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For a limited time only, signup for a new program for organic farmers

Updated: 07/09/2010 @ 8:44am

Out of the billions of dollars the USDA spends annually on commodity programs, conservation, and crop insurance, $50 million sounds like pocket change.

But groups that work with organic farmers in the Midwest are welcoming an announcement by the USDA that farmers who are certified organic, or who are transitioning to organic production, can apply for funding from the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). USDA has set aside $50 million in EQIP funds nationwide for six practices that can be helpful in making the switch to organic farming, or improving conservation on organic farms.

Individual farmers approved in what amounts to a bidding process, can receive up to $20,000 a year or up to $80,000 over six years.

But if you'd like to switch from selling corn to the elevator to delivering organic edible soybeans to your nearest health food store (a three year process for certification), then you'll need to rush into your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office by May 29.

The reason for the short signup, says Sara Carlson of Practical Farmers of Iowa, is that USDA wants to use some of its EQIP funds from the current 2009 fiscal year to kick off the new program that was authorized by the 2008 farm bill. "Basically, they've got money to spend and they're choosing to spend it on these six practices," Carlson told Agriculture Online.

The practices, which have to be something you're not currently doing in order to get payments, are: Conservation crop rotation, planting a cover crop, nutrient management, pest management, prescribed grazing and forage harvest management.

If you're already using a cover crop, say winter rye, and you want to add hairy vetch to it for nitrogen, that would be a new cover crop that could qualify.

Farmers who submit plans to use the most new practices will have the best shot at getting to sign a contract for payments, Carlson said.

Even though EQIP has had a backlog for more expensive practices in the past, organic farmers should have shot at participating in the new program before the funds go back into the pool for other EQIP projects.

Iowa is allocated up to $1.4 million for the organic program, Carlson said. At the $20,000 limit, that would be enough for 70 farms in the state.

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