USDA Announces Grants To Promote Organic Farming In the US

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced grants of over $56 million to support organic farming in the US. The Agriculture Secretory Tom Vilsack announced new projects at the New York Times Food for Tomorrow Conference on 28th September.

These grants will aim at fortifying local and regional food systems, fund organic research and support farmers markets in the country. The commitment of USDA to support the agriculture sector of the country and making it sustainable goes back many years. Since 2009 USDA has helped stabilize over 40,000 local food businesses and infrastructure projects by spending over $1 billion.

The demand for consuming organically produced fruits and vegetables is on the rise in the US. As more people are aware of the difference in organic farming and conventional farming and its effect on health and environment, they prefer organic food items. According to the USDA, today about 3 out of 4 grocery stores have organic products available; however, these organic products account for only 4% of America’s total food sales.

The Best Option: Organic Farming In The US?

While the prices of organic foods are higher than conventional foods, many people are still tempted to buy conventionally grown food products to save some dollars. However, many prefer organic foods over others.

But, are organic food products actually a better option? The studies remain conflicted to comment on the nutritional value comparisons between organic and conventionally farmed food products.

There are limited studies that support organically farmed food as more nutritious. However, one aspect of organic farming has a definite edge over conventional farming, which is the method of farming. Organic farming in the US employs farming strategies that make use of manure as fertilizers and pesticides derived from natural sources. These farmers commonly use cultural and mechanical tools for controlling pests. These tools include the use of careful crop selection by using disease-resistant crop varieties, using biological controls like beneficial microorganisms, predator insects and insect traps instead of using synthetic pesticides. Similarly, the livestock fed on these farms have minimized exposure to chemically enriched foods, they are not injected with growth hormones or steroids and the use of antibiotic on organic farms remains low, as compared to conventional farming.

On the contrary, the conventional farming methods use chemical pesticides and fertilizers to ensure fast, pest resistant growth of crops.

Although the chemical exposure to eating conventionally grown crops is many times lower than the limit which is harmful, experts are delving into finding out how years of exposure to minute amounts of chemicals can harm human health. While the research is underway, people who care for the environment always encourage organic farming in the US as it helps our ecosystem to be in equilibrium by protecting the environment, involving air, water and soil, against harmful chemicals and pesticides.

In this race of what farming practice wins over the other, our fascination with genetically modified crops has also found an exit. Flavr Savr tomato emerged as the first genetically modified food in the 1990s. With improved shelf life, high yield, bigger size and better taste, these GM crops seemed as a serious threat to other farming techniques. Soon after, the disadvantages of the GM crops began to outweigh their advantages, and their popularity decreased.

Introduction of foreign genes for pest control was disrupting the ecosystem by killing small pests and insects that are primarily food sources for other animals leading towards endangered biodiversity. Apart from this, these crops are recorded to be toxic for the soil and the microorganisms living in the soil which makes it a serious environmental threat. With gene manipulations, these crops were found to trigger allergies in many people and experts fear that the use of gene from viruses and bacteria can lead to emergence of new diseases and health threats to the human population.

What Is USDA Planning To Do?

Thereby, the think tanks at the USDA have aptly taken a step towards reestablishing organic farming in the US as their primary module of food production. With this, the US will not only become self-sufficient to feed its own people, but also be able to export the surplus high quality food products.

The Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “Over the years, we’ve seen how these new market opportunities are helping to drive job growth in agriculture, increase entrepreneurship in rural communities and expand food access and choice. This latest round of grants will expand the capacity of farmers and businesses to serve this growing market, help revitalize local economies around the country, and support efforts around the country to provide fresh, healthy food to all Americans.”

Under this initiative, $26 million in “Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion” will be divided equally between the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) to launch over 100 projects that will support rural economies, increase market opportunities for farmers and help fill supply chain gaps across communities in the US. The second major announcement was worth $21.4 million for “Organic Research and Extension Program” which will initiate 26 projects to assist organic farmers and ranchers improve their business strategy and provide for organic food to the consumers. These grants were funded through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and the Organic Transitions Program (ORG), under the umbrella of NIFA. Another, $8.6 million were allocated for “Community Food Projects” grant which will launch 33 projects to make healthy and nutritious food available for low-income people of the country.

The Agriculture Secretary also said that for the fiscal year 2017, $48.1 million will go into research and active interventions through Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) which will further strengthen the food industry of the country.

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