UNL Extension Partners with USDA Organic Transition Program
Nebraska Extension Educator Katja Koehler-Cole and UNL Department of Agronomy and Horticulture Professor of Practice Christian Stephenson recently received $135,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Transitioning to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP). This program is intended to support Nebraska producers who want to transition to organic agriculture by providing them with educational resources, technical assistance, mentoring and community support. It further promotes workforce training and organic market development across the agriculture and food supply chain.
Koehler-Cole and Stephenson are one of several TOPP partners in Nebraska, all of which serve varying roles. The UNL team will focus on teaching, extension and research efforts, providing science-based, locally appropriate knowledge. Stephenson has begun developing an organic agriculture course that will be taught online and will include interviews with organic producers, certifiers and other stakeholders. In collaboration with a social scientist, he will survey producers on motivations and limitations in the implementation of organic practices. A survey of consumers to elicit what drives buying behavior is also planned. Koehler-Cole is working on a producer guide and website, housing information on all things organic in the state. A workshop for prospective and transitioning organic farmers will be held later this year.
TOPP is a collaborative effort among many partners in the Great Plains region and is part of USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative. It is administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP). Its goal is to increase the number of organic farmers and meet constantly rising consumer demands for organic foods. TOPP is focusing on the transition period that farmers must go through to become certified organic, a requirement to receive organic price premiums on their products.