The number of noncertified organic farms actively transitioning to organic production dropped by nearly 71% since 2008, according tothe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service. The USDA wants to reverse this trend building the next generation of organic producers and strengthen organic supply chains.
On Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled the USDA’s plan to inject $300 million of American Rescue Plan funds into a new Organic Transition Initiative that will help build new and better markets and revenue streams for farmers and producers.
The initiative will deliver wrap-around technical assistance, including farmer-to-farmer mentoring; provide direct support through conservation financial assistance and additional crop insurance assistance; and support market development projects in targeted markets, the USDA said in a statement.
“Farmers face challenging technical, cultural and market shifts while transitioning to organic production, and even during the first years after successful organic certification,” said Vilsack. “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.”
Organic and specialty foods distributor United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI) welcomed Monday’s news and said this is not only a win for farmers but for consumers as well.
"UNFI applauds the new Organic Transition Initiative that will help farmers transition to organic methods, strengthen organic supply chains and improve sustainability,” UNFI’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Matt Echols told WGB in an email. “Support for organic farming has long been a part of our DNA at UNFI, as reflected through the work of the UNFI Foundation, and we believe that the USDA’s investment in organic farming is not only good for farmers and consumers, but good for our customers and the communities we serve every day.”
Also seeing this as a historic step is the Organic Trade Association (OTA), a membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America.
"Today’s [Monday’s] announcement is the largest single investment in organic by USDA and is a big step in the right direction," said Tom Chapman, CEO and executive director of OTA. "For too long, organic agriculture has been underrepresented in government programs and support, and farmers wanting to transition to organic face steep hurdles in accessing tailored organic-appropriate programs and resources at USDA. OTA has long advocated for better resources to help farmers overcome barriers to transitioning to organic, and we look forward now to helping to ensure that implementation of these programs meet the needs of organic and transitioning farmers and support the goals of the overall sector."