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2020 Opportunities for Organic Research Funding Now Available

January 9, 2020


Researcher in a field of plants.
Researcher in a field of plants. Photo credit: Edmund Frost, USDA.

Note: This post has been updated to reflect changes made to the FY 2020 Request for Applications which was recently released late 2019. For further details on timing and updated application links, see below.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced the FY 2020 Requests for Applications (RFAs) for its programs that support organic research: Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and the Organic Transitions Program (ORG). Last year the agency announced the FY 2019 and FY 2020 RFAs simultaneously likely due to the Administration’s move of NIFA from the Washington Capital Area, and the resulting loss of staff capacity to administer NIFA’s grant programs.

Both OREI and ORG are the primary drivers of organic research, provide long-term research for organic systems that lead to the development of new tools and practices that can help organic farmers be more competitive in a changing global market. The 2018 Farm Bill established permanent, mandatory funding for OREI over the next five years, while ORG relies solely on appropriated funds which are provided at the discretion of Congress.

For FY 2020 OREI applications, the deadline to apply is January 30, 2020. For FY 2020 ORG applications, the deadline to apply is February 27, 2020.

OREI RFA Overview

The FY 2020 OREI RFA is generally similar to the FY 2019 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 2020 OREI RFA, as well as additional resources about the program, can be found on NIFA’s website, or through our Grassroots Guide.

ORG 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).

The budget for 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.

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 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 2020 ORG RFA, 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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