Though all benefits are not proven and educated opinions do vary as to the value of organic foods, many people believe they are healthier and better for the environment than other farming methods. Though good arguments can be made on both sides many claim (with good evidence) that much concern over specific techniques is fabricated and unnecessary. An example would be the public outcry over GMO (genetically modified organisms) — not proven to be harmful (in fact, often quite the opposite) but now on labels.
As a result there is more demand than before for organic produce and organically-raised meats than in the past. Because the methods involved in their production, costs are higher and prices are too. But while consumers may call for more organic choices they are not necessarily willing or able to pay for them. So to an extent “buying organic” is viewed as somewhat a privilege available only to those who can afford it.
Government agencies and some non-profit organizations recognize this fact. They have stepped in to provide financial and other types of support to those farmers who wish to participate in the organic farming trend. Here are some of the most notable examples and sources of assistance:
The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) offers grants for farmers that average over $10,000. The grants are awarded for projects that further the development of information on a variety of topics including the economic and social concerns of organic farmers and ranchers. The Foundation also encourages assistance in the form of professional researchers. who can help design and implement such projects. The work should target the adoption and improvement of organic farming practices as well as the dissemination of that information throughout the farming and agricultural communities.
The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program is a program offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It will pay up to 75% of the producer’s cost of officially certifying crops and livestock as organic. It will award $11.5 million for this cause in each fiscal year from 2014 to 2018. In some states the Agricultural Management Assistance Program serves the same purpose for some specific states. Check with your states USDA agency for required procedures for application and reimbursement.
The USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program offers up to $20,000 per year to conventional farmers and ranchers as an inducement to switch their production practices to be more ecologically-friendly. The funds are also available to farmers who are already using organic methods, in order to help them expand their operations.
Also from the USDA, the Integrated Organic Program provides money for organic farmers and ranchers to expand and enhance their current operations. You cannot apply directly for this funding, however, as it is granted to various state agencies, colleges and universities, businesses, nonprofits and land grant institutions. Those organizations then pass the money along to individuals.
State Organic Associations
In addition to assistance available federal and state government there are private associations that offer lots of support. They offer so much information, support, training, marketing opportunities and more. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is a great example. It was started in 1971 and is the U. S.’ largest and oldest state organic organization. It has a very robust website which would probably be interesting even if you are not located in Maine.
Other states have organic non-profit associations as well. They are of course more apt to be fund raising than awarding grants. However they are still great places to start if you want to know more about organic farming and gardening and/or find resources (financial and otherwise) that can help you. You can find them in your state by doing a simple internet search. You can also check out the Organic Consumers Association (see Useful Resources). There you will find links to lists of both National and State Organic Farming Associations. You can also simply enter the name of any state and get information about organic-related news, events, green businesses in that state.
Organic Farming Opportunities
In addition to the funding that is specifically set aside for organic farmers and ranchers, there is of course funding from the USDA and other organizations available for any sort of farmer. And do not discount the private or member-owner financial organizations like the Ag Banks and the Farm Credit Bureaus, which often lend to farmers with reduced standards and lower interest rates. See our article about Farm Loans for more specific information. Also see Federal Grants for Agriculture for more about grants and loans related to sustainability, which often goes hand in hand with organic farming.