The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has set a sign-up deadline for the Organic Initiative and High Tunnel Pilot Study of March 12, 2010.

The 2008 farm bill provides specific opportunities for organic producers and those transitioning to organic farming.

South Carolina farmers who are transitioning to organic or who are currently certified organic can apply to receive assistance under the Organic Initiative through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Funding is also available through EQIP for a High Tunnel Pilot study which will enable producers to experiment with structures (also called “hoop houses”) that can help them reduce pesticide use, keep vital nutrients in the soil, extend the growing season, increase yields, and provide other benefits.

A number of "core" organic conservation practices may be funded through the EQIP Organic Initiative, including cover crops, conservation crop rotation, prescribed grazing, pest management, nutrient management, and forage harvest management.

EQIP is a voluntary conservation program reauthorized in the 2008 farm bill. It supports production agriculture and environmental quality as compatible goals. Applications for EQIP are taken continuously throughout the year. However, to be considered for Fiscal Year 2010 funding under the Organic Initiative/High Tunnel Pilot Study, producers must submit applications to their local NRCS office by March 12, 2010.

Applicants who are currently certified organic will need to include their organic system plan (OSP) reviewed by a USDA accredited organic certifier when applying for financial assistance in the Organic Initiative under EQIP. Applicants who are transitioning to organic will need to submit a self-certification form to the NRCS acknowledging that they agree to develop and implement conservation practices for certified organic production that are consistent with an organic system plan. The self-certification form may be obtained at time of application from any NRCS Service Center.

Some participants are eligible to receive a higher payment rate including limited resource farmers, beginning farmers, and socially disadvantaged groups. For more information visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/SLB_Farmer/.

To sign up or learn more about EQIP assistance for the organic initiative or the high tunnel pilot project, contact your local NRCS office, or visit http://www.sc.nrcs.usda.gov. You can also contact Erica Westbrook, State Resource Conservationist, South Carolina NRCS erica.westbrook@sc.usda.gov or (803) 765-5685.