Sustainable & Organic Research

Important Update:

Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill. 

The nation’s investments in agricultural research profoundly affect the future of our food and farming system. But while consumer demand for organic and sustainably-produced foods is steadily rising, public funding for research and extension that is relevant to these farming systems has struggled to keep up with the tremendous growth in these sectors.

Investing in sustainable and organic research drives innovation for tomorrow’s successful farmers and ranchers.

Like any other farmers, sustainable and organic farmers need research to help them make informed decisions about which plants they grow or animals they raise on their farms.  They need to know what types of plants will do well in their soils, which crop varieties and livestock breeds are best suited for their climates, and which seeds will do well in a variety of seasons.  These decisions are critical to being successful in agriculture and in helping farmers to expand their markets and add value to their farming operations.

Unfortunately, organic and sustainable agriculture has not received the same investment in research as conventional agriculture over the years, often leaving these farmers with sub-par seeds or management practices that were not designed for their specific cropping systems.The total investment in sustainable agriculture and development is still a tiny fraction of the over $2.8 billion annual federal investment in food and agriculture research.

NSAC has worked to expand and strengthen sustainable and organic research in the farm bill, resulting in big wins in the most recent 2014 Farm Bill: $100 million to support organic research alone and $400 million to solve critical production and marketing challenges faced by fruit and vegetable growers. In total, the new farm bill represents an increase of $867 million in funding for agricultural research over the next ten years – a significant portion of which will be funneled to support sustainable and organic production systems.

This section of our guide provides an overview of the key federal programs focused on sustainable and organic research such as the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and the Organic Research and Extension Initiative. It includes programs available to colleges and universities as well as programs available to farmers and to community-based organizations and institutions working directly with farmers interested in sustainable and organic farming.