Educators Stress Need for Organic Research

On June 22nd, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing to discuss agricultural research as part of the committee’s preparation for the next Farm Bill. Members of the committee heard from various university representatives on the opportunities and challenges institutions face in ensuring the U.S. remains a world leader in agricultural research and scientific advancement.

Thanks to the outreach and advocacy efforts of OFRF, one of the key topics that came up was the urgent call for more funding and greater emphasis on research to support organic farming. Several lawmakers raised concerns specific to the inadequacy of organic research.

Representative Jim Costa (D-CA) asked what changes needed to be made to the organic research portfolio. Committee members were urged to include more funding for and place greater emphasis on research to support organic farming systems, to ensure they keep pace with consumer demand.

Glenda Humiston, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of California, warned that the lack of publicly available research is harming the organic sector. "The fact that Amazon just bought Whole Foods means that the demand for organic is about to skyrocket," Humiston said. "The problem is our U.S. farmers have a hard time meeting that demand, and the reason is because of the lack of research. We’ve got to step up to the plate or our farmers are going to have a really hard time meeting market demands.”

"I worry about the organics," Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) said. "It's a huge growth industry ... and the research is going to have to keep pace with that." In speaking about how the research is currently addressing the growth in organics, Representative Lisa Blunt-Rochester (D-DE) put the question to the panelists asking what the universities are doing to address the booming demand for organic products. 

Humiston responded with the statement that while the University of California system has certified organic research facilities, they have a hard time attracting researchers because of the lack of funding for organic research.

The 2008 Farm Bill included $20 million annually for organic research. However, with 82% of U.S. households purchasing organic foods, that money isn't going far enough, given the sector's dramatic growth.

Dr. Walter H. Hill, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences and Vice Provost for Land-Grant Affairs, at Tuskegee University talked about organic research taking place at the university. “We have a $2 million research project, in partnership with four 1862 land grant universities, testing organic products on major vegetable pests. The research is on-site, advanced multi-location, multi-state on-farm trails … however, the $2 million over a three or four-year period is nothing for a multi-state project.”

OFRF is working hard to address this issue, engaging with both Republican and Democratic members of Congress, to increase funding for OREI in the next Farm Bill. The bipartisan, Organic Agriculture Research Act seeks to increase funding for organic research to $50 million in the next Farm Bill. More organic agriculture research will provide the tools and knowledge to help American farmers be more successful and sustainable. Additional organic research is needed to encourage farmers to transition from conventional production, in turn increasing organic cropland acreage, which has largely held steady in recent years. 

This blog was submitted by OFRF’s Policy Associate, Michael Stein.