The global organic food and beverages market is expected to surpass $200 billion in 2022 and nearly triple that amount by 2030, according to estimates from Grand View Research. The U.S. market alone could approach $200 billion by the end of the decade. To meet demand, farmers must transition their crops to certified organic – a process that in the United States requires managing land for 36 months without using prohibited inputs like synthetic pesticides.
To help the nation’s farmers get there, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in August announced the Organic Transition Initiative, a $300 million program to support organic farming and build and strengthen organic markets. The initiative will be led by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Risk Management Agency (RMA).
The initiative aims to reverse a trend in recent years that has seen a steep drop in the number of non-certified organic farms actively transitioning to organic production.
The $300 million will be used to create organic opportunities for new and beginning farmers, with the ultimate goal of increasing the production of organic foods to meet consumer demand.
“Farmers face challenging technical, cultural, and market shifts while transitioning to organic production, and even during the first years after successful organic certification,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom 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.”
A key element of the initiative is to ensure that American farmers have the support they need to navigate the organic transition. Up to $100 million will be used to bolster organic supply chains by identifying markets where the need for domestic supply is high, or where additional processing and distribution capacity is required. Among those target markets are organic grain and feed; legumes and other edible rotational crops; and livestock and dairy.
Meanwhile, an AMS-led effort to build partnership networks in six regions across the country will allow federal agencies and local organizations to team up to provide farmer training, education, and outreach. The USDA will allocate $100 million for this program, which will focus heavily on organic production practices, certification, conservation planning, business development, regulations, and marketing.
While the AMS is tasked with providing mentoring, training, and technical assistance, the NRCS will provide financial assistance to farmers who choose to implement a new Organic Management conservation practice standard. The NRCS will also develop organic expertise at each of its regional technology support centers to train NRCS field staff who provide direct services to USDA customers.
An additional $25 million will be provided to the RMA for a new Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program (TOGA), which will support transitioning and certain certified organic producers’ participation in crop insurance, including coverage of a portion of their insurance premiums.
These programs will complement existing USDA programs that already assist in organic and conservation planning and practices, including the FSA’s Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) and Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (OTECP). OCCSP helps producers obtain or renew their organic certification, while OTECP provides additional funding to certified and transitioning producers.
Similarly, the NRCS offers conservation programs – including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) – that help farmers manage weeds and pests, improve soil health, and implement other practices that are key to organic operations. The RMA also administers federal crop insurance options available to organic producers, including Whole Farm Revenue Protection and Micro Farm.