James E. Tillman, Sr., Georgia state conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has announced that the NRCS will provide funding to help organic producers and those transitioning to organic production implement resource conservation practices on their agricultural operations. Applications must be received by March 4, 2011.

Fiscal year (FY) 2011 marks the third year of the Organic Initiative. This year Georgia has a little over $1 million available for producers to plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns in ways that are consistent with organic production. For example, organic producers may use the funding to plant cover crops, establish integrated pest management plans, or implement nutrient management systems consistent with organic certification standards.

Eligible producers include those certified through USDA's National Organic Program, those transitioning to certified organic production, and those who meet organic standards, but are exempt from certification because their gross annual organic sales are less than $5,000. In FY 2010, NRCS obligated nearly $24 million through the Organic Initiative to help producers implement conservation practices nationwide.

Organic Initiative funding is provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a voluntary conservation program administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that promotes agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible national goals. The 2008 farm bill provided for assistance, specifically for organic farm operations and those converting to organic production.

Under Organic Initiative contracts, producers are paid 75 percent of the cost for the organic conservation measures they implement. Producers qualifying as beginning, limited resource, and socially disadvantaged producers are paid 90 percent. The program provides up to $20,000 per year per person or legal entity, with a maximum total of $80,000 over six years.

Producers interested in applying for Organic Initiative funding must submit applications through their local NRCS Service Center, which can be located through the Web site at http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?agency=nrcs. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis, with the cutoff date set for March 4, 2011.