National Cover Crop Initiative Announced

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The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation launched its cover crop initiative at the National Press Club on Wednesday, March 22nd. OFRF was well represented at this event by Research Director Diana Jerkins, Policy Associate Michael Stein, and Board Member Klaas Martens. The $6.6 million research initiative, made possible by a $2.2 million grant from FFAR, will promote soil health through the development and adoption of new cover crops across the U.S.

Cover crops play a significant role in sustainable organic agriculture practices, helping to manage soil erosion and fertility, preserve moisture content, and control weeds and diseases. Cover crop research is an investment in soil health, which is essential to ensuring a productive and sustainable future for food and agriculture. 

The initiative will bring together representatives from the seed industry, the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), three land grant universities, and an existing Legume Cover Crop Breeding Team, comprising another six land grant universities, ARS sites and a producer network. The focus of the initiative will be to identify and evaluate cover crop species with the greatest potential to improve soil health over a broad geography within three groups:  small grains (wheat, rye, oat and triticale), annual legumes (hairy vetch, winter peas and clovers), and brassicas (turnips, radishes, kale and mustards). OFRF will be working directly with members of the initiative to ensure that organic agricultural needs are addressed in the cover crop research and development of the initiative. 

Klaas Martens and his partner Mary-Howell, along with Michael Stein, also met with congressional staff from the offices of Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Congressman Reed to discuss organic agriculture and the importance of supporting strong organic research programs that help address farmers around the country.

Klaas and Mary-Howell farm 1,600 acres of certified organic crops and operate Lakeview Organic Grain, a certified organic feed and seed business focused on growing and developing organic agriculture in their area.  They are also working to support young and beginning farmers transitioning to organic agriculture.  Klaas and Mary-Howell are frequent speakers at conferences and have written extensively on organic farming. Organic research is a strong component of their farming operation, and they have been instrumental in conducting on-farm research both independently and in cooperation with Cornell university researchers.

In other news that week, Agri-Pulse, a leading source of farm and food policy information, held a Farm Bill educational summit at the National Press Club. OFRF was there along with more than 400 food and agriculture stakeholders engaged with congressional staffers and policymakers directly involved in the creation of the 2018 Farm Bill. Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow urged the farm policy community to tell the story of agriculture and fight against the proposed 21% cut to USDA’s budget. House Ag Committee Chair Tom Conaway advised people to create Farm Bill positions and start engaging with lawmakers now.

At the summit, Organic Trade Association CEO/Executive Director Laura Batcha discussed the economic benefits that organic agriculture can bring to farmers and rural communities, citing research showing the value of organic producers in various economic hot spots around the nation. Panelists also discussed funding for diverse agricultural research, including the importance of supporting organic research, as well as the importance of USDA data collection.

As OFRF continues to engage in the 2018 Farm Bill process, we will keep working to ensure that the voices of organic farmers and researchers are heard by law and policy makers.  With threats to the USDA budget, it is more important than ever for elected officials to hear from their constituents about the importance of supporting organic agriculture. 

Photo: Michael Stein and Klaas Martens