiating new organic production or processing and support new, improved and expanded markets for domestically produced organic products with a focus on processing capacity, market access, and product development.
Through the Agricultural Marketing Service’s Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), USDA provides regionally-based farmer training and education. Partnering organizations in six regions connect farmers with local mentors and provide education and technical assistance on agronomy, certification, extension, conservation planning, business development regulations, and marketing.
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