Estimates show Texas is in sixth place in the United States for organic agriculture with more than 300,000 acres. Peanuts are one of the crops grown, specifically because the West Texas climate does not favor fungal diseases that make organic production in other regions so difficult. Texas is also No. 1 for the production of organic cotton. In all, 345 field-crop producers are growing cotton, peanuts, corn, sorghum, rice and/or wheat. But recognizing that beginning organic production is quite difficult, a new partnership program hopes to be a bridge to producers wanting to start down the road to organic farming.
Support For All Aspects
Through their own organic program, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will lead the Texas Transition to Organic Partnership Program, or Texas TOPP, designed to recruit, train, mentor and advise farmers who want to transition to organic production. Texas TOPP is a five-year partnership program that will include Texas’ higher education institutions, U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies, nonprofit organizations and farm associations.
TOPP is a USDA initiative that will be investing up to $100 million over five years in cooperative agreements with organizations who will partner to provide technical assistance and support for transitioning and existing organic farmers. The goal of the program will be to build successful organic farmer-to-farmer mentorships that are part of a larger organic community building program. Participants will learn organic practices, business development, marketing and more.
“Participants in this partnership will interact with conventional farmers, transitional organic farmers, organic farmers and many allied industry supporters of organic agriculture in the state,” says Bob Whitney, Extension organic specialist at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in Stephenville. “The objective of Texas TOPP will be to talk to newer organic growers and determine what brought them into the program, as well as to find out what the roadblocks have been to entering the program.”
Texas TOPP support for those in organic agriculture includes:
■ Connecting transitioning farmers with mentors.
■ Building mentoring networks to share practical insights and advice.
■ Providing community building opportunities through train-the-mentor support, technical assistance and educational workshops and field days.
■ Helping producers overcome technical, cultural and financial shifts during and following certification for organic production.
■ Engaging educational and training institutions on organic workforce training and education.
■ Educational outreach on topics such as organic production practices, certification, conservation planning, business development, organic agriculture regulations and marketing.
Whitney says an important aspect of Texas TOPP efforts will be to find out what is currently happening in terms of organic farmer support and how best to maintain and expand that existing support.
Spurring Interest In Organic
“The Texas organic program already makes use of organic farmers for organic field trials, organic product testing and as tour stops on field days,” he says. “These current activities will be a backdrop for intensive ‘transition farmer’ training field days, where time can be spent learning the organic production system and requirements.”
Whitney says despite Texas’ organic output and values having increased significantly, the number of certified organic farming operations has remained relatively static for the past 10 years.
“Even though organic growers in rice, cotton, peanut, wheat, corn and forages report higher per-acre returns than conventional, there is still resistance by conventional producers to move into organic agriculture,” he says.
He says some of the challenges in making the transition to organic production include lack of land, complexity of the regulations, weed control, transition costs and general understanding of the organic production process. PG