Good NEWS! The USDA has selected us to develop new tools that will help farmers transition to organic

By Chris Hill

December 16, 2003: A few months back our New York columnist, Mary-Howell Martens, wrote about the increasing level of “sneaking non-compliance” that’s taking place in regard to organic certification. She blamed the problem on lack of education and community support, and wrote:

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“The very best solution is strong proactive education and a supportive local organic community. A farmer is much more likely to comply to the letter of the law if they understand how the standards will make them better farmers …. Unfortunately, NOP rules prohibit both certifiers and inspectors from ‘consulting’ or providing information about overcoming barriers for certification. This has meant that the usual channels of accurate certification information and education have largely dried up.”

We’re pleased to announce that some new channels of education and support will be coming soon! The Rodale Institute® and The New Farm® staff have been awarded more than $3 million in funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA) to be used to develop:

  • an online training course for farmers transitioning to organic, and
  • a simulation tool that will allow farmers to plug in a variety of farm variables and evaluate the economic benefits of transitioning to organic

In addition, the Rodale Institute will be able to use some of this money to develop an expanded Organic Price Index™ (OPX) to include prices from an additional 13 markets around the country. The goal of the OPX™ is to present comparable price data for organically and conventionally grown products for commercial crops, specialty crops, and underserved commodities. As always, we welcome your thoughts on what products we should add to the mix as we investigate sources for additional pricing.

The RMA funding will finally allow us to develop the transition to organic course we’ve been promising for the past year. Hundreds of you have written, asking when it will be ready. There’s obviously a great deal of interest, and now we’ll be able to complete it in 2004 and offer to all of you, free of charge, as an interactive, self-directed and comprehensive course in the basics of organic production, marketing and record keeping. The course will include detailed case studies of over a dozen actual farms that have gone through transition in the last five to ten years, ranging from California to New England, and from cotton and peanut farmers to grass-based livestock and vegetable and fruit operations. The final take-away from the course will be the essentials of a farm plan that you can take to your certifier.

The budgeting and planning simulation risk management tool will help farmers examine the relative economic benefits of organic versus conventional production systems over time. The tool will provide multi-year analysis of a farm’s yields and economics and allow producers the ability to experiment with changes in key production variables to determine if organic production techniques are right for their operation.

“The simulation model and the on-line training course will provide farmers with critically needed tools to assess the benefits to their farms and farm operations by converting to organic production techniques,” Anthony Rodale, Chairman of The Rodale Institute. Plans are to have the simulation tool available through NewFarm.org. by the Fall of 2004.

This partnership with the USDA will allow us to build on the work which we have already started on the website. The RMA’s goals in this program are directly in step with our plans to develop tools that will help all farmers evaluate organic and sustainable production practices while reduce their production risks.