By Val Dolcini
The strength of the rural economy rests upon growing, making and creating products that people want to eat, buy and use. Over the past seven years, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack has worked to enhance the range of products made in rural America, and to expand the domestic and international markets for those products. These changes strengthen traditional agriculture, be it promoting biofuels or bio-based products, improving animal genetics or even developing more plant varieties.
Another example is the growing retail market for organic products, which in 2015 was valued at $39.1 billion by the Organic Trade Association. Many organic farmers and ranchers receive premium prices for organic products by following USDA-defined standards that cover the production and handling of certified organic products from farm to market.
For farmers and ranchers growing organics, the USDA Farm Service Agency offers several programs that can help. We recently announced that we’ll be providing financial assistance to organic producers to establish up to 20,000 acres of conservation buffer zones, which are protective natural borders along fields that produce organic crops. Through our Conservation Reserve Program, funds can be used to establish shrubs and trees, or support pollinating species that can be planted in blocks or strips, helping to improve soil and water quality while also providing more wildlife habitat. Interested organic producers can offer eligible land for enrollment in the program at any time.
FSA also provides risk protection for organic crop losses due to natural disasters. Our Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program can cover 55 to 100 percent of the average market price for organic crop losses of 50 to 65 percent of expected production due to a natural disaster. New farmers and traditionally underserved or limited resource farmers are eligible for free catastrophic coverage and discounted premiums on higher coverage.
We offer several different types of low-interest financing as well, from traditional loans to help with operating costs, or to purchase farmland, and a microloan option with a streamlined application process. We also provide loans that can be used to build or upgrade storage for organic commodities, including cold storage, grain bins, bulk tanks and drying and handling equipment.
We even offer services such as mapping farm and field boundaries and reporting organic acreage that can be provided to a farm’s organic certifier or crop insurance agent.
As American agriculture keeps moving forward, FSA is working to make unprecedented investments in every farmer and rancher so that the rural economy becomes stronger than we’ve ever known. To learn more about these FSA programs, visit www.fsa.usda.gov/organic or visit a local FSA office. To find your local office, visit http://offices.usda.gov. And to learn more about other USDA programs that can help organic producers, visit www.usda.gov/organic.
Val Dolcini is Administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency.