WHAT IS NRCS?

Since 1932, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has provided assistance to agricultural producers to conserve the soil, water, air, plants, and animals on their land.

Through offices in nearly every county across the U.S., NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to help agricultural producers – including certified organic and transitioning producers – plan and implement voluntary, science-based conservation practices.

NRCS experts, such as district conservationists, soil conservationists, engineers, biologists, botanists, and others, work together to help producers find and apply conservation solutions while ensuring their working lands remain productive. Staff often live and work in the counties that they serve, and thereby understand local issues and challenges.

Organic agriculture and NRCS’ goals are well aligned. Many of the USDA Organic regulations can be achieved using NRCS conservation practices, which reflect these shared goals.

WHAT IS ORGANIC?

Organic farming is one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture.

To be “certified organic,” producers must follow regulations outlined by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). Managed by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the NOP develops, implements and administers national organic production, handling, and labeling standards.

Organic agriculture is an ecologically based system that relies on preventative practices to deal with weeds, insects, and disease, using nontoxic methods for any problems that arise. Organic practices require the use of cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and preserve biodiversity. Organic producers avoid synthetic fertilizers and do not use sewage, sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering on their operations.

Healthy soil is the foundation of organic farming. Early leaders of the organic farming movement emphasized that successful farming depends on the health of all natural resources on the farm and in its surroundings. Organic producers strive to develop farming systems that mimic nature and utilize natural processes.

More and more farmers and ranchers will be transitioning to organic to meet growing consumer demand, which currently outpaces U.S. growers’ supply. NRCS looks forward to providing conservation assistance to today’s and tomorrow’s organic producers.

NRCS & TRANSITION

To be considered organic and to use the USDA Organic seal, all operations with more than $5,000 in organic sales must be certified. Independent, third-party USDA-accredited organizations certify farms and ranches as organic. The application to become certified organic and use the USDA Organic seal includes:

  1. Detailed description of the operation
  2. History of substances applied over past three years
  3. Organic products grown, raised or processed
  4. Organic System Plan describing practices and substances used

It takes three years to transition land to an organic system that was previously farmed conventionally. Farmers may choose to have both organic and nonorganic fields, but must create buffer zones between them.

5 STEPS TO NRCS ASSISTANCE

Here’s what to expect:

  1. PLANNING — NRCS technical assistance is free and voluntary. The first step is to visit your local field office and work with a conservationist on a conservation plan that meets the goals of your operation. Ask your conservationist if financial assistance is available to implement any the practices outlined in your conservation plan.
  2. APPLICATION — NRCS can help you fill out the right forms for the application process. Applications for most programs are accepted on a continuous basis, but they’re considered for funding in different ranking periods.  Ask your local NRCS conservationist about the deadline for the ranking period to ensure you turn in your application in time. You can also apply for financial assistance and manage applications, contracts, and conservation plans online through the NRCS’ Conservation Client Gateway.
  3. ELIGIBILITY — To determine eligibility, you’ll need an official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID). You’ll also need a property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property. You’ll also need a farm and tract number. If you don’t have a farm and tract number, you can get one from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). Typically, the local FSA office is located in the same building as the local NRCS office.
  4. RANKING — The NRCS will take a look at the applications and rank them according to local resource concerns, the amount of conservation benefits the work will provide and the needs of applicants.
  5. IMPLEMENTATION — If you’re selected, your next step is to sign the contract. You’ll then be provided standards and specifications for completing the practice or practices, and will have a specified amount of time to implement. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work if it meets the NRCS standards and specifications.

For more information on how NRCS can help you, visit your local NRCS field office, or:

www.nrcs.usda.gov/organic

For more information on the USDA National Organic Program, visit:

www.usda.gov/organic

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