Becoming a Transitioning Producer / Mentee

 TOPP Mentee Requirements and Expectations

Aspiring farmers (e.g. those who are new to agriculture) are more appropriately referred to educatitional resources and technical assistance. Therefore, for TOPP, mentees are transitioning producers who have existing farming operations where they are currently employees, managers, or owners. 

Definition of a transitioning producer:

Transitioning producers must have at least two years’ experience owning or operating a farm (or equivalent experience), and must have existing farming operations or be employees or managers who are:

  • Planning to transition an existing operation to organic,
  • In the process of transitioning an operation to organic,
  • Adding new organic acreage,
  • Adding new scopes of organic certification,
  • And/or starting a new certified organic operation.

Expectations

Transitioning producers must:

  • Intend to become certified organic;
  • Have the ability to fulfill the time commitment of menteeship including regular communication with the mentor and mentorship oversight organization, travel and site visits;
  • Have reliable access to a means for attending site-visits;
  • Have access to appropriate technology for communication as determined by the mentor/mentee communication and meetings plan, created during onboarding.  Technology could include video, telephone, text, email, video communications and in-person meetings);
  • Cultivate curiosity about ecological farming.

In a mentorship year, mentees will: 

Commit to 45 hours per yearly program cycle (12 months)

  • Includes 2 on-farm visits per year (one at mentor farm and one at mentee farm, can be virtual if needed)
  • Includes at least 3 touch points during growing season with mentor
  • Includes mentee onboarding and end-of-year meetings
  • Suggested attendance with mentor at 1 community farm event

Create Mentor/Mentee agreement to support the structure of the experience.  The agreement will include:

  • Communication plan (Expected modes of communication include video, telephone, text, email, video communications and in-person meetings) 
  • Learning objectives
  • Self-certification of intent to develop an Organic System Plan

Communicate timely and consistently with mentor and program staff.

Participate in mid-year and year-end mentorship evaluations.

Transitioning Your Land

Organic certification requires that land that is eligible to grow certified organic crops be free from prohibited substances for 36 months prior to harvest. For existing farmers who will need to transition land over the full 36 month period, USDA recently announced that the Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS) has funding available to offset organic transition, including under EQIP and covering reductions in yield due to organic management during the transition period before a producer can achieve higher price premiums for certified organic products. This excerpt is from the NRCS announcement, found here. 

The deadline to apply for funding for the 2023 cycle ends March 1, 2024 in Maine, per this announcement. Producers in New Hampshire have the same deadline for 2023 funding, March 1, 2023. 

NRCS will dedicate $70 million to assist producers with a new organic management standard under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).    

NRCS will help producers adopt the new organic management standard, which allows flexibility for producers to get the assistance and education they need such as attending workshops or requesting help from experts or mentors. It supports conservation practices required for organic certification and may provide foregone income reimbursement for dips in production during the transition period.

Higher payment rates and other options are available for underserved producers including socially disadvantaged, beginning, veteran, and limited resource farmers and ranchers.    

To begin the transitioning to organic / mentee process, please complete the interest form here.

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