The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced the availability of $17.6 million for research and outreach activities to support the organic agriculture sector. The grants are funded through NIFA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. “The organic industry is the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture, with sales growing by $4.2 billion last year to reach a record $43.3 billion,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “Over the past seven years, USDA has invested nearly $261 million in research to improve the productivity and success of organic agriculture, including seed-breeding. The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative is one of the many ways USDA is helping this sector meet growing consumer demand.”
OREI funds high-priority research, education and extension projects that enhance the ability of producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards to grow and market high quality organic products. Eligible entities include Land-Grant and other research universities, federal agencies, national laboratories, state agricultural experiment stations, and research foundations and other private researchers.
Priority areas include biological, physical and social science research, including economics. Funded projects will aid farmers and ranchers with whole-farm planning by delivering practical research-based information and improve the ability for growers to develop the Organic System Plan required for certification. OREI has eight legislatively-defined goals:
- Facilitate the development and improvement of organic agriculture production, breeding, and processing methods;
- Evaluate the potential economic benefits of organic agricultural production and methods to producers, processors and rural communities;
- Explore international trade opportunities for organically grown and processed agricultural commodities;
- Determine desirable traits for organic commodities;
- Identify marketing and policy constraints on the expansion of organic agriculture;
- Conduct advanced on-farm research and development into topic areas including production, marketing, food safety, socioeconomic conditions and farm business management;
- Examine optimal conservation and environmental outcomes relating to organically-produced agricultural products; and
- Develop new and improved seed varieties that are particularly suited for organic agriculture.
Applications are due by January 19, 2017. See the OREI request for applications for details.
Examples of previously funded projects include a planning grant to South Dakota State University for work with Native American stakeholders to develop a self-sustaining organic tribal bison production system. Another project with Downstream Strategies, LLC produced a report, Overcoming the Market Barriers to Organic Production in West Virginia.
USDA is committed to helping organic agriculture grow and thrive. USDA supports the organic sector through a wide variety of programs, including conservation grants, organic crop insurance, certification cost-share, organic market news, and simplified microloans. To learn more about USDA support for organic agriculture, visit www.usda.gov/organic. More information on how USDA investments are connecting producers with consumers and expanding rural economic opportunities is available online in the USDA Results Medium Chapter New Markets, New Opportunities: Strengthening Local Food Systems and Organic Agriculture.