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On World AIDS Day, New Mexico activists say more money is needed for prevention; ND farmers still navigate corporate land-ownership policy maze; Unpaid caregivers in ME receive limited financial grants.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken urges Israel to protect civilians amid Gaza truce talks, New York Rep. George Santos defends himself as his expected expulsion looms and CDC director warns about respiratory illness as flu season begins.

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Congress has iced the Farm Bill, but farmer advocates argue some portions are urgent, the Hoosier State is reaping big rewards from wind and solar, and opponents react to a road through Alaska's Brooks Range, long a dream destination for hunters and anglers.

Transitioning to Organics Made Easier for Texas Farmers

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Monday, July 10, 2023   

Texas farmers who want to transition some of their land from conventional crops to organics are getting help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Bob Whitney, a Regents Fellow and extension organic program specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, works with the state's Transition to Organic Partnership Program. Whitney said California grows more organic fruits and vegetables, but Texas is making inroads.

"We're number one in organic dairy production, we're number one in organic peanut production, number one in cotton production," Whitney outlined. "The last couple years, we've been number one in organic rice production."

Before crops can be certified organic, farmers must manage their land without using synthetic pesticides for 36 months. So far, Texas has issued 383 organic certificates to farmers. Overall, estimates show Texas in sixth place among the states for organic ag acres.

A report by Statista said global sales of organic food increased from $18 billion in 2000 to $131 billion in 2021.

Supermarket produce labeled organic has been strictly defined by the federal government since 2002, and Whitney noted shoppers pay attention.

"I'll just tell you these other labels that are on foods are not very well trusted, according to research," Whitney observed. "Organic still has a very high trust with the consumer."

He added participants chosen for the program will learn organic practices, business development, marketing and more, from farmers who have already been successful.

"These farmers that we will work with will be paid a mentorship fee," Whitney explained. "They will help these transition farmers with questions, with how-tos; a little bit of pep talking when they need it."

Whitney has found once farmers commit to organics, they don't look back.

"I can tell you that I do not lose organic producers," Whitney asserted. "As I've heard many of them say, 'You know what, I've got kids, and I'd rather know that they're not out there in the middle of something that's been sprayed.'"

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has committed $100 million to the Organic Transition Initiative.


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