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.
NRCS is a great resource for understanding some baseline things, like soil types and characteristics of a particular growing environment right up through supporting cover cropping, high tunnels and a whole range of technical assistance and financial support.
Jack Hedin – Certified Organic Farmer – Featherstone Farms (Rushford, MN)
We are very rooted in doing a type of farming that respects biodiversity and the health of the planet. The more we learn about natural systems and how we can work with them and enhance them in order to produce food, the more excited we are. You just feel really good to be part of a larger system.
Harriet Behar – Certified Organic Farmer – Behar/Brin Farm (Gays Mills, WI)
I just have this love of nature, I guess, that really drives me. When I decided to get into agriculture myself, it wasn’t like I switched from chemical production to organic; it was more an extension of the values I learned growing up.
Jim Riddle – Certified Organic Farmer – Blue Fruit Farm (Winona, MN)
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.
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:
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.
I would say to farmers thinking about transitioning to organic that you really have to be open to experimentation. There’s no substitute for trying different methods on your farm under the exact conditions that exist where you’re farming and to experiment. Be willing to be flexible and to adopt new methods and try things differently every single season.
Stephen Pedersen – Certified Organic Farmer – High Ground Organics (Watsonville, CA)
Here’s what to expect: