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New 2020 Organic Survey: Assessing Research, Education and Outreach Needs to Meet the Growing Demand for Organic Products

April 16, 2020

Amy Hicks, owner of Amy’s Organic Garden. Photo credit: USDA, Lance Cheung.

Organic farmers have seen tremendous growth in the organic sector as demand continues to rise. Despite this market opportunity, organic and transitioning organic farmers still face numerous challenges. Research, like that funded through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) program spearheaded by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), is being conducted to help overcome these challenges and improve the quality and sustainability of organic production, develop soil microbial management, and advance cover crops practices.

Last year, OREI awarded $18.8 million in grants focusing on organic research including one to NSAC members – the Organic Farming and Research Foundation (OFRF), in collaboration with the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) for their project, “A National Agenda for Organic and Transitioning Research.” This joint project will help define the challenges and research priorities of organic and transitioning organic farmers and ranchers.

OSA and OFRF have released two national surveys – one for certified organic producers and another for producers transitioning to organic certification. These surveys will identify the top challenges they face in their work and inform a comprehensive roadmap for future research investments that help advance organic agriculture. 

NSAC encourages all organic and transitioning producers to participate in this survey. The deadline for responding is June 1, 2020. All responses will be kept confidential.

The survey is being administered by Washington State University and all responses will be kept confidential. Questions about the survey may be directed to Lauren Scott at lauren.n.scott@wsu.edu or 1-800-833-0867.

Survey results will be published in updated versions of OFRF’s National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) report and OSA’s State of Organic Seed (SOS) report. Both of these documents have been invaluable resources for policy makers, research agencies, and extension services seeking to ensure research funding is relevant and responsive to the needs of organic producers, while also identifying gaps where additional investment is necessary. By collaborating on these surveys, OFRF and OSA hope to reduce survey fatigue and increase grower participation.

“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.

“Organic farmers need seeds that are developed to thrive without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and adapted to their local climate and soil conditions,” says Kiki Hubbard, who co-leads the SOS project. “We’re eager to collect new data from organic producers to inform the next roadmap for increasing the diversity, quality, and integrity of organic seed available to U.S. farmers.”

Organic Research

There is no doubt that more investment is needed to support the growing organic agriculture economy. Organic and would-be organic producers face barriers that hinder their success including a lack of sufficient and relevant research and education programs and extension resources. As a result, NSAC helped ensure the 2018 Farm Bill provided 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. Most organic research focuses on addressing the impacts of soil health on cropping strategies; organic cropping systems and pest management; value-added grains; foliar disease management; and the long-term effects of compost. OREI funded projects like OSA and OFRF’s survey help fill the gaps in skills and knowledge in the organic research community.

About OREI

OREI is a competitive research grant program administered by NIFA. OREI funds integrated research, education, and extension projects that enhance the ability of organic producers and processors to grow and market organic agricultural products. A variety of private and public organizations are eligible to apply for grant funding through OREI. All applicants are strongly encouraged to consult with organic producers for both the design and implementation of the proposed project.

Along with research OREI projects must include multiple extension delivery methods, like farmer to farmer mentoring and tours, print publications, social media, and meetings to satisfy project goals. Successful applicants will also need to describe how their project will improve the ability of growers to develop their Organic System Plan required for organic certification.

For more about applying for an OREI grant, visit NSAC’s Grassroot’s Guide or NIFA’s website.

Categories: Organic, Research, Education & Extension

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