After much anticipation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) released its Request for Applications (RFA) for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) last week. OREI grants provide crucial support to the organic industry by funding research, education, and extension projects to improve and advance organic agriculture.
NIFA estimates there will be a total of $17.6 million available for projects spanning OREI’s eight legislatively defined purposes (including the biological, physical and social sciences) in fiscal year (FY) 2018. All applications for consideration are to be submitted by March 1, 2018.
In addition to its legislative mandates, NIFA prioritizes several research areas based on demand and stakeholder input. There are nine priority areas for FY 2018, including a new priority focused specifically on policy. This new priority area is intended for projects that “identify marketing, policy, and other socioeconomic barriers to the expansion of organic agriculture in the United States and develop strategies to address them. Lobbying and advocacy activities do not fit under this priority.”
Types of Projects
- Integrated Project Proposals: Integrated projects proposals, which can include projects of different scopes – Multi-Regional, Regional, and Targeted – will be those that will contribute to at least two of OREI’s three main agricultural knowledge systems: research, education, and/or extension. Multi-Regional Integrated Projects will receive a maximum of $2,000,000, Regional Integrated Projects will receive a maximum of $1,000,000, and Targeted Projects will receive a maximum of $500,000. Projects must include a plan for disseminating project outcomes.
- Conference Proposals: Projects focused on creating or supporting workshops and symposia to bring together different organic stakeholders in order to advance the organic production sector will be categorized as conference proposals. These projects will be awarded a maximum of $50,000 and projects must be carried out within one year of receiving this grant.
- Research, Education, and Extension Planning Proposals: Applicants for these proposals are generally expected to have limited resources and should be able to show evidence for the projects’ benefits in addition to its expected success rate. These awards will be limited to $50,000 and must be used within one year of receiving this project grant. Small and minority-serving institutions are particularly encouraged to apply.
- Curriculum Development Proposals: For projects that help to form new university (both undergraduate and graduate) curriculum in organic agriculture. Proposals are encouraged to include partnerships with multiple academic institutions in order to facilitate the most effective instruction within a given grant’s capacity. These grants will be awarded at a maximum of $250,000 for a project period of two years total.
NSAC Recommendations Incorporated into the FY 2018 RFA
In June of 2017, NSAC submitted detailed recommendations to NIFA on ways to improve the OREI RFA for American family farmers. These recommendations were developed and submitted in tandem with our member organization, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). NSAC commends NIFA for retaining many important priority areas and making useful updates to the FY 2018 OREI RFA, many of which were recommendations made by the Coalition.
NSAC-supported priorities and additions to the RFA include:
- Creation of a new priority area that considers policy to address barriers to the expansion of organic agriculture. Although policy has been a legislatively mandated priority since 2014, it was never explicitly mentioned as an application priority in the RFA.
- Livestock-crop integration as a priority for organic animal production systems, with the inclusion of an emphasis on soil health.
- The retention of the FY 2017 priority for the development and dissemination of new organic seed varieties suited for regionally based organic production.
- Retaining strengthening of organic crop seed systems, including seed and transplant production and protection, and plant breeding for organic production, with an emphasis on publicly available releases as a priority for 2018.
- NIFA also retained language throughout the RFA that prevents bias towards large projects and encourages smaller, minority institutions to apply for grant funding.
- For conference funding proposals, NIFA maintained language that emphasis the importance of extension and farmer inclusion in all conference applications.
Further Information on Organic Research
NSAC, OFRF, and many of our other member organizations offer a host of resources and in-person learning opportunities for organic farmers and those interested in organic agriculture and research. NSAC’s resources can be found in our online Grassroots Guide, as well as on our blog.
OFRF recently released their 2016 National Organic Research Agenda, which highlights the specific research needs of organic farmers throughout the country. Additionally, OFRF has also recently published a report entitled. “Taking Stock: Analyzing and Reporting Organic Research Investments, 2002-2014,” which analyzes 189 different USDA-funded projects and provides information on the efficiency of organic research programs and areas in need of improvement.
NSAC looks forward to the innovative projects that will be launched thanks to this latest round of OREI grant support.
In addition, NIFA just released the Organic Transitions (ORG) RFA. ORG helps stakeholders overcome barriers to the transition to organics, and be successful organic farmers. This program provides critical federal funding to colleges and universities to conduct research that helps organic farmers and livestock producers be more competitive and understand the economic and environmental benefits that organic production can offer. Ultimately, the projects funded by this program help to improve adoption of organic practices on farms of all types across the county, for the good of farmers and the environment. The deadline for applications is March 29, 2018. More information on the program can be found in our Grassroots Guide.