Over the last several decades, publicly funded agricultural research has led to the advancement of countless innovative techniques and practices that have helped farmers across the country increase their profitability and sustainability. Investments in research underpin the success of any sector, including agriculture. All farmers need access to high-quality research that is relevant to their particular region and type of operation. This is particularly critical for diversified and organic growers – who on average tend to be younger, operate smaller operations, and have less access to capital and other resources. Federal research programs help farmers learn which crops will do well in their soils, which varieties and breeds are best suited for their climates, and how they and their communities can drive innovation and market opportunities.
Because organic and sustainable agriculture research has not historically received the same level of investment as conventional agriculture, many organic and diversified growers have lacked access to and knowledge about seeds and management practices designed for their specific cropping systems. Even though investments in this research have risen over the last decade, it remains a tiny fraction of the annual federal investment in food and agriculture research generally.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has for decades championed sustainable and organic research. In fact, NSAC’s predecessor organization, the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, was the primary driver behind the creation of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program in the 1980s! NSAC has also worked to strengthen sustainable and organic research through countless appropriations and farm bills.
In the most recent 2018 Farm Bill, NSAC helped to secure $630 million in new funding for agriculture research, which included permanent funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), new funding for urban agriculture research, and continued investments in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative. Additionally, new priorities on soil health were integrated into USDA research programs, and directives included to evaluate our country’s seed stocks.
This section of NSAC’s guide provides an overview of the key federal programs focused on sustainable and organic research. It includes programs available to colleges and universities, as well as programs available to farmers and community-based organizations and institutions working directly with farmers interested in sustainable and organic farming.