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CONSERVE CHELAN COUNTY, WASH.: Conservation helps organic industry grow

Conservation in your community

Hendershot is a district conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

By Amy Hendershot
district conservationist

Hendershot is a district conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. She works in the agency’s Wenatchee, Wash. office.

Organic photo


  •  America has more than 17,000 organic farmers, businesses and handlers.
  • The organic industry grew almost 9.5 percent in 2011.
  • Organic foods continue to gain market share in the food industry, climbing to 4.2 percent of U.S. retail food sales in 2011.
  • USDA is responsible, under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), for establishing national standards for organically-produced agricultural products.
  • Learn more about 2013 EQIP Organic Initiative

You probably hear the word “organic” quite a bit, but do you really know what it means?

Organic producers use practices that foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Organic farmers limit their use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and do not use sewage sludge, irradiation or genetic engineering.

Consumer demand for fruits, vegetables, grains and livestock with the organic seal is high– and the industry is growing. Organic operations are more than a $30 billion industry in the United States.

During the past 10 years, the number of certified organic farms and businesses in the U.S. exceeded 17,000, a 240 percent increase since USDA first began collecting this data.

USDA’s National Organic Program sets the standards for organic production and handling, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service provides financial and technical assistance to organic producers or producers wanting to transition their operations into organic ones.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program are the two key NRCS conservation programs for organic and transitioning organic producers.

NRCS helps these producers by developing a conservation plan and conservation activity plan also known as a transition to organic plan, which may include establishing buffers, improving soil quality, reducing soil erosion and pests and improving irrigation efficiency, among other things.

Buffers, such as field borders and hedgerows, effectively separate organic crops from non-organic, while cover crops prevent erosion and make the soil healthier.

When certified organic and transitioning organic producers use conservation practices on their operation, the benefits extend beyond producing quality fruits, vegetables and meat from their farms or ranches. These practices can also lead to cleaner water and air, healthier soil and habitat for birds, bees and other pollinators.