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USDA offers conservation funding to organic producers
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 The USDA’s Organic Initiative will enter its third year of helping organic producers and those looking to transition into organic production in 2011 with up to $50 million in funding.

 “Increasing consumer demand for organically grown foods is providing new opportunities for small and mid-size farmers to prosper and stay competitive in today’s economy,” Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said.  “The 2008 Farm Bill calls for this assistance, and we want to help these farmers protect the natural resources on their land and create conditions that help foster organic production.”  

Funding is available this year for producers to plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns in ways that are consistent with organic production. For example, organic producers may use the funding to plant cover crops, establish integrated pest management plans, or implement nutrient management systems consistent with organic certification standards. 

Cynthia Lashbrook and Bill Thompson of Riverdance Farms in Livingston took advantage of Organic Initiative funding for the first time last year.

“Right now the prices on our crops have dropped,” Lashbrook said. “Without the crop-share, we probably wouldn’t have been able to be certified.”

Lashbrook said she and Thompson have used Organic Initiative funding to help with integrated monitoring, cover crops and planting a flower blend that helps keep bugs away on their Livingston farm, which grows blueberries, almonds, black walnuts, walnuts, cherries, lavender, oat hay persimmons, pomegranates, pecans and wild elderberries.

They are also registered agriculture consultants and have helped clients prepare a program to qualify for funding.

 Eligible producers for funding include those certified through USDA’s National Organic Program, those transitioning to certified organic production, and those who meet organic standards but are exempt from certification because their gross annual organic sales are less than $5,000.  Last year, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service obligated nearly $24 million through the Organic Initiative to help producers implement conservation practices. 

Under Organic Initiative contracts, producers are paid 75 percent of the cost for the organic conservation measures they implement. Beginning, limited resource, and socially disadvantaged producers are paid 90 percent. The program provides up to $20,000 per year per person or legal entity, with a maximum total of $80,000 over six years. 

Producers interested in applying for Organic Initiative funding must submit applications through their local NRCS Service Center, which can be located through the Web site at  Applications are accepted on a continuous basis, with the cutoff date set for March 4, 2011. 

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.