Going Organic: NRCS Offers Assistance
Whether producing crops or livestock, farmers who are considering a transition to organic production can receive technical, and possibly financial, assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The NRCS focuses on several areas of conservation that are eligible for this assistance.
The first area is soil health, which studies the issues of erosion control, organic matter, nutrient management and crop rotations.
The second area is biodiversity, which analyzes the possibilities of constructing hedgerows and buffers, habitat for wildlife, pollinators and beneficial insects. The third area is livestock practices, which evaluate the processes of pasture and grazing management, diverse pasture plantings, fencing, walkways and watering facilities.
“Taking part in the Organic Initiative means building sustainability into your operation from the ground up. So many of the issues faced by conventional farmers, such as weed and pest pressure, can be tackled overnight with a chemical – that’s a powerful incentive when you’re watching your crop fall apart,” said Steve Glasgow, State Resource Conservationist for NRCS in Oklahoma. “But for an organic producer, the solutions to crop stressors are more holistic. Building soil health and managing nutrient cycles naturally takes time and patience, but the result is often a more resilient cropping system as well as lower operating costs to the farmer.”
Free technical assistance is available to all agricultural producers. Understanding that a transition to organic production can be expensive, the NRCS offers financial assistance through the Environment Quality Incentives Program’s Organic Initiative.
To qualify, producers must own or control the land (private or public), and the land must be in compliance with other erodible land and wetland conservation requirements.
To receive technical assistance, producers need a Conservation Activity Plan (CAP) prepared by a NRCS-certified technical service provider (TSP). This plan addresses the natural resource concerns of the farm operation. To inquire about assistance, producers should visit their local USDA Service Center and arrange a meeting with an NRCS conservationist.
How is organic farming different from conventional farming?
Organic farming refers to agricultural production systems that do not use genetically modified seed, synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Some of the essential characteristics of organic systems include design and implementation of an organic system plan that describes the practices used in producing crops and livestock products; a detailed recordkeeping system that tracks all products from the field to point of sale; and maintenance of buffer zones to prevent inadvertent contamination by synthetic farm chemicals from adjacent conventional fields.
Organic farmers use biological methods and management practices such as diversified crop rotations that improve soil quality. Organic farming increases soil organic matter, which enhances the soil’s ability to absorb and store carbon, cycle nutrients, and absorb water. Increased soil organic matter contributes to greater resilience under stresses such as drought and flooding.