NSAC's Blog

New Organic Farming Research Awards

December 13, 2013

This week, USDA announced $3 million in funding for research, education, and extension projects that aim to improve the competitiveness of the organic producers and those who are adopting organic practices on their farms.  These awards were made as part of the most recent round of awards for the Integrated Organic Transitions Program (ORG) — a national competitive research program administered by USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture.  In total, five new projects were funded, and another $847,637 was awarded to provide continued funding to existing projects.

The Organic Transitions Program is one of only two programs at USDA that funds research on organic production systems, however the other and much larger program — the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) — has been stranded without funding since the 2008 Farm Bill expired in October 2012.  The lack of funding for OREI, which represents over 80 percent of total federal funding for organic research grants, has had a tremendous negative impact on the amount of research funded across the country that is specifically relevant to organic producers.  For more information on the impacts this loss of funding has had on farmers and rural communities, click here.

Although a much smaller and narrowly focused program, USDA’s Integrated Organic Transitions  remains an important component of USDA’s research portfolio on organic production systems.  For 2013, ORG focused on projects that evaluate environmental services provided by organic farming systems in the area of soil conservation and climate change mitigation, including greenhouse gases.

Additionally, this year’s funding cycle prioritized projects that researched alternatives to substances that are no longer approved for use on certified organic farms through USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP).   A key component of this research program is to ensure the research results are reaching the hands of farmers, and all of the funded projects therefore includes a strong education or extension component.

These research projects will ultimately help farmers better assess the financial benefits and costs of farming organically, and provide data, metrics and models that will allow farmers to better understand how to optimize environmental services through organic production.

Examples of funded projects include:

  • University of Texas Pan American – Together with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (an NSAC member group), this project will launch an innovative new academic program that engages students in rigorous, well-designed research projects designed to address real-world problems faced by organic farmers in the subtropical region of South Texas.  This will prepare students to become effective researchers, raise their awareness of the ecological benefits of organic farming, and also inform growers, extension agents about organic requirements, processing facilities and enterprise budgets.
  • Washington State University — Partnering with an organic farm in California, researchers in this project will examine whether adoption of organic farming practices improves natural pest control, by comparing established organic farms to recently transitioned farms in aspects related to soil health, biodiversity and populations of insect-killing predators.
  • Michigan State University – This project seeks to develop an effective alternative to antibiotics (which will no longer be allowed for use on certified organic farms) for the treatment of fire blight disease on organic apple orchards.  Researchers will evaluate all materials approved for use on organic farms by the National Organic Standards Board in order to develop a sound, sustainable, efficacious organic disease control to manage fire blight in organic apple orchards in humid environments.

While these awards will provide a much needed investment in research, education and training for organic farmers, the $3 million announced this week is nowhere near the level of funding that is need to match the skyrocketing demand for domestic organically produced foods.  Just one year ago, USDA announced an investment of $22 million in organic research for both OREI and ORG awards.  And while $3 million is better than nothing, this year’s organic research awards are sorely underfunded.  NSAC will continue its work to restore funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative in the new farm bill that is currently being negotiated in Congress.

To see a complete list of awards, click here to view USDA’s press release.

Categories: Organic, Research, Education & Extension

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