October 16, 2015
On Tuesday, October 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced over $25 million in grants to support organic farming research. The money was awarded through the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) — the flagship research competitive grants program dedicated to funding research relevant to organic producers — and the Organic Transitions Program (ORG)—a program supporting research, education, and outreach for transitioning from conventional to organic farming practices.
In total, 20 projects across 17 states received OREI awards, ranging from $47,018 awarded to the University of New Hampshire for a planning grant to $2 million to the University of Florida for strawberry cropping systems research.
For fiscal year 2015, at total of $17.5 million is being awarded through this cornerstone program. OREI focuses on the challenges faced by farmers that have already transitioned to organic production.
No non-governmental organizations (NGOs) received an OREI grant in 2015, though four did in 2014.
Seven universities received ORG grants, totaling $3.8 million, up slightly from 2014. ORG focuses on environmental services provided by organic systems, particularly those related to soil conservation and climate change mitigation.
The OREI 2015 RFA contained a new priority, curriculum development for organic agriculture. A University of Wyoming project was funded to build innovative curriculum that addresses the priorities of a team of experienced instructors, accomplishing relevance across regions while leaving flexibility for instructors to adjust modules to best fit into their program goals. Curriculum will be tested in classrooms across regions, with input from instructors and students helping to shape final materials to share online.
Plant Breeding Projects
The OREI 2015 RFA continued an emphasis on public plant breeding for organic systems. One funded project will develop a framework for organic producers in Northern California to interact with faculty and students at University of California-Davis to identify cultivar needs in vegetable and bean crops, prioritize development of new cultivars, and to breed and commercialize new cultivars while providing experiential training for undergraduate and graduate students in field-based plant breeding directly in organic systems. The Organic Seed Alliance will assist by facilitating regular interactions and meetings between student researchers, faculty, organic seed companies and organic growers.
OREI is also helping to fund the annual three-day meeting of the Student Organic Seed Symposium which aims to facilitate collaborations among graduate students, networking with plant breeding professionals, and knowledge sharing about new research and techniques for organic plant breeding. The symposium helps create a network of training and support for graduate students interested in organic plant breeding and seed systems.
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service will head up a funded project to work with universities, NGOs, private companies, and leading organic farmers to breed new varieties of hairy vetch, Austrian winter pea, and crimson clover through traditional, participatory, and marker-assisted methods, with the goal of improving organic production systems by addressing persistent challenges with legume cover crop performance and consistency. Through the creation of an Eastern Cover Crops Council, the research and dissemination of project results will extend beyond the duration of the award.
Started in 2002, OREI provides funding to help organic producers and processors grow and market their products through research, education, and extension. Since its inception, the program has invested millions in organic-relevant research for one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors.
Previous OREI projects include one to the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) to explore the risk in organic farming and the lack of quality organic crop insurance. It also helped Oregon Tilth bring organic producers to the 2015 Organicology conference and train them through eOrganic and Extension webinars.
OREI was one of several “stranded programs” when Congress failed to pass a farm bill in 2012, leaving the program with no funding for 2013. Upon passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress reauthorized OREI, providing $100 million in mandatory funding (or $20 million annually) through 2018.
Open only to colleges and universities, ORG helps improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers through research, education and higher education programs.
Past ORG projects include a four-year grant to the University of Illinois to research the carbon sequestration potential of organic grain in the Midwest, and a four-year grant to the University of New Hampshire to explore greenhouse gas emissions by dairies during the conventional-to-organic transition.
This year, ORG prioritized four key areas: