September 30, 2014
On Monday, September 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced over $23 million in grants to support organic farming research. The money was awarded through the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI)—the flagship research competitive grants program dedicated to funding research relevant to organic producers—and the Organic Transitions Program (ORG)—a program supporting research, education, and outreach for transitioning from conventional to organic farming practices.
In total, 19 projects across 16 states received OREI awards, ranging from $21,686 awarded to the University of Maine to $1,999,760 awarded to Pennsylvania State University. For fiscal year 2014, $19 million were awarded through this cornerstone program, with an emphasis on projects relating to disease, insect pests, and weed management.
Six universities received ORG grants, totaling over $3 million for projects focusing on environmental services provided by organic systems, particularly those related to soil conservation and climate change mitigation.
NSAC will participate in one project with a member group, while two other member organizations received grants of their own:
The Organic Seed Alliance also received a $42,951 OREI grant to support planning for organic plant breeding and seed production in the Southeast.
Started in 2002, OREI provides funding to help organic producers and processors grow and market their products through research, education, and extension. Since its inception, the program has invested millions in organic-relevant research for one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors. Previous OREI projects include helping a Wisconsin technical college develop an organic farming certificate program, and developing new cotton plant varieties for organic production in Texas.
OREI was one of several “stranded programs” when Congress failed to pass a farm bill in 2012, leaving the program with no funding for 2013. Upon passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress reauthorized OREI, providing $100 million in mandatory funding (or $20 million annually) through 2018.
Eligible only to colleges and universities, ORG helps improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers through research, education and higher education programs.
Past ORG projects include a four-year grant to the University of Illinois to research the carbon sequestration potential of organic grain in the Midwest, and a four-year grant to the University of New Hampshire to explore greenhouse gas emissions by dairies during the conventional-to-organic transition.
This year, ORG prioritized four key areas:
• Documenting and understanding the effects of organic practices on ecosystem services, greenhouse gas reduction, soil health, and biodiversity;
• Improvements to technologies and models that optimize the environmental services and climate change mitigation ability of organic farming systems;
• Development of educational tools for students, Cooperative Extension personnel and other agricultural professionals who advise producers on organic practices;
• Development of cultural practices and other allowable alternatives to substances recommended for removal from the National Organic Programs National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.