WASHINGTON — The US Department of Agriculture is investing $300 million in the Organic Transition Initiative, the Department announced Aug. 22. The new program offers producers organic transition assistance, direct assistance and market development support.

“Farmers face challenging technical, cultural, and market shifts while transitioning to organic production, and even during the first years after successful organic certification,” said Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture for the USDA. “Through this multi-phased, multi-agency initiative, we are expanding USDA’s support of organic farmers to help them with every step of their transition as they work to become certified and secure markets for their products.”

Since 2008, there has been a 71% decrease in the number of farms actively transitioning to organic production. Part of the decrease may be the result of the organic certification process, a three-year period where farmers must avoid using specific prohibited inputs.

Many farmers also face technical and market challenges during the first year of this period, according to the USDA. To lessen the difficulties, the USDA is allocating $100 million of the initiative toward transition assistance.

Transition assistance includes the creation of six regional partnership networks that will provide direct farmer training and education opportunities. Such opportunities may include connecting farmers with mentors, providing technical assistance and holding workshops on topics like organic production practices, business development, certification and regulations.

Another $75 million will be devoted to direct farmer assistance, offering financial aid to producers that implement new organic management conservation practice standards. The standards are currently under development and have yet to be finalized, the USDA noted.

In order to address concerns about inadequate organic processing infrastructure and market access, another $100 million of the initiative will go toward improving supply chains in specific markets. Areas of focus include organic grain, feed, rotational crops, livestock and dairy.

The market for organic foods has seen inconsistent growth in the past two years, increasing only 2% in 2021 after a 12% increase in 2020.

Sales for organic bread and grain decreased slightly over the past year, but organic produce sales increased 4.5% and organic dairy meat sales increased 2.5% over the same period.