WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it is establishing cooperative agreements in six regions across the United States for the Organic Transition Initiative, Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP). Organizations participating in the partnership network will work together to establish and administer a farmer-to-farmer mentorship program providing direct farmer training, education, and outreach activities. These activities will help transitioning and recently transitioned producers who face technical, cultural, and market shifts during the transition period and the first few years of organic certification.
The Organic Transition Initiative (OTI) was launched in August 2022 as part of USDA’s food system transformation effort to support local and regional food systems, expand access to markets to more producers and increase the affordable food supply for more Americans, while promoting climate-smart agriculture and ensuring equity for all producers. OTI provides comprehensive support for farmers transitioning to organic production and will deliver wrap-around technical assistance, including farmer-to-farmer mentoring; provide direct support through conservation financial assistance and additional crop insurance assistance; and support market development projects in targeted markets.
“The organic community is known for strong local collaboration and providing farmer-to-farmer support,” USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt said. “TOPP will build on this spirit, while bringing organic to new communities of farmers and consumers.”
The TOPP partnership network covers six regions: the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Plains, Northwest, and West/Southwest. Organizations in these regions are actively forming partnerships to serve transitioning and existing organic farmers. Partnerships will provide mentoring services, technical assistance, community building, and organic workforce development.
TOPP regions are set geographically and form a mix of states that are well-represented in organic and states that are currently underserved. The program is designed to maximize the availability of expert mentors in each region. TOPP is a collaborative effort involving many partners, with cross-functional teams and representatives from different regions working together to achieve a common goal.
The Transition to Organic Partnership Program now includes information about TOPP, a map with the organizations establishing the partnership network, and a form that interested farmer mentors, mentees and other farm service organizations can use to express their interest in this initiative.
USDA is also announcing an upcoming listening session on November 15, which will gather stakeholder input about another OTI program, Organic Pinpointed Market Development Program. The event will seek feedback about the pinpointed market development investments needed to expand the organic agricultural supply chain. This initiative will develop new and expanded organic markets by providing more resources and certainty in the organic market for producers and processors transitioning to organic or initiating new organic production and processing capacity. Event information is available from the Organic Transition Initiative webpage.
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), National Organic Program (NOP) is administering TOPP. NOP is a federal regulatory program administered by AMS that develops and enforces consistent national standards for organically produced agricultural products sold in the United States.