Conservation helps organic industry grow

Aug 31, 2013

Organic producers use practices that foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Organic farmers limit their use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and do not use sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering.

Consumer demand for fruits, vegetables, grains, and livestock with the organic seal is high — and the industry is growing. Organic operations are more than a $30 billion industry in the United States. During the past 10 years, the number of certified organic farms and businesses in the U.S. exceeded 17,000, a 240 percent increase since USDA first began collecting this data.

Organic farming is alive and growing in Maine, too. According to a 2010 report issued by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the oldest and largest state organic association in the country, Maine has 582 organic farms working just under 1 million acres of land. In 2007, these farms generated $36.6 million of total economic output, including providing 1,596 jobs and indirectly generating an additional $55 million through equipment and supply purchases.

USDA’s National Organic Program sets the standards for organic production and handling, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service provides financial and technical assistance to organic producers or producers wanting to transition their operations into organic ones. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program are the two key NRCS conservation programs for organic and transitioning organic producers. NRCS helps these producers by developing a conservation plan and conservation activity plan — also known as a transition to organic plan — which may include establishing buffers, improving soil quality, reducing soil erosion and pests, and improving irrigation efficiency, among other things. Buffers, such as field borders and hedgerows, effectively separate organic crops from non-organic, while cover crops prevent erosion and make the soil healthier.

When certified organic and transitioning organic producers use conservation practices on their operation, the benefits extend beyond producing quality fruits, vegetables, and meat from their farms. These practices can also lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil, and habitat for birds, bees, and other pollinators.

Organic producers or a producers interested in transitioning to organic, can learn more about EQIP and CSP programs at me.nrcs.usda.gov or by calling local USDA NRCS Service Center: Peter Abello, District Conservationist Augusta office, 622-7847 ext. 3/peter.abello@me.usda.gov or Autumn Birt, District Conservationist Belfast office, 338-1964 ext. 3/autumn.birt@me.usda.gov. And be sure to visit your soil and water conservation district online for other educational resources: Knox-Lincoln, knox-lincoln.org; and Waldo County, waldosoilandwater.org.

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