USDA Rural Development RBS Administrator Sam Rikkers and USDA RD State Director Basil Gooden, Ph.D., visit the Shenandoah Organic Valley, a VAPG grant recipient, on April 18th, 2016.
Corwin Heatwole describes himself as quite the stubborn – though innovative – teenager. Leaving home at 17 years of age, this hardworking young man from Harrisonburg, Va. started several successful businesses in his early 20s before he discovered that there was a growing demand for organic chicken in the U.S. In 2013 he bought 300 chickens with not one buyer yet in sight. Now, with the help of USDA, he has more demand than he can handle.
Since that day, Corwin has grown the business from 35 employees to nearly 350 in just 25 months with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In October of 2014, Corwin received $200,000 in a working capital Value Added Producers Grant from USDA Rural Development and in January of this year, he also received a $600,000 Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan (B&I). He used the guaranteed loan to upgrade a very old plant with state-of-the-art packaging and processing machines. Without the packaging machines in particular, he noted, he would have never been able to fulfill his growing orders from Costco and Whole Foods. And through this growing business, he has been able to increase his farmers’ end-of-the-year net income by 75 percent. Read more »
USDA Risk Management Agency Associate Administrator Tim Gannon (left) and Jason Forrester talk about planting plans on one of Forrester’s farms in Chambersburg, Pa.
I hit the road last week to get feedback from farmers in Pennsylvania on how recent Federal crop insurance enhancements are helping organic producers in the state.
Earlier this year, USDA expanded crop insurance options to allow organic producers to purchase coverage that better reflects their product’s actual value. The expanded coverage is part of our continued commitment to provide farmers with resources and tools to meet the growing demand for certified organic products. Read more »
Conner Voss got his family farm certified organic in 2015. Diggin’ Roots Farm is a diversified fruit, vegetable, and livestock operation in Molalla, Oregon, midway between Portland and Salem. Pictured is Conner Voss.
More and more farmers are entering the organic market. Just last year, the number of certified operations in the U.S. grew by almost 12 percent – more than double the growth rate of 2014. So how do farmers, ranchers, and food processors make the transition to organic? We talked to one farming family about their experience, learning how they used USDA programs to help with the transition process.
Conner Voss got his family farm certified organic in 2015. Diggin’ Roots Farm is a diversified fruit, vegetable, and livestock operation in Molalla, Oregon, midway between Portland and Salem. “We sell our product direct – through a CSA, at a local farmers market, and direct to restaurants – and our customers kept asking about our growing practices,” said Conner. “We wholeheartedly believe in the practices and philosophy of organic production, and certification offers a quick and easy starting place for our conversations with our community. Beyond that, being certified is a way for our small farm to actively engage in the larger organic movement by helping define and shape what organic is.” Read more »
Sheep graze on cover crops in a Montana State University sustainable farming study. Photo courtesy of Montana State University.
Environmental and economic management of weeds and pests is a priority for organic farmers and they typically use tillage to address these issues. However, frequent mechanical tillage can reduce soil integrity, which increases costs for farmers and negatively impacts future crop growth. Now, Montana State University (MSU) researchers are studying an alternate technique to manage these issues—domestic sheep.
Instead of using traditional tilling machinery or herbicides, MSU’s project features domestic sheep that graze farmland to eliminate the cover crop and control weeds. The study will determine if an integrated animal and crop production system is an economically feasible way to reduce tillage for certified organic farms. Read more »
Compliance and enforcement activities are key to maintaining organic integrity, and the NOP continues to strengthen enforcement efforts to ensure a fair market for all organic products.
The mission of the National Organic Program (NOP) – part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service – is to protect the integrity of the USDA organic seal. Consumers look for and trust the organic seal because they know that USDA stands behind the standards that it represents. In addition to setting robust, meaningful standards that organic businesses are required to follow, the NOP also defends the organic seal by taking appropriate enforcement actions if there are violations of the USDA organic standards.
The NOP reviews all complaints alleging violations of the USDA organic regulations and takes enforcement actions, as needed, to bring businesses into compliance. Anyone can file a complaint by following the process at How to File a Complaint about Violations of the Organic Standards. In addition to investigating alleged violations by uncertified operations, the NOP works with certifiers and international organic trade partners to investigate alleged violations by certified operations. Read more »
As in past years, the most organic businesses can be found in California and the upper Northwest, the upper Midwest and Northeast, Pennsylvania, New York, and Texas.
Earlier this month, my agency – the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – released data showing that there are now more than 21,000 certified organic operations in the United States, and more than 31,000 around the world. These numbers represent an increase of almost 12 percent between 2014 and 2015, continuing the trend of rapid growth in the organic sector as consumer demand grows.
It’s not just the numbers themselves that are exciting, though. The announcement also marks the first time we released the data through the recently launched Organic Integrity Database, a modernized system for tracking certified organic operations. In the past, AMS’s National Organic Program (NOP) published the number of certified organic operations once a year, using data submitted annually by accredited organic certifying agencies. Read more »