Federal Programs in North Dakota Aim to Boost Organic, Conservation Agriculture
January 16, 2012 | Andrew Burger
As in the rest of the country, organic farming driven by market demand has caught on in North Dakota, and the federal government and state branch of the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) are working to ensure that its growth continues in the state. NRCS is offering technical and financial assistance to ND farmers implementing organic agriculture and conservation practices on their lands as part of the USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program (NOP).
Through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), NRCS North Dakota can provide technical assistance and as much as $20,000 per year ($80,000 over a six-year period) to certified organic producers, those who are making the transition to organic farming, and producers who qualify as exempt, the federal government service announced last month. Farmers that sell organic agricultural products and whose gross agricultural income total less than $5,000 qualify for exempt status under NOP rules.
The National Organic Program in ND
NOP aims to encourage more agricultural producers to put organic production into practice and to assist those already farming organically to further enhance environmental stewardship on their lands according to NRCS-ND’s press release.
“This new initiative offers a great way for NRCS to help organic farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices on their lands,” State Conservationist Mary Podoll said. “As organic production continues to grow in North Dakota, NRCS is looking to partner with eligible producers to help provide them with the tools they need to be successful organic farmers and ranchers.”
There were 152 certified NOP organic agricultural producers in North Dakota as of year-end 2008, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service data.
Organic agriculture was designated a priority for future agricultural development in the federal government’s 2008 Farm Bill. Provisions in the “Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008” increased mandatory funding for organic agriculture five-fold as compared to its predecessor. Most of the funding flows through to two programs: “the organic research program and cost-share assistance help growers and handlers with organic certification costs,” according to USDA Economic Research Service Briefing Room information.
Conservation Stewardship and Conservation Reserve Programs
Also included in the 2008 Farm Act is an Organic Certification Cross-Link that provides producers a way to begin the organic certification process while participating in the USDA’s voluntary Conservation Stewardship Program (CStP). CStP participants receive an annual land use payment for implementing “operation-level environmental benefits.” These include monitored projects with measurable results that enhance soil, water and air quality, as well as that of natural resources associated with their lands.
Another provision of the Act establishes the Organic Transition Incentives Program for Beginning Farmers. Falling under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), it offers special treatment of CRP land that’s being transferred from retiring farmers or ranchers to beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers. As per the program’s rules, a new farmer or rancher would be able to begin the organic certification process beginning one year prior to the CRP contract termination date.
Similar to CStP, CRP is a voluntary program that offers annual rental payments and cost-share assistance from the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to agricultural landowners that “establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible farmland.” CCC makes annual payments rental payments and cost-share assistance for up to 50% of program participant’s costs in establishing approved conservation practices set out in 10-15-year CRP contracts.