By Trevor Findley, OFRF Senior Policy Associate
OFRF and its advisors recently met with organic farmer and newly-confirmed USDA Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt and Senior Advisor Mike Schimdt to discuss the department’s plans to help producers transition to organic production. USDA Secretary Vilsack has previously announced that the department will spend a couple hundred million dollars to help farmers and ranchers transition to organic. Given OFRF’s research focus and in-depth analysis in the National Organic Research Agenda, OFRF is well-equipped to provide the department with recommendations that will help producers transition to organic farming.
Based on its research, OFRF knows that one of the biggest challenges for transitioning producers is the availability of technical assistance and education on organic farming techniques. OFRF has recommended allocating $50 million for training, education, and outreach. A portion of these funds would go to extension agents and other specialists to provide direct assistance to transitioning producers. In addition, use of these funds would be targeted to states with low organic farming rates, and a portion would be set aside to serve producers who have been historically excluded from USDA programs, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
Given the historic underinvestment in organic agriculture research, OFRF also recommended increasing the Organic Transitions Program grant funding from $7 million to $20 million. The program currently has a 20 percent success rate—meaning only one in five grants receives funding—and the amount requested is about three times the funds available.
Last, OFRF recommended a handful of changes to conservation programs currently offered by USDA to increase their appeal for organic farmers. These changes include increasing the incentive rates for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to more accurately reflect foregone income during the three-year organic transition period, and reinstating the popular organic field border buffer initiative under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
As USDA continues to determine how it will use the funds to create transformative changes and invest in climate-friendly agricultural practices, OFRF will continue to use its expertise to advocate for the needs of organic farmers and ranchers.