USDA announces loan program and Organic Program Handbook

USDA announces loan program and Organic Program Handbook

USDA has made two recent announcements regarding tools to help U.S. farms.

The launch of a Conservation Loan (CL) program that will provide farm owners and farm-related business operators access to credit to implement conservation techniques that will conserve natural resources.

“This will give farmers who want to implement conservation measures on their lands a chance to do so by providing assistance with their up-front costs,” said Vilsack. “In return, these producers will help to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and promote sustainable and organic agricultural practices.”

CL funds can be used to implement conservation practices approved by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), such as the installation of conservation structures; establishment of forest cover; installation of water conservation measures; establishment or improvement of permanent pastures; implementation of manure management; and the adaptation of other emerging or existing conservation practices, techniques or technologies.

Direct CLs can be obtained through local Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices with loan limits up to $300,000. Guaranteed CLs up to $1,112,000 are available from lenders working with FSA.

The USDA also announced the publication of the first edition of a program handbook designed for those who own, manage, or certify organic operations. Prepared by the National Organic Program (NOP), the handbook provides guidance about the national organic standards and instructions that outline best program practices. It is intended to serve as a resource for the organic industry that will help participants comply with federal regulations.

“The handbook will provide guidance to the organic agricultural community to enable them to carry out production and handling processes in a consistent manner,” said Miles McEvoy, NOP deputy administrator. “It will also reduce the burden on industry participants as they work to comply or verify compliance with the NOP regulations.”

First proposed as a “program manual” a decade ago and more recently addressed in the March 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General audit report of the NOP, the publication of the program handbook marks an important step in NOP’s efforts to ensure consistency in the application of NOP regulations.

The inaugural edition of the handbook provides guidance on the allowance of green waste in organic production systems, approval of liquid fertilizers in organic production, certification of organic yeast, processed animal manures in organic crop production, reassessed inert ingredients, and the calculation of dry matter intake for NOP’s access to pasture requirements.

It also includes instructions concerning organic certification, such as recordkeeping, steps to certification, and organic certificates; accreditation procedures, such as how to apply to become an accredited certifying agent; international procedures, such as how USDA determines equivalence of foreign organic standards to those of the NOP; compliance and enforcement measures, such as how to handle complaints; and appeals procedures for certified operations or accredited agents.

Additionally, the handbook explains the difference between NOP guidance and instruction documents and outlines their purpose, legal effect, and the process by which the NOP authorizes, reviews, revises and disseminates them to the public. Future guidance documents will be issued through the notice and comment process outlined in the handbook.

The handbook is accessible at http://www.ams.usda.gov/NOPProgramHandbook. Printed copies can be made available upon request to Standards Division, National Organic Program, 1400 Independence Ave., SW., Room 2646-S, Ag Stop 0268, Washington, D.C. 20250-0268; telephone: (202) 720-3252; fax: (202) 205-7808. Copies can also be downloaded from the Internet.

For more information, contact Melissa Bailey, Director, Standards Division of NOP, at (202) 720-3252.

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