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Organic Transitions Program Applications Now Open

April 4, 2019


Beth Kazmar and Steve Pincus of Tipi Produce tell NSAC members about their organic produce operation. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik.

On the heels of the publication of the Request for Applications (RFA) for the the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has also just released this year’s RFA for the Organic Transitions Program (ORG). Like they did with OREI, NIFA has opted to release the fiscal year (FY) 2019 and 2020 RFAs concurrently.

ORG is an integrated research, education, and extension competitive grants program supporting research projects that address research challenges associated with the transition to organic agriculture. These projects provide education to farmers who are newly adopting organic practices, helping transitioning producers better understand the economic and environmental benefits of organic production.

ORG projects may last a period of one to three years and NIFA anticipates there will be approximately $5,800,000 available for each fiscal year. However, unlike OREI which is supported by mandatory funding from the farm bill, ORG relies solely on appropriated funds which are provided at the discretion of Congress. Because NIFA is releasing the FY 2020 ORG RFA before appropriated funding has been finalized, the availability of funding for FY 2020 projects may change from current estimates. According to NIFA, the decision to release the FY 2019 and FY 2020 RFAs simultaneously was made to avoid possible delays in future RFAs, which are likely given the Administration’s proposed move of NIFA from the Washington Capital Area, and the resulting loss of staff capacity to administer NIFA’s grant programs.

The deadline to apply for the FY 2019 ORG RFA is May 16, 2019. Applicants are also encouraged to begin their applications for FY 2020 early, however the deadline for FY 2020 is not until February 27, 2020.

RFA Overview

Similar to previous years, applications are limited to those from colleges and universities; however, non-profit research institutions may partner on a proposed project (or consider applying instead to the OREI program).

Budgets for both FY 2019 and FY 2020 ORG projects should not exceed $200,000 per year; and total awarded amounts per project should not exceed $500,000. Roughly ten to eleven awards will be made each year.

Proposals to ORG must address practices and systems associated with organic crops and organic systems that integrate crop and animal production. This means that ORG proposals should include a research component, and at least one other of the two functions – extension and/or education. To be a successful application, the proposal must provide descriptions of how stakeholders (including farmers!) are to be involved in the research processes including planning, implementation, and evaluation. NIFA is encouraging applicants to develop partnerships with Land-Grant Universities, accredited colleges and universities, and institutions that serve underserved or hard to reach audiences that are engaged in organic research and education.

Projects can also address research priorities identified by the National Organic Program (NOP). Specifically, NOP has stated a need for research that focuses on identifying alternatives to listed prohibited substances that are critical for organic producers. A full list of NOP research priorities can be found here.

ORG Priority Areas

For FY 2019 and FY 2020, ORG will consider applications that address the following high-priority research areas:

  1. Effects of Organic Practices. These include understanding and documenting the impacts of crop rotation, livestock feeding and management, organic manure, mulch and/or compost additions, cover crops, greenhouse gas mitigation, impacts of reduced or conservation tillage on soil health, biodiversity, and the management of weeds, pests, and diseases.
  • Improved Technology. Includes the development of technologies, methods, and metrics to document, describe, and optimize ecosystem services, and the adaptation of mitigation of climate variability on organic crops, livestock and crop-livestock production systems.
  • Cultural Practices. Involves developing cultural practices and other allowed alternatives to substances that have been identified for removal from the NOP’s National List of Allowed and prohibited substances. Suitable alternatives may include new cultivars, cultural practices or technologies, and the efficacy of such that allows the NOP-listed substance to be successfully removed from the national list. Data should also provide information on productivity, profitability, and environmental stewardship impacts of the proposed alternative.

If applicants are applying to both ORG and OREI, there must not be significant overlap with the objective and scope of the submitted ORG and OREI proposals. Proposals with overlap will cause the second submitted proposal to be rejected.

Matching Requirements

According to NIFA’s guidance to clarify the current matching requirements, there is a 100 percent match required if the project provides “a particular benefit to a specific agricultural commodity.”  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.

How to Apply

More information on how to apply for the FY 2019 and FY 2020 ORG 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, Research, Education & Extension


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