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USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative in Action

Posted by Jenny Lester Moffitt, Under Secretary, Marketing and Regulatory Programs, USDA in Farming Organic
Feb 08, 2024
EcoFarm’s 44th Annual Conference: Interview with Sakeenah Shabazz, Policy Director from the Berkeley Food Institute, and Mark Lipson, Molino Creek Organic Farm

USDA recognizes how critical organic agriculture is to our nation’s economy. We also recognize the challenges producers can face transitioning to organic.

Organic production allows producers and processors to hold a unique position in the marketplace and take home a greater share of the food dollar. But before crops can be certified organic, farmers must carefully manage their land without using prohibited inputs like synthetic pesticides for 3 years. During this transition period and the first years after certification, farmers often face many technical and market challenges.

That is why, in 2022, to help build more, new, and better markets and streams of income for farmers and producers, USDA launched the Organic Transition Initiative (OTI). OTI is a $300 million investment that delivers wrap-around technical assistance to producers interested in transitioning to organic. The initiative includes mentoring and advice, direct farmer assistance through conservation financial assistance and targeted organic market development grants.

I recently had the honor of participating in two events in support of OTI. First, I visited Longmont, Colo., to announce the first round of awards through the Organic Market Development Grant program (OMDG). In this first round, $9.75 million was awarded to ten projects which will make great strides in developing and expanding markets for organically grown products nationwide. I look forward to announcing more grant awards through OMDG very soon.

Next, I traveled to Pacific Grove, Calif., for the 44th Annual “EcoFarm” Conference. EcoFarm is the oldest and largest organic farming conference in the West. At EcoFarm, in an interview with Marc Lipson and Berkely Food Institute’s Sakeenah Shabazz, I spoke further about how OTI funding is supporting the organic sector and providing support for all interested farmers, including small and traditionally underserved producers, to transition to organic. We specifically discussed the Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP). TOPP is a farmer-to-farmer mentorship program providing direct farmer training, education, and outreach activities. At the conference I had the chance to meet with TOPP regional leads for the Southwest region and it's amazing to hear how many connections have already been made between producers through this program. We just reached year one of TOPP and there is so much more to come in this five-year program. You can read TOPP success stories from all regions across the country on our website.

Together, these programs help reduce the risk for farmers who want to grow and market organic crops and they expand opportunities for American producers to participate in new markets. With programs like OTI, OMDG and TOPP, it’s an exciting time to be in organic agriculture!

Category/Topic: Farming Organic