NSAC's Blog


Organic Research Funding Opportunities Released

March 29, 2019


Florida International University Agro-Ecology students transplant pepper seedlings to organic soil. Photo credit: USDA.

Family farmers, researchers, and advocates like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) helped to achieve historic victories for the organic and research communities in the 2018 Farm Bill. Of particular significance was the establishment of permanent, mandatory funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) over the next five years. This funding increase will bolster long-term research for organic systems, and lead to the development of new tools and practices that can help organic farmers be more competitive in a changing global market.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which administers OREI, recently announced both the FY 2019 and FY 2020 Requests for Applications (RFAs). OREI grants fund research, education, and extension projects that improve and advance organic agriculture. The 2018 Farm Bill continues the program’s historical funding priorities and adds a new priority on soil health. Projects applying under the new soil health priority will need to “examine optimal conservation, soil health, and environmental outcomes relating to organically produced agricultural products.”

For FY 2019 applications, the deadline to apply is May 2, 2019. Applicants for FY 2020 will have another ten months to complete and submit their applications, which are due January 23, 2020. Although releasing RFAs for two fiscal years at once is unprecedented, it is our understanding that this decision was made to avoid possible delays in releasing future RFAs, due to the proposed move of NIFA from the Washington Capital Area.

Both the FY 2019 and FY 2020 RFAs will have $20 million to award, as set by the 2018 Farm Bill. However, unless Congress negotiates a budget deal to exempt farm bill programs like OREI from automatic sequestration cuts, the actual amount of grant funding available will be closer to $16 million.

RFA Overview

The FY 2019/FY 2020 OREI RFA is generally similar to last year’s offering. Proposals should align with one or more of the following research areas: on-farm crop, livestock or integrated livestock research; food safety practices to improve shelf-life and quality; organic crop propagation systems, including plant breeding; systems-based animal production and pest management practices; marketing and policy barriers to the expansion of organic, among others.

As in the past, OREI is encouraging multiple extension delivery methods, like farmer to farmer mentoring and tours, print publications, social media, and meetings to satisfy project goals. Successful applicants will also need to describe how improvement in the ability of growers to develop the Organic System Plan required for organic certification will occur.

One new piece of note in this year’s RFA is the “Breakthrough in Organic Agriculture (BOA)” conference proposal option, which challenges applicants to explore unconventional theories and technologies for organic over the next 10 years. More details about conference proposals and other proposal types are outlined below.

Another change in this year’s RFA is that indirect costs are now capped at 30 percent, per changes in the new farm bill.

Project Types

1. Integrated Projects

For these projects, applications must include research and at least one other element – education and/or extension. There are three types of integrated projects offered: multi-regional, regional, and targeted proposals.

Multiregional projects are large coordinated projects addressing issues across multiple regions, requires an advisory panel, and can receive a maximum award of $2,000,000. Regional proposals are multidisciplinary projects focusing on issues limited to a single region. These projects are eligible for a maximum of $1,000,000. Targeted projects address specific constraints that can be locality-specific in nature. These will receive no more than $500,000. All three types of integrated projects must include a data management plan with data accessible to the public.

2. Conference Proposals

Projects that involve workshops or symposiums designed to bring together scientists and other stakeholders around advancing or understanding organic issues can be supported with a $50,000 grant. Applicants will be able to submit proposals for conferences focusing on Breakthroughs in Organic Agriculture (BOA) where proposals will aim to develop a roadmap for breakthroughs in organic agriculture by 2030.

3. Planning Proposals

OREI will provide assistance in developing future proposals that require multi-regional and regional coordination. Awards are limited to $50,000 and are not renewable. Successful applicants for planning grants are those who demonstrate limited resources for submitting a large application, define anticipated benefits from the planning activities, or demonstrate their subsequent application will have a high probability of success.

4. Curriculum Development Proposals

Targeted for education activities, these grants lend assistance in the development of new undergraduate or graduate curriculum in organic agriculture; including instructional delivery programs and experimental learning. Please note, programs to educate growers are not considered educational activities, but are instead extension. No more than $250,000 is awarded for a period of up to two years for curriculum projects.

Matching Requirements

The 2018 Farm Bill repealed the strict matching requirements imposed by the previous farm bill for most competitive grant programs – including OREI. NIFA has released guidance to clarify the current matching requirements. For OREI, there is no match required unless a project addresses a specific agricultural commodity, in which case, the applicant must provide a 100 percent match. However, NIFA may waive the matching requirement if the agency determines that the:

  • Results of the project, while of particular benefit to a specific commodity, are likely to be applicable to agricultural commodities generally.
  • Projects involve a minor commodity, the projects deals with scientifically important research, and the grant recipient is unable to satisfy the matching fund requirement.

This means that OREI funding can be available for applicants unable to meet the match, if they qualify for the waiver or include multiple commodities.

NSAC Recommendations

NSAC is pleased to see that many of our historic recommendations to NIFA regarding the OREI RFA have been retained in both the FY 2019 and FY 2020 versions. In 2018, NSAC submitted recommendations to NIFA in partnership with our member organization, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF).

NSAC and OFRF urged NIFA to continue to support organic crop seed systems and breeding for organic production, identify marketing and policy constraints on the expansion of organic agriculture, integrated livestock research and development, and to retain language that promotes multi-regional, regional and targeted projects. NSAC will continue to submit feedback and recommendations to NIFA on priorities that farmers have identified as research needs.

How to Apply

More information on how to apply for the FY 2019 and FY 2020 OREI RFAs, as well as additional resources about the program, can be found on NIFA’s website, or through our Grassroots Guide.


Categories: Grants and Programs, Organic


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