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U.S. agriculture secretary visits Organic Valley farm, touts new grant

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Tom Vilsack

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, spoke in mid-September at a farm in Arkansaw about a new federal grant for the Organic Valley food co-op.

ARKANSAW, Wis. — There are 307 organic farms in Wisconsin, and many of them stand to benefit from a new $25 million grant provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The grant will provide “technical and financial resources to accelerate the adoption of 1,200 new carbon reduction and removal projects on 500 Organic Valley member-farms across rural America over the next five years,” according to an Organic Valley news release. “Through this program, Organic Valley will include direct farmer payments for carbon reduction and removal, as well as cost-share for design and implementation of climate-smart agriculture practices. Climate smart practices included in Organic Valley’s carbon insetting program include improvements to grazing, pasture and croplands, manure management, feed supplements, agroforestry and solar energy.”

Joshua Fairfield, an Organic Valley public relations manager, said there are approximately 1,800 farms in their cooperative nationwide, and about 500 of them are eligible for the dollars in this grant.

“Part of our mission is to create a marketplace for small family farms,” he said.

The co-op learned this spring they won the funding.

“The reaction throughout the co-op was incredible,” Fairfield said. “We’ve seen so many farms not in our co-op struggle this year. These farms have a new option for sustainability.”

Fairfield stressed that no farms are required to be in these programs.

“It’s all volunteer; it’s farmer-driven,” he said. “Our carbon-insetting program is already happening. This grant helps us double the number of farms in it.”

Nicole Rakobitsch, the co-op’s director of sustainability, said she anticipates that 150 farms in the Upper Midwest will be in the program over the next five years.

“Organic Valley is predicting to deliver over $20 million in direct farmer financial benefits over the course of the five-year project period,” Rakobitsch said.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited a farm in Arkansaw last week to promote the new grant.

“Through Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, USDA is delivering on our promise to build and expand market opportunities for American agriculture and be global leaders in climate-smart agricultural production,” Vilsack said in a press release. “I’m glad to have the opportunity to join stakeholders at Organic Valley to highlight our strong partnership in increasing the competitive advantage of U.S agriculture, building wealth that stays in rural communities, and supporting new revenue streams for America’s climate-smart producers.”

Fairfield said there are numerous specific requirements for a farm to be labeled as “organic.” For instance, they must have an annual inspection to verify they are organic, they cannot us artificial pesticides, and must use natural fertilizer.

“Cows also have to be outside at least 120 days a year,” Fairfield said. “Our average (in Wisconsin Organic farms) is over 180 days outside.

Up to $2.8 billion through 70 projects spanning the agricultural industry were initially selected as part of the Partnership for Climate Smart Commodities funding opportunity, including multiple projects in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Vilsack’s office said.

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