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Biden Administration and Implications for Organic

By Ferd Hoefner, OFRF policy advisor

Right after taking office, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis. Among many other things, the Order directed USDA to collect stakeholder input regarding climate change mitigation and resilience within the agricultural and forestry sectors.

Specifically, the Order asked USDA to “collect input from Tribes, farmers, ranchers, forest owners, conservation groups, firefighters, and other stakeholders on how to best use Department of Agriculture programs, funding and financing capacities, and other authorities, and how to encourage the voluntary adoption of climate-smart agricultural and forestry practices that decrease wildfire risk fueled by climate change and result in additional, measurable, and verifiable carbon reductions and sequestration and that source sustainable bioproducts and fuels.”

Agriculture and forestry groups responded, with over 2,700 comment letters filed, providing the Department with a wide diversity of views and much to contemplate. OFRF submitted recommendations, as did two groups of which OFRF is a member – the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the Organic Trade Association.

OFRF’s comments focused on steps the Administration can and should also take on its own, without requiring further action from Congress, to assist farmers and ranchers meet the challenge represented by climate change, including calls to:

  • Recognize and establish the organic method as a major strategy for carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas mitigation, and building resilience to the impacts of climate change.
  • Increase USDA research investment into organic agriculture to become at least commensurate with the organic food market share, currently about 6% of total food sales in the US.
  • Continue to build the capacity of NRCS to support the conservation and climate-mitigation efforts of organic producers.
  • Restore Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) Enhancements that specifically address the needs of organic and transitioning-organic farmers and ranchers.
  • Ensure racial equity in implementation and delivery of new USDA initiatives related to Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry, and in all existing research, conservation, crop insurance, and other USDA programs.

The “fair share” research investment point dovetails with OFRF’s advocacy with the Administrator and National Program Leaders of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service to ramp up their investments in organic research, moving from current less than one percent levels to six or more percent over the course of the next four years. OFRF has also encouraged Congress to not only appropriate $20 million for ARS organic-specific research in Fiscal Year 2022, but to also direct the agency to develop a five-year strategic plan for organic research and to assign national program leaders as part of that plan.

President Biden submitted his own budget requests to Congress on May 28. Despite asking Congress for the biggest increase in USDA funding in decades – a nearly $4 billion or 17 percent jump, the budget request from the White House included only level funding for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and the Organic Transitions Program and no specific reference to organic research at the Agricultural Research Service. The White House proposal did however include an $8 million increase in NIFA’s “IR-4” program to support pest management for specialty crops, citing the need for additional organic and biopesticides as one rationale among several for the proposed near 70 percent increase. 

The Biden proposal also calls on Congress to jump up the funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program from $40 million to $60 million and for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) from $435 million to $700 million. Organic research proposals have been funded by both programs, particularly the SARE program, in the past.

In addition to those specific competitive grant programs, perhaps the most notable element of the proposed budget requests related directly to climate change. The request asks for increased funding for ARS including $99 million for clean energy, $92 million for climate science, and $95 million to work with the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C). The request also would include an additional $17 million for the NIFA to accelerate development of climate smart and carbon neutral agriculture through transdisciplinary systems level approaches to sequester carbon and use clean energy to achieve net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. None of these proposals includes any specific reference to organic, though most of them could potentially fund organic-relevant research.

Of course, the President proposes but the Congress disposes, so now attention turns to the congressional appropriations subcommittees who will begin marking up their FY 2022 government spending bills shortly. OFRF will continue to press for more adequate levels of organic-specific research dollars with the agricultural appropriators.

Beyond the Administration’s budget requests to Congress, great attention and speculation is also focused on how USDA plans to move to align USDA programs and regulations with President Biden’s climate agenda. While the 2,700+ public comments are being reviewed, the Department has also begun to take action, most notably with respect to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the largest USDA conservation program by dollars, and to cover cropping incentives within the federal crop insurance program. 

In April, the Farm Service Agency announced the re-institution of CRP incentive payments for targeted enrollments of water quality-focused conservation buffers as well as the creation of a new climate-smart practice incentive that will base payment rates on projected climate benefits of particular cover practices.

While this is good news, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) has not yet announced the re-establishment of the Organic Field Border Buffer Initiative, originally created in the final year of the Obama Administration to provide cost-share and land rental payments to organic farmers for installation of field border buffers through the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP). This will hopefully be restarted soon.

On June 1, USDA’s Risk Management Agency announced a new, nationwide Pandemic Cover Crop Program that will provide a $5 an acre crop insurance premium discount for any farmer, including organic farmers, who have a crop insurance policy for 2021 and planted cover crops during the 2021 crop year. The funding is being drawn from the American Rescue Plan Act funds. 

While a retroactive payment will not spur new cover crop adoption, if the program is repeated and becomes permanent, it could help increase adoption over time. With cover cropping part and parcel of most organic systems, this could also help organic farmers through lower premiums. Unfortunately, for 2021, Whole Farm Revenue Protection insurance — a good insurance option for diversified organic farmers — is being excluded from the new premium discount opportunity, a misguided oversight that will hopefully be corrected if the program is continued in future years.

Expectations run high that additional climate and agriculture related actions will follow these two initial announcements. OFRF will be watching and using every opportunity to ensure that organic farming is included as a key part of climate solutions. For OFRF’s administrative agenda, perhaps no USDA appointments matter more than those for the Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics and the USDA Organic Coordinator. After four months in office, there is still no word from the White House or the Secretary’s office about who will be named to fill these two important positions. But rest assured, once they are named, OFRF will be lining up meetings to share its wealth of knowledge and recommendations for advancing organic research!

Thanks to our climate partner, Clif Family Foundation for their support of our work!

By |2021-06-14T18:09:27+00:00June 3rd, 2021|News|

Seeding a Culture of Innovation in Organics: Farmer-led breeding of peppers, broccoli and cucumber

photo of broccoli growingSarah Hargreaves, Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario

This project supports three breeding projects in cooperation with the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario’s Farmer-Led Research Program. All three projects focus on providing best practices to adapt to climate change by breeding varieties that are locally adapted to low-input organic systems for southern Ontario and the U.S. northeast. By supporting farmer-led breeding efforts for organic production, this project also contributes to an emerging but critically under-researched area of vegetable farming.

 

By |2020-10-02T22:20:33+00:00October 2nd, 2020|Grant Award|

Fresh From the Fields: Barr Farms

June 3, 2020 – Barr Farms is a seventh-generation family farm in Rhodelia, Kentucky. Adam and Rae Strobel Barr raise organic vegetables, pastured chicken and pork, and grass-fed beef. They farm with the intention of taking care of the land by growing healthy soil, healthy plants, healthy animals, and healthy people.

Although Adam didn’t grow up working on what was his grandparents’ farm when he was a child, he visited often in the summer. “I was the city cousin,” he explains. “My father left the farm to become an attorney, but having succession on this land was really important to him so he was able to buy back in. I moved back to the farm in 2006, bought my grandparents’ house in 2007, and started a CSA that same year.”

It wasn’t easy though. Adam says he didn’t realize all it would entail in terms of creating a business and doing all the things that he and Rae wanted to do. “It’s way more complicated than I realized,” he explains. “The people I know who went to school, studied sustainable and organic farming and were employed on organic farms for a significant amount of time—they really did it the right way. I came into it with some smarts but not really understanding the business.”

The farm was certified organic in 2014 and Adam says it was a question of scale more than anything that drove their decision to become certified organic. “As we grew, it was getting harder to have in-depth conversations with every customer when they picked up their shares. We had plans to double our growth in 2015 and were at a point where we wouldn’t be having that face-to-face contact so we felt like it was the right time to get certified. We’d already been using organic practices and doing the record keeping so the transition wasn’t really difficult because we already had that mindset.”

In addition to the CSA business, Adam and Rae sell to a Whole Foods in Louisville and participate in Louisville’s robust farmers’ market scene. They also sell through New Roots, which is based on a model of equitable food justice CSA distribution, providing a sliding scale to people who can’t afford organic produce. There are three or four farms that participate and it’s organized as a non-profit.

“We grow 40 different vegetables,” says Adam. “We have 25 acres certified and have about half of that in production at any one time. Some of it is perennials that are not producing yet but hopefully next year we’ll have our first organic asparagus crop for sale. We’re on a much bigger family farm but it isn’t all certified for a number of reasons. The livestock is not certified organic. There’s no issue certifying the farm ground but sourcing organic feed is difficult and I’m not sure the demand is there.”

Adam is a big proponent of using biochar for building their soil. “There’s been an explosion of the science around it in the last ten years. “I really think the biochar is creating more of a permanent microbial habitat that will help us bring back that life pretty quickly after tillage or if we have a saturation event. It’s a foundational piece of the carbon cycling on our farm. We’re using that carbon matrix to store nutrients, water,  and air—while still focusing on cover cropping and cycling annual carbon. When we do them both, we are creating synergy. It’s still early but we’re seeing great results. Over time, I hope it will increase and give us a longer period where we’re keeping that soil alive instead of mining it.”

“We’re starting to work more on the biological availability of nutrients, using plant health as an indicator to measure that in the plants rather than the soil.” Adam is particularly interested in the work being done by John Kempf at Advancing Eco Agriculture to develop custom plant nutrition programs. “They’re doing amazing work with plant sap analysis rather than soil health testing. But there’s a significant cost associated with it that’s not justifiable for our scale.”

Annual rye grass is used for cover cropping, which Adam says helps because the farm is on fragipan (a dense subsurface soil layer that severely restricts water flow and root penetration) and far from ideal for growing vegetables. “There’s some research that has come out of the University of Kentucky showing that annual rye grass is chemically breaking down the fragipan as much as an inch or two a year and that’s really exciting. The University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University have organic programs and I use them both as a resource. We also plant summertime annuals, some hemp, and buckwheat. We use very high raised beds and drainage tile.”

Adam says the research on biochar and cover cropping with rye grass has fundamentally informed the way they’re managing fertility on the farm. “Once you put it in the ground, it’s going to be there for a long time. Not that we should be burning up all our woody material, there needs to more research. There are different ways to manage it and you don’t have to cut a whole tree down to build biomass.”

As far as the future goes, Adam sees microfarming or having a lot of small lots where people can build up their soil, grow nutrient rich food, and grow more locally as a viable solution. “On our scale of 20+ acres, I want to transition as much as I can over to perennial production because it is more carbon sustainable in the long run. We have an acre and a half of asparagus and it’s surrounded by a half-acre of hazelnut and chestnut tree plantings. We have over 1,000 trees in that half acre and we’re trying to graze around some of those.”

Over the long term, the Barrs think they probably will end up managing the larger 200-acre farm that is producing beef cattle. “My uncle and dad do that now. As we transition into more management of that we want to see more perennials and intensive grazing. Replicating the Savannah is going to have the highest impact on sequestering carbon. Those soils have the highest organic carbon content of any soil and that’s where we’re headed. The vegetables are an important step for us along the way.”

What do they want people to understand about why it’s important to support organic? “I would like people to think more about two things—the health of the farm workers and the overall environmental benefits when you are not using harmful pesticides,” says Rae. “If you’re thinking about food justice and farm justice, organic is a huge part of that. I think that’s a piece of the discussion that is slowly coming online that has been left out until recently. The other piece I think consumers haven’t thought about is the effect on the lands and the waters. That’s what we’d like people to know more about.”

In wrapping up, Rae says, “To make that connection, you need to expand your self-identity beyond your body to include your environment and your community. You are part of the earth and the earth is part of you. If you’re putting poisons in the water, that water is going to come back to you and your descendants.”

By |2020-06-16T19:49:55+00:00June 3rd, 2020|Farmer Stories, News|

Understanding and Managing Soil Biology for Soil Health and Crop Production

Understanding and Managing Soil Biology for Soil Health and Crop Production

The functions of the soil food web and key components in promoting soil health and fertility and sustainable organic crop production, with research-based guidance on organic practices and NOP-approved inputs for improved soil food web function.

The goal of the guidebook is to help organic farmers navigate the wilderness of soil life and soil health management by providing up-to-date, science-based information on:

  • The soil food web, its key components, and functions.
  • Assessing and monitoring soil life and soil biological condition.
  • Managing soil life for long term soil health and productivity in organic systems.
  • Biological management of plant diseases.
  • Microbial inoculants and biostimulants: whether, when, and how to use them.
Download the Guidebook
By |2020-04-03T22:16:39+00:00April 3rd, 2020|Climate Toolkit|

Organic Practices for Climate Mitigation, Adaption, and Carbon Sequestration

Organic Practices for Climate Mitigation, Adaption, and Carbon Sequestration

Climate change threatens agriculture and food security across the U.S. and around the world. Rising global mean temperatures have already intensified droughts, heat waves, and storms, and altered life cycles and geographical ranges of pests, weeds, and pathogens, making crop and livestock production more difficult. Intense rainstorms aggravate soil erosion and complicate water management, and higher temperatures accelerate oxidation of soil organic matter. Warming climates modify crop development regulated by growing degree-days or “chill hours,” and threaten production of perennial fruit and nut crops that have strict chilling requirements to initiate growth and fruit set. Thus, agricultural producers have a major stake in efforts to curb further climate change, as well as improving the resilience of their farming and ranching systems to the impacts of climate disruption.

Download the Guidebook
By |2020-04-03T21:39:49+00:00April 3rd, 2020|Climate Toolkit|

Healthy soils release fewer greenhouse gases

Healthy soils release fewer greenhouse gases

Healthy soils release fewer greenhouse gases

Organic farmers do not use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, one of the primary contributors of greenhouse gases.

Healthy soils help crops obtain nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients from organic soil organic matter. This reduces the need for fertilizers that can threaten water quality and minimizes the release of greenhouse gases from soils.

Organic farmers and ranchers are prohibited from using synthetic inputs, which can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, to manage pests and diseases. Instead, they rely on the services provided by the diversity of plants and animals in and around their farms to prevent disease and pest outbreaks. In this video, Richard Smith, a Farm Advisor with UC Cooperative Extension, explains how organic producers use environmentally friendly practices such as promoting beneficial habitat for natural predators of insect pests to manage crop diseases.

By |2020-04-27T21:27:00+00:00March 25th, 2020|Climate Toolkit|

Healthy Soils Store More Carbon

Healthy soils store more carbon

Healthy soils store more carbon

The most practical and cost-effective way to remove excess carbon (CO2) from the atmosphere is through living plants and soils.

While organic systems require some level of physical disturbance to control weeds, they eliminate synthetic inputs and can significantly reduce tillage. Reduced tillage, crop diversification, cover cropping, organic amendments, and sound nutrient management can enhance carbon sequestration and build climate resiliency in organic agricultural systems.

By |2020-04-27T21:27:23+00:00March 24th, 2020|Climate Toolkit|

Healthy Soils Increase Resilience

click to learn more

Healthy soils increase resilience

Healthy soils increase resilience

Healthy soils form the foundation of organic production. Healthy soils have good structure (tilth), which allows them to absorb and hold moisture, drain well, maintain adequate aeration, and foster deep, healthy crop root systems. Such soils sustain crops through dry spells, require less irrigation water, and undergo less ponding, runoff, and erosion during heavy rains.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has identified four guiding principles that support healthy soils: 1) minimize disturbance, 2) maximize biodiversity, 3) keep soil covered, and 4) maintain living roots. These principles provide the foundation for a resilient farm system and are explained in more detail in the infographic above.

The USDA National Organic Standards require certified producers to implement crop rotation, cover cropping, tillage, nutrient management, and other practices that improve and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological condition of the soil.

In this short demonstration video, organic farmer Scott Park of Park Farm Organics in Meridian, CA explains the relationship between water management and soil health and the overall productivity of the farm. Scott explains the importance of preventive practices in organic systems—because organic farmers cannot rely on synthetic chemical inputs, they need to take care of the soil over time and solve production problems before they happen. Farmers do this by implementing soil health building practices because healthy soils are the foundation of a healthy farm.

By |2021-06-16T17:51:31+00:00March 20th, 2020|Climate Toolkit|

Kelsey Grimsley

Office Manager/Program Administrator

office@ofrf.org

831-275-1837

Kelsey Grimsley graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.A. in Politics. Right out of college Kelsey gained valuable experience working with diverse populations through jobs in grassroots organizing, community engagement projects, and congressional offices. They lived at a Buddhist retreat center, off-the-grid in Santa Cruz County, where they explored how to live a sustainable lifestyle first-hand, while working for the center as Community Relations Coordinator.

Kelsey has always been passionate about environmental stewardship and social justice, which has informed their career path and led them to working here at OFRF. They are excited and proud to be a part of an organization that has a meaningful mission that aligns with their passions.

By |2021-04-28T22:22:10+00:00December 12th, 2019|Staff|

Patagonia Doubles Donations to OFRF

December 4, 2019 – Now through December 31st, all donations made to OFRF will be matched dollar-for-dollar by Patgonia Works!

This match will double your support!

For the last three decades, OFRF has responded directly to the critical needs of organic farmers and ranchers through targeted scientific research, free educational resources, and advocacy on both the local and federal level.

Don’t miss this opportunity to double your impact.

Thank you for helping us ensure organic farmers and ranchers have the information and resources they need to be successful!

Click here to make your donation.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00December 4th, 2019|News|
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