NSAC's Blog

Over $24 Million Awarded to Support Organic Research, Farmers

October 9, 2019

Cover crop trials at the Rogers Farm Forage and Crop Research Facility in Stillwater, ME. Photo credit: NSAC.
Cover crop trials at the Rogers Farm Forage and Crop Research Facility in Stillwater, ME. Photo credit: NSAC.

Researchers and scientific institutions across the food and farm communities have been on edge as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has begun the process of relocating the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) (and agency staff) to its new headquarters in Kansas City. Even in these early stages, the relocation process has already caused significant staff shortages and raised alarm across the agricultural research community about lack of capacity for critical program areas.

Last week, however, the research community got some good news as NIFA announced that $24.1 million in Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and the Organic Transitions Program (ORG) grant funding has been awarded to 30 grantees across the country. These grants will support research to improve the quality and sustainability of organic production, including research on soil microbial management and cover crops.

Of the total awards, 19 were OREI grants ($18.8 million) and 11 were awarded to ORG projects ($5.3 million). OREI awards will support research, education, and extension projects to improve yields, quality, and profitability for producers and processors who have adopted organic standards. ORG grants will support research, education, and extension efforts to help existing and transitioning organic livestock and crop producers adopt organic practices and improve their market competitiveness. While the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is pleased to see these awards allocated, questions remain as to whether there will be delays in disbursements of grant funds due to the relocation and resulting loss of agency staff.

The 2018 Farm Bill provides OREI with permanent funding – ramping up from $20 million in FY 2019 to $50 million by 2023. The farm bill also includes a new research priority on soil health, which will support projects that examine ideal soil health conservation and environmental outcomes relating to organic production. Projects awarded in the 2019 cycle include research addressing the impacts of soil health on cropping strategies; organic citrus and combating citrus green disease; value-added grains; foliar disease management; and the long-term effects of compost.

Primer on USDA Organic Research

Organic agriculture has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry that creates job opportunities at a rate above the national average. Organic and would-be organic producers still face myriad barriers that hinder their success, however, including lack of sufficient and relevant research and education programs and extension resources. OREI and ORG help fill the gaps in skills and knowledge in the organic research community by funding emerging and cutting-edge organic research.

Over the past decade, OREI and ORG have invested millions of dollars into projects that have provided farmers new opportunities to farm sustainably, grow the organic market, and transform agriculture into an industry that improves soil health, conserves water while increasing yield.

OREI funds broad-spectrum organic research and is open to public and private institutions. ORG is funded at $6 million for fiscal year 2019, and grants are available to colleges and universities leading projects that improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers.

For more information on OREI and ORG, visit NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs.

OREI Awardee Highlights

We are happy to announce that two NSAC members – the Organic Farming and Research Foundation (OFRF), in collaboration with the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) – were awarded $499,646 for this cycle. As part of their collaborative project, “A National Agenda for Organic and Transitioning Research,” OFRF and OSA will combine two national surveys to identify research priorities and production issues facing organic producers. This work will involve web-based surveys and farmer listening sessions to collect data from organic and transitioning farmers across the country. The information gleaned will then be presented in two separate reports, the National Organic and Research Agenda (NORA) and the State of Organic Seed (SOS). These reports will be used as educational tools to inform policy-makers, researchers and extension.

“OFRF is committed to advancing the research needed to meet the current challenges of organic farming, with the goal of creating a more resilient and ecologically sustainable agricultural system,” said OFRF’s Executive Director, Brise Tencer. “We are honored by OREI’s investment in this important work and believe this collaboration with OSA will both increase grower participation and strengthen the impact of our updated findings.”

“Organic farmers produce food differently, and that means they need different seed for the crops they grow—seed developed to thrive without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and adapted to their local climate and soil conditions,” says Kiki Hubbard, who co-leads OSA’s State of Organic Seed (SOS) project.

Other notable awardees include:

  • Colorado State University, $49,995, Taking High Plains Organic Farming to the Next Level” – For the first time, this year’s OREI program included a new conference grant category – “Breakthroughs in Organic Agriculture (BOA).” Colorado State will use their BOA grant to convene producers, researchers, educators, vendors, and other stakeholders to enhance the ability of producers and processors to grow high market quality products.
  • Purdue University; $955,458 – “A Comprehensive Assessment of Industrial Hemp as a Potential Crop for Organic Farmers,” which will develop and disseminate science-based research and market information on industrial hemp to organic farmers. Researchers will begin by conducting field experiments on integrating hemp into cover crop and no-till cropping systems, and then determine the performance of various hemp cultivars. Supply chain analysis and training of extension educators will also be part of this three-year project.

Other grants funded this round will address intercropping and compost, soil management with brewery waste, perennial grant crops, organic dairy, and integrated crop-animal production systems.

A full listing of the OREI awards can be found here.

ORG Awardee Highlights

While OREI focuses on organic research to helps organic farmers boost their production, ORG supports research and extension efforts to educate and help farmers transition to organic production and become successful organic farmers. For 2019, eleven recipients received a total of $5.3 million in ORG awards for projects ranging from research around transitioning to organic grain production, management techniques to optimize soil pH and nutrient availability, and enhancing soil microflora for organic strawberry transition.

Particularly interesting projects include the University of California, Davis’, “Intensive Annual vs. Perennial Forage Cropping Strategies to Build Soil Health and Nitrogen Efficiency in Transitioning Tomato Systems.” As part of this project, California researchers will provide tomato growers with research results that identify optimal rotational crops for nitrogen release and soil carbon building, time scale conversion of soil fertility and structure and costs and benefits analyses to maximize net revenues.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee won an ORG award for their project, “Enhancing Indigenous Soil Microflora to Facilitate Organic Strawberry Transition in the Southeastern U.S.” This project will provide a better understanding of the disease pressures in organic strawberry systems and address the barriers that limit grower transition to organic production. As part of this research, the scientist will assess the impacts of soil microbiome, disease development, and crop performance.

See a full list of ORG awards here.

Categories: Organic, Research, Education & Extension

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