ELKO — The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service plans to provide benefits to Elko County farmers and ranchers willing to go organic. Their programs bring improvement to a farm itself while also increasing its environmental positives.
Signups for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s Organic Transition Initiative are open until 4 p.m. on Feb. 29.
“The Organic Transition Initiative is a $300 million multi-agency USDA effort to support agricultural producers who want to transition to an organic operation and build and strengthen organic markets,” conservation service spokesperson Rachel Larue said. “NRCS offers financial and technical assistance to farmers choosing to implement a new organic management standard.”
Larue said the organic certification “allows pharma processing facilities to sell, label and represent their products as organic.”
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“You’ve probably seen organic seals in grocery stores. The organic brand provides customers with more choices in the marketplace and USDA protects consumer options by protecting that organic seal.” Larue said.
“The farmers can’t instantaneously transition to organic. They must manage their land without prohibited inputs, like synthetic nutrients or pesticides, for 36 months before crops can be certified organic. So during this transition period, and during the first couple years after certification, farmers can face challenging technical, cultural and market shifts,” Larue noted.
She explained how this process pertains to Elko’s farming scene. “Crops and livestock can be certified as organic. So in Nevada, we’ve seen some successes with organic farming, with operations that use high tunnels and produce vegetables.” High tunnels are greenhouse-like structures which look like a giant transparent cylinder sliced in half.
“High tunnels protect plants from severe weather and allow farmers to extend their growing seasons — growing earlier into the spring, later into the fall and sometimes year-round,” the conservation service says. “High tunnels also offer farmers a greater ability to control pests and can even protect plants from pollen and pesticide drift.”
What kind of incentives does the Environmental Quality Incentives Program offer for farmers undergoing this transition? “We can assist organic producers with things like weed and pest management, developing healthy soils, livestock and pasture management, water and irrigation management and growing during all seasons using high tunnels.”
As for soil management, “if crops need additional nutrients, the conservation service can help producers develop a nutrient management plan that incorporates organic plant, animal and natural mineral-based fertilizers, most of which release nutrients gradually through the action of soil organisms,” the agency says.
As for weed management, conservation plans can bring in benefits such as mulching, crop rotation and cover crops, all of which allow organic farmers to fight weeds.
“By rotating crops across their fields from season to season, organic farmers add biodiversity and increase resilience in their operations while increasing their soil’s organic matter,” it says.
“Instead of leaving land fallow after each harvest, cover crops act as a green manure, providing an additional source of nutrients that build soil organic matter and reduce the need to bring in additional inputs from off-farm sources,” the NRCS says.
“There’s approximately $6 million available for projects under the regular Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which is also known as EQIP Classic. And an additional $10.7 million is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Inflation Reduction Act,” she said. The deadline to apply for equip IRA and equip Classic is March 29.
Anyone interested in the programs Larue discussed can reach out to the NRCS Elko Service Center, she said. The office is at 555 W. Silver St., Room 101, and can be reached at 775-738-8431.