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Funding Once Again Available for Organic Research!!

March 18, 2014

After a year-long hiatus, NSAC is pleased to report that the cornerstone organic research program is once again up and running — with $20 million in funding to award in 2014!!  Yesterday, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) released its 2014 Request for Applications (RFA) for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).

OREI is the flagship research competitive grants program dedicated to funding research that is relevant to organic producers — such as organic methods of pest and weed control and fertility management.  OREI provides research, education, and extension grants to academic, private, non-profit, and government research institutions to research issues that can benefit producers and processors of organic products.  Click here to read more about how OREI benefits organic farmers across the county.

Applications are due by 5:00 PM EST on May 8, 2014 — which is a somewhat compressed schedule from previous funding cycles due to the late appropriation of funding that came with the farm bill that was reauthorized earlier this year (if you’re not planning on applying, consider serving as a peer reviewer of submitted applications!).

Approximately $20 million will be available for 2014, which is the same level of funding that was provided by the 2008 Farm Bill.  Both new applications and resubmitted applications will be considered, including integrated research, education, and extension grants as well as conference and analytical grants which support workshops and activities to identify research needs of organic producers and advance the understanding of organic issues using a systems based approach.

Matching funds are required for this grant program (cash or in-kind), but the requirement can be waived at NIFA’s discretion.  However, for future funding cycles, it is expected that the new matching grant provision written into the 2014 Farm Bill will be enacted.  This new policy will exempt Land-Grant institutions from all matching requirements, but require non-Land Grant applicants to come up with 100% matching funds in order to be eligible to even apply for funding through OREI.  This will certainly result in fewer proposals being led by non-profit and farmer-driven research organizations from being successful in securing funding through OREI, or any other federally administered competitive research program.

2014 OREI Priorities

For this year’s funding cycle, research, education, and extension projects will be solicited that address any of the eight specific legislatively defined goals of OREI, as follows:

1. Facilitating the development and improvement of organic agriculture production, breeding, and processing methods.

2. Evaluating the potential economic benefits to organic agricultural production and methods to producers, processors, and rural communities.

3. Exploring international trade opportunities for organically grown and processed agricultural commodities.

4. Determining desirable traits for organic commodities.

5. Identifying marketing and policy constraints on the expansion of organic agriculture.

6. Conducting advanced on-farm research and development that emphasizes observation of, experimentation with, and innovation for working organic farms, including research relating to production, marketing, food safety, socioeconomic conditions, and farm business management.

7. Examining optimal conservation and environmental outcomes relating to organically produced agricultural products.

8. Developing new and improved seed varieties that are particularly suited for organic agriculture.

The following types of research projects will be given priority consideration for FY 2014:

  • Projects that emphasize innovation for organic farms in production, marketing, and socioeconomic issues;
  • Development of educational tools for Cooperative Extension personnel and other educators who work with organic producers;
  • Projects that evaluate, develop, and improve allowable post-harvest handling, processing, and food safety practices;
  • Projects that strengthen organic seed systems, including seed and transplant production and protection, plant breeding, and selection for organic production;
  • Projects that explore technology that meets the requirements of the National Organic Program and that can control weeds and pests while maintaining healthy water resources;
  • Development or improvement of systems-based animal production, animal health, and pest management practices; and
  • Projects that catalog, characterize, and/or select animal genotypes and breeds adapted to organic systems.

OREI Stranded No More!

OREI was created in the 2002 Farm Bill, and was reauthorized with mandatory funding in the 2008 Farm Bill.  Unfortunately, due to Congress’s inability to pass another farm bill on time, the program’s authorization and funding expired on Sept 30, 2012.

As such, OREI became one of the several “stranded programs” caused by the delayed passage of what is now the 2014 Farm Bill, and it received no funding in 2013.  However, in the 2014 Farm Bill which became law earlier this year, Congress reauthorized OREI and provided $100 million over five years ($20 million annually) in mandatory funding.

While we are thrilled with the resurrection of this critical program that has helped to underpin the success of the organic sector over the past decade, we remain disappointed that the program lost an entire year of funding in 2013.  This was truly a missed investment into the organic research that would have otherwise been funded.   With this built up demand for research funding for organic projects, we fully expect this funding cycle to be extremely competitive.   Awards will likely be announced later this fall.

For more information about the process of applying to OREI for funding, click here.  USDA is also looking for qualified researchers, educators, extension agents, and organic farmers to serve as peer reviewers to evaluate the scientific merit and relevance of submitted applications.  Click here to find out more information about how to apply to be a peer reviewer.

NIFA is also seeking feedback on how future RFA’s can be improved.  Input can be sent to policy@nifa.usda.gov.

Categories: Grants and Programs, Organic, Research, Education & Extension

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