January 11, 2016
On Thursday, January 7, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) released Request for Applications (RFA) for the Organic Transitions Research and Extension Program (ORG), making $3.8 million in funding available in FY 2016. The deadline for FY 2016 submissions is April 15, 2016.
NSAC supports NIFA’s decision to not require any notification of intent prior to applying this year. We also appreciate the issuance of the RFA a full two months earlier than last year’s. These actions make the application process simpler and more accessible for researchers.
ORG Program Priorities
The Organic Transitions program, referred to in NIFA shorthand as ORG, was created to support research, extension, and more recently education programs to improve the competitiveness of organic farmers and ranchers–including those who are newly adopting organic practices.
As an ‘integrated’ program, all ORG projects must include at least two of the following activities: research, education, and extension. Applications must show evidence of stakeholder (including farmer) involvement in problem identification, project planning, implementation, and evaluation. Projects should focus on organic practices including but not limited to: organic crops, organic animal production (including dairy), and systems integrating organic plant and animal production.
Each year, the program focuses on a unique set of research topics that are relevant to organic production. This year’s topics include:
It is important to note that ORG research must be conducted on certified organic land.
Centers of Excellence
ORG is one of several competitive grant programs at NIFA that is subject to the 2014 Farm Bill’s Center of Excellence language (COE). The COE criteria will be used as a tiebreaker for equally qualified projects where funding is limited.
Additionally, the COE justification that can optionally be included in the Project Narrative must fit within the page limits already provided.
Matching Funds Requirements
Because of changes made as a result of the 2014 Farm Bill, the ability to bypass matching requirements has been dramatically restricted for all competitive grant programs. NSAC opposed this farm bill change because stricter matching grant requirements may disadvantage NGOs from receiving or applying as the lead partner on Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and ORG grant projects. In contrast to previous years, no NGOs were successful in receiving OREI or ORG grants in 2015.
Previously, the matching requirement could be waived if the project was likely to benefit agriculture generally, was on a minor commodity, was important scientific research, or the applicant could not provide the matching funds. As of the 2014 Farm Bill, waivers are now limited to situations where one of the project partners is eligible to receive capacity funds (i.e. a land grant or non-land grant college of agriculture). That partner must have a “substantial” role in the project.
The match can also be waived one year at a time for projects whose focus is consistent with the priorities of the National Agriculture Research, Education, Extension, and Economic Advisory Board (NAREEEAB) as explained in the 2014 Research, Education and Economics Action Plan.
We at NSAC are very concerned with the drop in NGO awards in the 2015 cycle, and will be working with our partners in the research community, and the farmers they serve, to submit successful applications for FY 2016.