In an effort to increase the number of US organic producers, the USDA announced the third year of Organic Initiative, a program making up to $50 million available to small and medium-sized farmers for 2011 in alignment with the 2008 Farm Bill.
Organic Initiative's program funding comes from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a voluntary conservation program administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. In order to qualify, farmers and producers must be certified through the USDA's National Organic Program, be in a transition phase towards meeting those standards or produce less than $5000 worth of food annually (which exempts them from certification due to the low volume).
Demand for organic food has been on the rise, even despite economic challenges in the US, and the conservative farming methods employed to grow organically use fewer resources and are gentler on the environment — another reason the USDA is eager to support organic farmers with the initiative.
Even as organic food has been growing ($24.8 billion in US sales of organic foods and beverages in 2009 versus $1 billion in 1990), conventional food growth has risen as well, most dramatically in the production of animal products, with factory farming increasing more than 20 percent in just the last five years. Concentrated animal feed operations (CAFO) createhundreds of millions of tons of animal waste annually, causing damage to soil, air and water. This also increases the risk of food borne illnesses - not only just in the animal products themselves - but also in fruits and vegetables grown on nearby farms where toxic runoff can contaminates crops. By definition, organic produce must be free from exposure to runoff. Currently, less than 5 percent of all farms in the US are certified organic.
Applications for the Organic Initiative program can be found here.
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Photo: Tim Psych