November 25, 2020
Just a few weeks after the 2019 Organic Survey reported a 31 percent growth for organic sales and an increase in certified organic farms and transitioning acres, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) released its FY 2021 Request for Application (RFA) for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). OREI is a competitive grant program that focuses on integrated research, education, and extension projects to provide new tools and solutions for organic producers to grow and market organic agricultural products.
It’s critical that farmers, especially organic farmers, have tools and practices to help them navigate and build on-farm resilience to a changing climate. OREI funded research plays a pivotal role in advancing organic agriculture as a central solution for mitigating the impacts of climate change. This research can ensure organic systems remain productive and competitive, while sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. NSAC’s recent paper, “Agriculture and Climate Change: Policy Imperatives and Opportunities to Help Producers Meet the Challenge,” lays out the potential of sustainable and organic agriculture systems to help mitigate climate change that complements their benefits in improving the overall environmental performance of agriculture and protecting the health of rural communities.
NSAC continues to urge NIFA to focus OREI research that finds solutions for mitigating and building resilience to climate change. Other research to consider as part of this broader theme include organic crop seed systems and breeding for organic production, identifying marketing and policy constraints on the expansion of organic agriculture, and integrated livestock research and development. NSAC will continue to advocate for these recommendations to be incorporated throughout the OREI program.
The RFA is open for applications until January 14, 2021.
Note: The RFA for FY 2022 is also available with a deadline of January 13, 2022.
2018 Farm Bill Funding Increases Kick In
There is $25 million in funding for the OREI FY2021 RFA, an increase from the $20 million available for FY2019 and FY2020. This is a result of changes made to the mandatory funding requirement for the program. The 2018 Farm Bill established permanent, mandatory funding for OREI over five years, with a step up in funding to $50 million by FY2023. Permanent baseline funding ensures that OREI is guaranteed funding without the need for annual support from Congressional appropriators. The organic farmers, researchers, and extension providers can now be reassured that continued research funding will be available to address the ever-evolving pest, disease and other challenges facing organic farmers.
First created in the 2002 Farm Bill, OREI was first provided $15 million in mandatory funding over five years, or $3 million for research grants per year. Due to the program’s early success and consistent high demand, as well as advocacy efforts led by NSAC and the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) – an NSAC member and longtime OREI champion – the 2008 Farm Bill increased mandatory funding for OREI to $20 million each year. With new investments made in the 2018 Farm Bill, OREI will see $25 million in 2021, $30 million in 2022, and $50 million in 2023.
Project proposals for OREI 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. The offerings for the FY2021 OREI RFA are similar to those in previous years with a few notable changes, including increases in funding availability. Project types remain the same and include:
According to the FY2021 RFA, the OREI program “directly aligns with the FY 2022-2025 USDA Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area Science Blueprint,” part of the agency Agriculture Innovation Agenda which seeks to increase U.S. agricultural production by 40 percent while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050. Research funded with OREI grants would specifically address USDA’s Priority Themes: Theme 1 – Sustainable Agriculture Intensification, Theme 2 – Agricultural Climate Adaptation, and Theme 3 – Food and Nutrition Translation. New research opportunities for seasonal and perishable products will be expanded in this RFA, as well as projects aimed at developing new technology to increase the competitiveness of seasonal produce.
The matching requirements for OREI remain the same. NIFA has 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:
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.