By Deb Courson Smith

Planting season is under way, and while finding time to deal with paperwork may be tough, it’s being encouraged. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for Montana farmers and ranchers with organic operations – and for those thinking about making the transition to organic.

The money comes through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative, according to Traci Bruckner, policy analyst with the Center for Rural Affairs. She says $50 million is being offered nationwide.

“This program is there to help those people interested in taking that leap, but who maybe have been a little bit afraid to do it because they aren’t sure that the financial side of it can come through.”

Montana is a top organic production state – number one for wheat and the second-largest producer of peas.

The application deadline is May 20. Bruckner advises producers to visit their local Natural Resources Conservation Service office soon to start the application process.

Funding is available for an array of situations, such as organic producers who want to add new conservation practices, but Bruckner says the most attractive feature of this program is the cost-share offer.

“Beginning farmers and ranchers, or socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, qualify for a 90 percent cost-share on the practices they would add under this program.”

A fact sheet on the program is available at cfra.org. Information about Montana’s organic industry is at agr.mt.gov/organic/program.asp.