Organic News

Organic Adoption of Field Crops Low Despite Opportunity

An article published by USDA on November 2nd takes a look at why—despite strong interest in organic food and potentially higher returns—organic adoption of corn, soybeans and wheat  in the U.S. remains low. According to the article, the main reason could be a lack of information about the relative costs and returns of organic and conventional production systems on commercial farms, and the performance of farms choosing the organic approach.

EPA to Ban Dangerous Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

Approximately 15 years after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned chlorpyrifos from residential use, the agency has proposed to ban the neurotoxic pesticide from use in agricultural fields as well. The announcement came after recent court of appeals decisions gave EPA a deadline to take meaningful action on a 2007 legal petition to ban the chemical.

OFRF Currently Accepting Research Proposals

November 5, 2015 - The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) grants program is currently accepting research proposals from applicants residing in Canada, Mexico and the United States. In particular, OFRF encourages farmers, ranchers, graduate students, early career researchers, veterans, and Extension personnel to consider applying. 

Research Yields More Nutritious, Sustainable and Delicious Grains

Field crops such as wheat, which are grown on large-scale acreage, present organic growers with unique challenges in managing weeds, pests and fertility. Dr. Stephen Jones, a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Washington State University and Director of the WSU Bread Lab, received several OFRF research grants between 2001 and 2003 in support of his development of wheat varieties for organic farmers.

Today, Jones continues to breed wheat for sustainable, perennial and organic systems. He was featured in the Sunday New York Times Magazine on November 1st. In the article, Bread is Broken, Jones explains the history of wheat—from preindustrial wheat, which once “was a living library of flavors,” to modern technologies where “whiteness, hardness and uniformity took precedence over flavor, nutrition and novelty.”

USDA Update on Federal Funding for Organic

Betsy Rakola, Organic Specialist for Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, made a presentation on federal funding for organic programs at the 30th annual Natural Products Expo East Tradeshow and conference in September. Over 25,000 people attended the conference.

Rakola provided an update of the Organic Working Group, the federal funding available for organic programs and the USDA strategic plan for organic agriculture. Her presentation covered the many hats the USDA wears for organic farmers, including risk management, conservation and research. These efforts are monitored by the USDA Organic Working Group chaired by AMS Administrator, Anne Alonzo, and includes staff from various agencies.

FFAR Board Holds Inaugural Meeting

The first public meeting of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) Board was held October 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. An independent non-profit organization authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, FFAR was provided $200 million by Congress in support of its launch. By Congressional mandate, as the Foundation identifies and approves projects, it must generate non-Federal matching funds to utilize the funding from Congress. Dr. Diana Jerkins, Research Director for OFRF, attended the meeting to meet the new Executive Director and Board. OFRF had previously provided comments to the Board on research issues relevant to organic agriculture and the sustainability of agriculture. 

The Foundation funds research for new and innovative ideas to meet the current challenges facing U.S. agriculture and to supplement and complement the work being done by USDA.

USDA Approves a New GMO Corn

The United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) recently announced it would deregulate a corn genetically engineered to be resistant to the pest corn rootworm and the herbicide glyphosate.

The deregulation allows Monsanto, the developer of the corn, to begin selling the product anywhere in the U.S. According to APHIS, "Our determination is based on our evaluation of data submitted by Monsanto Company in its petition for a determination of nonregulated status, our analysis of available scientific data, and comments received from the public in response to our previous notices."

Sales Figures Show Demand for Organic Growing

Mike Donnelley, Executive Vice President of Merchandising at Kroger Co., announced sales of their natural and organic line, Simple Truth, now totals more than $11 billion a year. This is the first time Kroger has publicly released the number, which equals about 10 percent of their annual sales of more than $108 billion last year. Donnelley attributes the growth to millennial shoppers. The announcement was made at Kroger’s annual investor conference on October 27th in New York. It would be interesting to see the breakdown between sales of natural versus organic products.

NOSB Holds Public Meeting in Vermont

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is holding its public meeting this week in Stowe, Vermont. The NOSB is an advisory committee of organic community and stakeholder representatives established by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. The board meeting provides a public forum for the organic community to weigh in on issues concerning organic production and processing.

During the meeting, the board will address several petitions pertaining to changes to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, including substances due to sunset in 2017 and 2018.

Senate Committee Meets to Discuss National Standards

On October 21st, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry held a hearing on Agriculture Biotechnology: A Look at Federal Regulation and Stakeholder Perspectives.

Based on comments by ranking Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow, it appears she is trying to negotiate a compromise bill and hopes to have the legislation passed by the Senate before the end of the year. “I share the concern about the difficulty in doing business across our country if 50 different states have 50 different standards and requirements,” said Stabenow. One of her goals is to have a bill that would provide, “a national system of disclosure and transparency” that “does not stigmatize biotechnology.”

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