The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced a special initiative of $50 million, of which Texas will be receiving more than $4.4 million, to provide financial assistance for conservation practices to growers transitioning to organic farming or who are already certified for organic agriculture under new provisions of the 2008 Farm Bill.

Applications for Farm Bill conservation programs are accepted on a continuous basis. This special sign-up period will be Feb. 8 – March 12, 2010 at NRCS offices across Texas.

Organic or transitioning farmers may apply for funds through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to receive up to $20,000 annually or $80,000 during any six-year period.

Last year, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced $50 million for the organic initiative to meet the Obama Administration’s promise to encourage more organic agriculture production. The program has been extended and is being offered again this year.

“Assisting organic producers is a priority of the 2008 Farm Bill as well as for Secretary Vilsack and the Obama Administration,” said Merrigan. “The objective of this initiative is to make organic food producers eligible to compete for EQIP financial assistance.”

The NRCS offices will be administering the program, which has been reorganized to include a separate fund of EQIP revenue to help the organic farmers and those who are beginning to undertake organic production.

For producers transitioning to organic production, they need to provide a self-certification to develop an Organic System Plan (OSP) by an accredited consultant during the contract period and implement conservation practices consistent with EQIP statute and the OSP.

Certified organic operations need to include their OSP reviewed by a USDA National Organic Program (NOP) accredited certifier when they apply for financial assistance under the program.

“Farmers with an OSP have typically accomplished much of the work needed to develop an NRCS conservation plan,” said Don Gohmert, NRCS state conservationist for Texas. “Participating in organic EQIP will result in a complete conservation system.”

The 2010 Organic Initiative is a nationwide special initiative to provide financial assistance to NOP certified organic producers as well as producers in the process of transitioning to organic production. Organic producers may also apply for assistance under general EQIP.

Under the organic initiative, required minimum core conservation practices will be determined by specific resource concerns. The practices are: Conservation Crop Rotation; Cover Crop; Nutrient Management; Pest Management; Prescribed Grazing; and Forage Harvest Management.

Applications received from organic producers or producers in transition to organic farming will be accepted under this funding initiative between Feb. 8 and March 12. Applications will be ranked at that time. To assist with eligibility questions, there are two separate National Screening Tools for applicants (one for producers transitioning for the first time and one for certified organic producers transitioning additional land or adding new conservation practices). Ranking criteria has been established based on resource concerns that link to the NOP objectives and the core conservation practices.

“EQIP is designed to help all types of farmers and ranchers – livestock and dairy, grazing, or cash crop, including specialty crops and organic,” Gohmert said. “EQIP also offers additional assistance for socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers and ranchers.”

Interested producers should visit their nearest USDA Service Center about conservation planning and to determine eligibility.