General

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.”

Pollinator Loss Threatens Vital Food Crops

The decline of bees and other pollinators around the world is affecting some of the most nutritionally and economically vital food crops. In response to this issue, the EPA and USDA released a strategy and action plan outlining needs and priority actions to better understand pollinator losses and improve pollinator health.

Last year, beekeepers reported losing about 40% of their honey bee colonies, which presents a significant threat to their livelihoods and the essential pollination bees provide to agriculture. According to the White House, pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops in the U.S. each year.

National Survey to Guide Organic Farming Research Priorities

October 14, 2015—The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is pleased to report that more than 1,000 farmers from across the US participated in their National Survey of Organic Farmers, which gave farmers and ranchers the opportunity to provide input on challenges affecting the organic community.

Preliminary results show that research on weed control (especially field bindweed and Canada thistle), building soil health and fertility, and coping with water management during drought and flooding are major priorities for US organic farmers.

Survey results will be used to update OFRF’s National Organic Research Agenda, an influential roadmap for the USDA and other research institutions, identifying the issues most critical to the success of organic farmers.

Contact Your Senator Now On the DARK Act!

On July 23rd, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would eliminate the consumer’s right-to-know by blocking all state efforts to require labeling of genetically modified organism (GMO) foods. The “Deny Americans the Right to Know Act” or DARK Act would make voluntary labeling of GMO foods the national standard.

The labeling bill would also dilute the USDA organic certification because it does not explicitly state the certification as evidence of non-GMO, and includes no additional certification or testing requirements. Furthermore, the bill allows products to be labeled non-GMO while using GMO feed, processing aids or enzymes—despite the fact that existing USDA Organic regulations do not allow the use of GMO feed, processing aids or enzymes. 

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