US – The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has opened a US$300 million investment initiative to help build new and better markets as well as new streams of income for farmers and producers.

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, the number of non-certified dairy organic farms actively transitioning to organic production dropped by nearly 71 percent since 2008.

Through the comprehensive support provided by this initiative, USDA hopes to reverse this trend, opening opportunities for new and beginning farmers and expanding direct consumer access to organic foods through increased production.

The Organic Transition Initiative aims to improve the number of US farmers who want to obtain organic certification from the USDA.

This initiative also complements other initiatives such as FSA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program and Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program.

The agency said organic production allows producers to hold a unique position in the marketplace and thus take home a better share of the food dollar.

Farmers converting to ‘USDA organic’ will benefit from technical assistance, mentoring, direct support through conservation financial assistance, crop insurance assistance, and support market development projects in targeted markets.

 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated: “Farmers face challenging technical, cultural, and market shifts while transitioning to organic production, and even during the first years after successful organic certification.”

“Through this multi-phased, multi-agency initiative, we are expanding USDA’s support of organic farmers to help them with every step of their transition as they work to become certified and secure markets for their products.”

USDA is aiming to use this initiative to focus on three areas that touch on the Transition to Organic Partnership Program, Direct Farmer Assistance, and Organic Pinpointed Market Development Support.

Particularly key for the dairy sector, the initiative ‘will focus on 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,’ including dairy.

The USDA is set to invest US$100m to help improve organic supply chains and will seek stakeholder input on these pinpointed initiatives beginning in September.

The initiative will also see the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) launch partnerships with local organizations in six regions to offer direct farmer training, education, and outreach activities.

The Agricultural body has provided US$100m that will facilitate the provision of mentorship, technical assistance, workshops, and advice on organic production practices, regulations, business development, and more in each regional team.

Also, as part of the program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will develop a new Organic Management conservation practice standard and provide financial and technical assistance to producers who implement the practice, with up to US$75m made available by the USDA.

The department will also spare US$25m for a Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program, which will cover crop insurance, including a portion of the participating farmers’ insurance premiums.

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