Farmers who want to go organic will get help from a new $300 million initiative launched by USDA Monday. 

The effort has funding to help farmers transition to organic production, make use of new mentoring networks, and pay for crop insurance. It also includes money to identify new markets and help develop supply chains. USDA announced the total amount available in June but offered more details Monday

"Organic production allows producers to hold a unique position in the marketplace and thus take home a greater share of the food dollar," but the number of farms actively transitioning to organic production has dropped by nearly 71% since 2008, USDA said.

Using funds from the American Rescue Plan that the Democratic Congress passed in March 2021, the Agricultural Marketing Service will allocate $100 million to “build partnership networks in six regions across the U.S. with trusted local organizations serving direct farmer training, education, and outreach activities,” the department said in a news release. “The organizations will connect transitioning farmers with mentors, building paid mentoring networks to share practical insights and advice.”

In an interview Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the department would be hiring a national coordinator for the six regions, which are being delineated by AMS. "We think that there's an opportunity to create a series of centers across the United States and have those centers pair a producer that's interested in becoming an organic producer" with someone who has experience going through the process, "and to basically provide financial support for creating that mentor relationship," he said.

Another $100 million will go toward improving organic supply chains in “pinpointed markets,” USDA said. This part of 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,” the department said. “Examples of markets seeking support include organic grain and feed; legumes and other edible rotational crops; and livestock and dairy.”

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USDA said it would begin accepting feedback on that effort next month making an announcement of specific policy initiatives later in the year. Vilsack said the money could be used for guaranteed loans, revolving loan funds or grants, or a combination of tools, but, "We're going to learn from folks out there in the countryside what actually is needed.'

USDA also said the Natural Resources Conservation Service would develop a new organic management conservation practice standard and offer financial and technical help to producers who implement the practice. Vilsack said NRCS is "very, very close to getting that out there."

“Payments will be modeled on those already available to producers meeting the existing nutrient and pest management conservation practice standards,” USDA said. The $75 million earmarked for those practices will “include an increase in organic expertise throughout its regions, creating organic experts at each of its regional technology support centers. These experts will train staff who provide direct services to USDA customers. These services include hosting hands-on organic training for state and field NRCS staff and fielding organic-related staff questions.”

Lastly, USDA will provide $25 million to the Risk Management Agency for a new Transitional and Organic Grower Assistance Program to help producers buy crop insurance. The funding will help cover a portion of the growers' premiums. 

Eligible farmers will get the premium assistance on billing statements for the 2023 reinsurance year, which has sales closing dates running from this past July 1 to June 30, 2023. The premium assistance will automatically apply to policies for which the sales closing dates have passed. 

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