Priorities for Organic Research Funding


The USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently released the 2018 Request for Applications (RFA) for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). This program provides crucial funding for research, education, and extension projects aimed at improving and advancing organic agriculture. NIFA estimates there will be a total of $17.6M available for research projects in fiscal year (FY) 2018. The deadline to submit applications is March 1, 2018.

In 2017, OFRF submitted recommendations to NIFA on ways to improve the OREI RFA to help meet the research needs of organic farmers. These recommendations are based on OFRF’s 2016 National Organic Research Agenda, which highlights the specific research needs of organic farmers throughout the country, as well as our “Taking Stock: Analyzing and Reporting Organic Research Investments, 2002-2014,” an analysis of189 different USDA-funded projects that provides information on the efficiency of organic research programs and areas in need of improvement.

These recommendations, developed and submitted in tandem with our partner organization, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), have helped to strengthen the OREI priorities for FY 2018:

1.  Conduct advanced on-farm crop, livestock, or integrated livestock-crop research and development that emphasizes observation of, experimentation with, and innovation for organic farms, including production, marketing, and socioeconomic considerations. These issues could include both identification of factors reducing yields, efficiency, productivity, and economic returns on organic farms and the economic and socioeconomic contributions of organic farming to producers, processors, and local communities. This priority includes studies that help producers monitor and improve soil health and fertility.

2.  Develop and demonstrate educational tools for Cooperative Extension personnel and other professionals who advise producers on organic practices. Applications bringing end-users together with OREI-funded research, education, and extension teams are encouraged.

3.  For both plant and animal–based organic products: evaluate, develop, and improve allowable post-harvest handling, processing, and food safety practices to reduce toxins and microbial contamination, while increasing shelf-life, quality, and other economically important characteristics.

4.  Strengthen organic crop seed systems, including seed and transplant production and protection, and plant breeding for organic production, with an emphasis on publicly available releases. Goals of organic seed systems proposals can include, but are not limited to: disease, weed, and pest resistance; stress tolerance; nutrient use efficiency; performance in soil-improving and climate-friendly systems such as organic no-till; quality and yield improvement; and genetic mechanisms to prevent inadvertent introduction of GMO traits through crosspollination. This priority includes cover crop breeding for enhanced performance in organic systems. Projects dealing solely with cultivar evaluation do not fit under this priority.

5.  Explore technologies that meet the requirements of the National Organic Program (NOP) and protect soil, water, and other natural resources. This includes developing, improving, and evaluating systems-based integrated pest management programs to address pest and pest-related problems for organically grown crops. Systems-based evaluations can include the safety and efficacy of allowable pest management materials and practices. Proposals addressing organic management of diseases, nematodes, weeds, and insect pests in the Southern Region are especially encouraged.

6.  Develop or improve systems-based animal production, animal health, and pest management practices to improve animal productivity, health, and welfare while retaining or enhancing economic viability,

7.  Breed, evaluate, and select animal breeds and genotypes adapted to organic systems. This would include but is not restricted to: identification of and selection for pest, parasite, and disease resistance; health and performance under organic pasture and feed regimens such as management intensive rotational grazing and multispecies grazing; and performance in small, mixed, or innovative farming operations.

8.  Develop new undergraduate and/or graduate curriculum in organic agriculture. Education activities under this priority may include instructional delivery programs and experiential learning for students enrolled in associate, baccalaureate, masters, and Ph.D. degree programs.

9.  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. The OREI is particularly interested in research, education, and extension projects that will assist farmer and rancher whole farm planning by delivering practical, research-based information

We are hopeful these changes to the OREI RFA priorities will invite cutting edge scientific proposals that advance organic agriculture by helping farmers and ranchers address production challenges.

Since 2002 the OREI program has funded a tremendous amount of cutting edge scientific research, education, and extension in organic agriculture. However, OREI is part of the larger Farm Bill. If new legislation is not passed by Oct 1, 2018, the funding for this flagship organic research program will not be available in FY 2019.

OFRF and our partner organizations are working in Washington, DC and around the country to ensure that reauthorization and expansion of the OREI program and other key organic programs are included in the next Farm Bill.

Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service.