Whiting, Ks.- The Kansas Rural Center (KRC) is offering information to farmers interested in the transition to organic production. March 12, 2010 is the deadline for signing up for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) 2010 Organic and Transition to Organic Special Initiative under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Since organic farming is still relatively new to NRCS, KRC staff are providing interested farmers information and connections to resources that will help producers make decisions and get started in the program.
“Many farmers are interested but have a lot of fundamental questions not only about the EQIP Organic Initiative but organic farming and certification in general. While we can’t fill out the applications for you, we can answer questions and send you to the right people and places to find out what you need to know about organic production and the organic certification process. We can also put you in touch with existing organic producers who would be happy to answer your questions about organic farming. Our website (www.kansasruralcenter.org) also has links to important and useful information”, states Mary Fund, KRC Communications Director. “The important thing is for interested farmers to go to their local conservation district offices and sign up. But you have to do it before March 12 for 2010 funding.”
Kansas has received $1,416,186 for this initiative in 2010. The initiative can provide up to $20,000 per year for no more than $80,000 over a six year period to assist farmers and ranchers to transition to organic or to improve conservation benefits on existing organic farms. Funds not allocated in Kansas will be sent back to national headquarters for reallocation.
Eligible farmers include:
- Farmers just beginning or in the process of transitioning to organic production;
- Existing certified organic farmers who want to transition additional acres or animals;
- Existing certified organic farmers who need to adopt additional conservation measures;
- Producers who sell less than $5,000 in agricultural products and are thus exempt from formal certification are still eligible for Organic Initiative payments:
- Farmers whose 2009 applications to the Organic Initiative were deferred will receive a letter from NRCS outlining their options in 2010.
NRCS has developed a list of conservation practices appropriate for organic production offered through the initiative. Kansas’ list is fairly inclusive of all practices including cover crops, conservation crop rotations, grazing management, nutrient management plans, etc. Successful applications will receive a 75% payment rate for practices undertaken. For beginning, socially disadvantaged, or limited resource farmers, the payment rate will be 90% of practices undertaken.
New to the EQIP Organic Initiative in 2010 is the addition of the Seasonal High Tunnel System or hoop house conservation practice. Funds are limited to $4,000 per agricultural operation for a high tunnel. These are plastic covered structures usually for horticultural production. Although there was a sign-up in Kansas earlier this year, the State Conservationist made the decision to run the Seasonal High Tunnel System practice under the Organic Initiative, which establishes the sign up deadline as March 12, 2010.
To apply for the EQIP Organic Initiative, farmers and ranchers must contact their local NRCS office and submit the general EQIP application and a screening criteria worksheet for either “Transition to Organic” or for a “Certified Organic Operation”. Producers who have not participated in federal farm programs (such as some market garden operations) will need to sign up with their local Farm Services Administration Office to determine eligibility for federal farm programs. Forms are available at the local NRCS office or online. The important thing is to contact the local county NRCS office and sign up. Details of the application can be developed later.
Farmers already certified organic who are applying must submit a copy of their current organic system plan (OSP) and maintain certification through the length of the EQIP contract. Transitioning organic farmers must certify that they are in the process of obtaining organic certification, and submit a self-certification letter stating that they agree to develop and implement conservation practices for certified organic production consistent with an organic system plan, and that they are working with an organic certifying agency.
State NRCS officials have stated that applications submitted for hoop house funds before the earlier deadline will suffice for the Organic Initiative. Applicants for the high tunnel or hoop house practice however will need to pursue organic certification under the Organic Initiative.
Applications can be submitted at anytime throughout the year, but those submitted before March 12, 2010, will be evaluated in a competitive ranking process this spring.
According to the national NRCS guidance, applications will be treated as two separate ranking pools, one for transitioning farmers and ranchers without any current certified organic production and another for certified organic farmers who need additional conservation practices. Funding is not guaranteed, as EQIP is a competitive program. But the separate EQIP Organic Initiative allows applicants to be ranked against other organic or transitioning to organic farmers, and not against the much larger pool of all EQIP applicants.
For Kansas specific information, contact your local county NRCS office and/or the Kansas Rural Center at 785-873-3431 or ksrc [at] rainbowtel [dot] net.