Guest column: Setting the stage for a food system transformation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new $300 million Organic Transition Initiative offers meaningful investments in climate-friendly farming that meet urgent needs of communities across the country. The initiative sets the stage for a food system transformation that makes organic the norm – by aligning public spending with public interests in thriving ecosystems and healthy, affordable food.

Organic farming offers sweeping health, climate, and economic benefits – but it’s not easy, especially at the beginning. Land must be managed organically – without synthetic fertilizers and most pesticides – for three years before crops can be sold as organic. During those three years, as the land and ecosystems heal and find new balance, producers may face increased pest pressure, short-term decreases in yields, and a steep learning curve.

While many producers find that organic is worth it in the long run, the costs, time, and technical challenges involved in organic transition remain a barrier, especially for smaller operations with limited resources.

The expertise, experience, and willpower to farm and ranch organically have existed – and persisted – for decades, as evidenced by the consistent growth of the organic sector. And yet, decades of agricultural policy and investments have trapped many producers, workers, and consumers in a system that relies heavily on harmful synthetic inputs and that values short-term yields over long-term sustainability, health, and equity.

Today, less than 1% of U.S. farmland is certified organic, and the number of non-certified farms actively transitioning to organic has dropped nearly 71% since 2008.