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$3.8 Million Available for Organic Agriculture Research

December 12, 2016


Florida International University Agro-Ecology students transplant pepper seedlings to organic soil. Photo credit: USDA.

Faced with a growing demand for organic products that dramatically outstrips available supply, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. organic industry have steadily increased efforts to bring new farmers and ranchers into the fold. While some organic producers, like Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farms, are funding their own transition initiatives, many others rely on support from USDA programs to increase the industry’s competitiveness. This year (fiscal year 2017), USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will offer up to $3.8 million through a competitive grant program, the Integrated Research, Education, and Extension Competitive Grants Program – Organic Transitions (ORG), to support projects focused on research, education and extension related to organic transition.

ORG is specifically geared towards college and university researchers and educators, including 1862, 1890 and 1994 Land-Grant Universities (LGUs) as well as toward Hispanic-serving institutions and other public and private universities and colleges.

Non-profit, community-based, and other non-academic organizations do have the option to partner with these colleges and universities on an ORG grant and thus can also benefit from program funding. If an institution identifies partners that will help it carry out the project, the application must: (1) create a narrative for the partner entity’s role; (2) describe how a partner will contribute to the overall project, in addition to a detailed work plan; and (3) create a comprehensive budget, highlighting how a partner will contribute to the matching requirement.

The deadline for ORG applications is 5 p.m. EST on March 9, 2017. To read more about this program and other programs investing in the organic sector, check out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) Grassroots Guide.

Project Requirement Details

For fiscal year (FY) 2017, projects can last between one and three years, with maximum annual budgets of $200,000­ – however, NIFA can award a maximum of $500,000 for total project expenses. Given these large budget allowances, the number of projects NIFA can fund is relatively small – typically about seven or eight new research projects.

In accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill, certain applicants to ORG must fulfill a matching requirement. This can be in the form of funds and in-kind contributions from other sources. However, certain institutions, such as LGUs, are exempt. To find out if your organization is exempt, refer to the FY2017 RFA.

ORG is an integrated program, meaning that within each project, at least two of the three foci – research, education and/or extension – must be major considerations. Furthermore, colleges and universities must consider and involve stakeholders (especially farmers) in their project in some capacity, whether for problem identification, project planning and implementation, or evaluation.

Each year, NIFA identifies key priority areas for ORG projects; they also list project examples where necessary. For this year’s RFA, NIFA specifies four priority areas, including:

  1. Researching and evaluating the effects of organic practices on an agricultural system (i.e., cover crops, organic manure and conservation tillage). For example, a project could look at how specifically transitioning to organic production affects pollinators.
  1. Improving technologies and methodologies that serve to mitigate climate change in organic farming systems. The RFA offers an example project that creates a modeling tool that can essentially map out and optimize the perfect “suite” of organic farming practices for a particular farm
  1. Establishing alternatives to those substances that are in the process of being removed from the National Organic Program’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. Projects under this priority
  1. Identifying barriers to organic transition, specified by region, crop or animal production system.

ORG provides an important resource to the organic and transitioning-to-organic communities that can help to fill the gap between demand for organic product and supply of organic farmers. New and prior applicants are welcome and encouraged to apply.

For more information or to apply, please see the ORG Request for Applications.


Categories: Grants and Programs, Organic


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