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USDA's dedication to plant health may help organic farmers

The allocation of $45 million for plant health initiatives by the USDA Tuesday may positively impact organic farming, says a spokesperson from the organization.

“Most of this money is aimed at pest detection and control as well as disease management; certainly organic farmers aren’t immune to these issues,” said Larry Hawkins, USDA spokesperson. “Invasive species don’t discriminate between organic and non-organic. We’re hoping to find ways to combat pests through traditional and non-traditional means. That may include using pheromones or some other kind of bio-control.”

Part of the 2008 farm bill, the initiative will offer funding to more the 50 entities including the state departments of agriculture, universities, nonprofit organizations and USDA agencies. Over 200 projects will support the bill’s goal of establishing systems for the health of agricultural industries, a press release issued by the USDA states.

Barbara Haumann, spokesperson for the Organic Trade Association, said once funding recipients are announced it will become clearer how organic farmers will be affected. Until then, she said several projects have the potential of being beneficial.

“Provided they’re not using synthetic pesticides, information on pest identification and technology—if they come up with strategies that comply with organic guidelines—could be helpful,” she said. “The national honeybee study could also be interesting. It’s certainly not specific to organic, but honeybees are essential for crops as pollinators. Any progress they can make on that whole issue would be a benefit.”

Funds will also be allocated for outreach and education, and safeguarding nursery production.

“Projects funded as part of this effort will ensure that farmers and specialty crop growers remain a viable segment of our national agricultural landscape,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release.

More details about the spending plan are available at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service web site.

Once funding recipients are named this week, work plans must be submitted to the state health director in each state. When plans are approved, work can begin.

“We should see things happening in a fairly short period of time, maybe a few weeks,” Hawkins said.

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