Growing the Field for Organic Conservation

March 16, 2017
USDA Cover Page for the National Organic Farming Handbook, with three images of farms, and crops

As producers work to meet regulations under the National Organic Program (NOP) and become certified organic, they often apply conservation practices that align well with the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) conservation activities, such as green manures, buffer strips, and rotational grazing. NRCS assistance is being sought by both new and established organic farmers to help meet resource stewardship goals.

Yet, NRCS staff, as well as other ag professionals such as organic certifiers, need an improved understanding of natural resource conservation on organic and transitioning farms in Oregon and California, according to Oregon Tilth and the Wild Farm Alliance. In answer to a survey administered by the two organizations, the majority of organic certifiers stated that they did not work with NRCS.

Oregon Tilth and Wild Farm Alliance, through their project  Growing the Field for Organic Conservation, expanded NRCS’ knowledge of soil health and conservation on organic and transitioning farms with the goal of reducing  the barriers to organic certification and increasing organic and transitioning farmers' participation in conservation programs.

As the project leaders developed a toolkit to advance knowledge of organic conservation practices and how certification and conservation programs work together, a thirty-page resource was developed to support NRCS conservation planners and other agricultural professionals as they work with organic producers. The National Organic Farming Handbook describes organic systems and identifies key resources to guide conservation planning and implementation on organic farms. The handbook was developed with a team comprised of NRCS staff and partner organizations from across the country and from a range of disciplines. Producers and other audiences may also find the handbook useful, particularly the resources listed in various sections.

Sarah Brown, Oregon Tilth, was pleased with the results. “We are incredibly pleased to have supported the development of the National Organic Handbook. This document provides the first comprehensive resource focused on the intersect of conservation and organic agriculture. It serves as a guide for conservation professionals, farmers, and others interested in supporting conservation on organic lands.”

In addition to the handbook, resources for organic certifiers were also developed. The Biodiversity Conservation: An Organic Farmer’s and Certifier’s Guide was created to clarify the National Organic Program’s new Natural Resources and Biodiversity Conservation Guidance. This guide gives farmers and certifiers practical and effective information to not only be in compliance but also to take advantage of the ecosystem benefits related to biodiversity. According to Jo Ann Baumgartner, Wild Farm Alliance, “The Biodiversity Conservation: An Organic Farmer’s and Certifier’s Guide has been well received by organic certifiers and is stimulating many to update their Organic System Plans.”

One clear outcome of the project, according to Al Kurki, Western SARE PDP Associate Coordinator, was that it catalyzed institutional change. “Not only did the project reach a lot of ag professionals and farmers, it also helped spur more frequent, regular dialogue and interaction between the National Organic Program and NRCS,” states  Kurki.

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Topics: Education and Training, Natural Resources / Environment, Organic Agriculture, Pest Management
Related Locations: North Central, Northeast, South, West