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OFRF Attends USDA Briefing with Under Secretary Moffitt and Rep. Panetta

Two USDA COVID assistance programs were discussed, including the Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program which has an approaching deadline of November 22.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) recently attended a USDA press with USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt and Congressman Jimmy Panetta (CA-20). The event discussed two federal pandemic assistance programs, the USDA’s Pandemic Response and Safety Grant and the Farm and Food Worker Relief Grant, which total over $1 billion for affected workers and business.

“OFRF is excited to show support for these crucial USDA programs that will directly provide assistance to farmers who were affected by COVID-19,” said Organic Farming Research Foundation Executive Director Brise Tencer.

The Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program provides grants to state agencies, tribal entities and nonprofits who serve farms, farmworkers and meatpacking workers. Organizations such as food processors, distributors, producers and farmers markets are eligible to apply, and may be reimbursed between $1,500 to $20,000 for COVID-related expenses if awarded funding. The application period for the Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program is currently open and closes November 22. “In the first 12 hours we had over 500 applicants already,” said Lester Moffitt.

“We understand and value a farmworker, not just for what a farmworker did throughout the pandemic but what farmworkers do every single day,” said Rep. Panetta. Rep. Panetta worked to ensure that the final Consolidated Appropriations Act, which authorizes and funds the Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program, included funding to farmers, farmworkers, and essential workers who incurred safety-related expenses related to COVID-19.

The Farm and Food Worker Relief Grant Program provides assistance to farmworkers, meatpacking workers, and frontline grocery workers with funds being awarded by state agencies, tribal entities and nonprofits. Approximately $600 will be reimbursed to workers who receive funding to cover costs for expenses incurred because of of COVID-19. Applications for the Farm and Food Worker Relief Grant Program will open later this season, fall 2021.

“The Farm and Food Worker Relief Grant Program will provide $700 million for farmworkers, meatpacking workers and frontline grocery workers for pandemic-related safety costs,” said Moffitt. “Costs that we know have been incurred for the past 18 months and incur still today during the pandemic.”

“Farmworkers are first-responders that safeguard the harvest, a job they perform with utmost urgency and dignity to feed their loved ones and to sustain the nation’s food security,” said United Farm Workers Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres. “Even under a deadly pandemic, life-threatening heat waves, and toxic wildfire smoke that kept the public indoors and in climate-controlled spaces, farmworkers continued to show up to work.”

“They get up, they show up, they step up and the step into the fields and do the back-breaking work that many Americans will not do,” added Rep. Panetta.

Rep. Panetta is also a co-sponsor of H.R.2803, the Agricultural Resilience Act (ARA). Earlier this year, OFRF facilitated a tour of the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Salinas, Calif. for Representative Panetta’s congressional staffers. The site visit focused on the importance of increased investment in organic research and was instrumental in the congressman’s decision to co-sponsor the bill.

The press conference was held on October 7 at the United Farm Workers Foundation facility in Salinas, Calif. Also in attendance:

  • OFRF Executive Director Brise Tencer
  • National Vice President of the United Farm Workers Union Bonita Rivera
  • National Vice President and Regional Director for the Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Bay area United Farm Workers Union Lauro Barajas.

A tour of JSM Organics Farm concluded the briefing.

 

By |2021-10-13T17:38:21+00:00October 13th, 2021|News|

OFRF Asks Congress to Increase Funding for Organic Research

OREI Grant Funding

The OFRF policy team has been hard at work advocating for more federally funded organic agriculture research.  Congress is currently in the midst of budget reconciliation, a process that allows them to fast-track legislation related to spending, revenue, the surplus or deficit, and public debt. The current budget resolution calls for $3.5 trillion in spending, and OFRF wants to make sure that organic research receives a share of the increased spending.  More specifically, OFRF has asked members of the House and Senate to support an increase in funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). OREI funds research, education, and extension programs that help organic producers and processors to grow and market organic products. Priority areas for the program include biological, physical, and social sciences.

Under existing law, OREI is funded at $25 million in 2022 and $50 million in 2023 and beyond. OFRF has asked for these amounts to be increased to $30 million in 2022 and $75 million in 2023 and beyond. The highly popular grant program currently has a success rate of 26 percent, meaning only about one in four grant requests receives funding. The total amount requested under the program is currently more than four times the amount of money available. By increasing the amount of money that is available, more grants will be funded, increasing the amount of research that will ultimately benefit organic farmers and ranchers. 

By |2021-09-08T15:09:07+00:00September 8th, 2021|News|

OFRF Meets with Under Secretary Lester Moffitt to Ask USDA to Prioritize Support for Producers Transitioning to Organic

OFRF and its advisors recently met with organic farmer and newly-confirmed USDA Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt and Senior Advisor Mike Schimdt to discuss the department’s plans to help producers transition to organic production.  USDA Secretary Vilsack has previously announced that the department will spend a couple hundred million dollars to help farmers and ranchers transition to organic. Given OFRF’s research focus and in-depth analysis in the National Organic Research Agenda, OFRF is well-equipped to provide the department with recommendations that will help producers transition to organic farming.  

Based on its research, OFRF knows that one of the biggest challenges for transitioning producers is the availability of technical assistance and education on organic farming techniques. OFRF has recommended allocating $50 million for training, education, and outreach. A portion of these funds would go to extension agents and other specialists to provide direct assistance to transitioning producers. In addition, use of these funds would be targeted to states with low organic farming rates, and a portion would be set aside to serve producers who have been historically excluded from USDA programs, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

Given the historic underinvestment in organic agriculture research, OFRF also recommended increasing the Organic Transitions Program grant funding from $7 million to $20 million.  The program currently has a 20 percent success rate—meaning only one in five grants receives funding—and the amount requested is about three times the funds available.  

Last, OFRF recommended a handful of changes to conservation programs currently offered by USDA to increase their appeal for organic farmers.  These changes include increasing the incentive rates for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to more accurately reflect foregone income during the three-year organic transition period, and reinstating the popular organic field border buffer initiative under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

As USDA continues to determine how it will use the funds to create transformative changes and invest in climate-friendly agricultural practices, OFRF will continue to use its expertise to advocate for the needs of organic farmers and ranchers.

By |2021-09-08T14:25:22+00:00September 8th, 2021|News|

OFRF Tours USDA Agricultural Research Service, Rep. Jimmy Panetta to Co-Sponsor ARA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(SANTA CRUZ, Calif., August 23, 2021)Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) hosted Representative Jimmy Panetta’s (D-CA, 20th) congressional staffers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Salinas, Calif. last week. The site visit focused on the importance of increased investment in organic research and was instrumental in Rep. Panetta’s decision to co-sponsor H.R.2803, the Agricultural Resilience Act (ARA).

OFRF organized the tour of the organic fields at the ARS led by Dr. Eric Brennan, USDA Research Horticulturist and the ARS’ only dedicated organic researcher in the country. California organic farmers in attendance shared their firsthand experience in applying organic research to their farming practices, including composting and cover cropping. Attendees emphasized the importance of investing more research dollars to organic farming practices at the Salinas facility and other ARS locations.

“Central Coast farmers and ranchers have always been on the leading edge of organic production, thanks to their hard work and partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and organizations like the Organic Farming Research Foundation,” said Congressman Panetta. “As Congressman, my role is to act as the bridge between our communities and Washington, D.C., to advocate for my producers’ needs, and to break through the bureaucracy when they are not getting the answers or funding that they need to keep innovating and growing.”

Rep. Panetta’s decision to co-sponsor the ARA was informed by his careful review of the bill text as well as the work and education provided by OFRF, whose mission has been to advance organic agriculture through scientific research since 1990. The Santa Cruz based nonprofit has invested over $3M and awarded over 350 grants, and provides OFRF-funded research results for free.

“In California and across the country, growers are experiencing the effects of climate change,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director of OFRF. “We are appreciative of Rep. Panetta’s support for organic research and the Agricultural Resilience Act which will benefit American farmers who are at the forefront of the climate crisis.”

Rep. Panetta sits on the House Committee on Agriculture and is Co-Chair and Founder of the Agriculture Research Caucus. His district, which includes Monterey County, has experienced tremendous growth in organic production. According to the 2020 Monterey County Crop and Livestock Report, the county recorded 132,809 organic acreage — nearly doubling since 2018.

“As we in Congress continue our efforts to put forward funding for infrastructure priorities, I remain committed to elevating the needs of the organic producers I proudly represent, so they can continue to have the tools they need to adapt to climate stressors, invest in soil health, and succeed in the twenty-first century,” said Congressman Panetta.

Rep. Panetta sits on the House Committee on Agriculture and is Co-Chair and Founder of the Agriculture Research Caucus. His district, which includes Monterey County, has experienced tremendous growth in organic production. According to the 2020 Monterey County Crop and Livestock Report, the county recorded 132,809 organic acreage — nearly doubling since 2018.

“As we in Congress continue our efforts to put forward funding for infrastructure priorities, I remain committed to elevating the needs of the organic producers I proudly represent, so they can continue to have the tools they need to adapt to climate stressors, invest in soil health, and succeed in the twenty-first century,” said Congressman Panetta.

Others who attended the meeting included:

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About Organic Farming Research Foundation
Organic Farming Research Foundation works to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production.
http://www.ofrf.org/

Media Contact
Caroline Baptist, Communications Manager, Organic Farming Research Foundation
caroline@ofrf.org
831-204-8116

Photo Credit: Haley Baron
By |2021-08-26T15:33:28+00:00August 23rd, 2021|News, Press Release|

OFRF Staff Participates in Virtual Fly-In to Ask Congress to Bolster Organic

The Organic Farming Research Foundation’s (OFRF) Senior Policy Associate, Trevor Findley, participated in the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) virtual fly-in, where organic supporters asked members of Congress to support a bill to increase accountability in organic standards. 

The National Organic Program is run by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service and includes a federal advisory committee that makes recommendations to improve and advance organic standards.  This committee, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), meets twice a year and accepts public input at its meetings. 

Since inception, the NOSB has made 20 consensus recommendations on a range of topics to improve organic standards, but USDA has not yet acted on any of the recommendations.  Many of the recommendations include topics of interest to consumers, including animal welfare standards, the production of personal care products, organic production in greenhouses, and aquaculture in organics.  In the absence of clear standards on these topics, the organizations that certify organic producers have inconsistently interpreted and applied existing standards. 

The bill proposed by OTA, HR 2918 – Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act, would require USDA to do three things: (1) clear the backlog of recommendations from the NOSB that have not been implemented, (2) issue a final rule to implement all new recommendations within one year of the NOSB approving the recommendation, and (3) report to Congress on an annual basis whether certifiers have implemented the new rules and whether any inconsistencies exist.  The bill has bi-partisan support and is being championed by Rep. Peter Defazio (OR-4) and Rep. Rodney Davis (IL-13). 

To advocate for the bill, OTA and its members met with 29 different Congressional offices and sought additional co-sponsors for the bill.  While passage of the bill as a standalone measure is uncertain, there is hope that if the bill doesn’t pass on its own that it would wind up in larger legislation such as the 2023 Farm Bill.

By |2021-08-09T19:55:26+00:00August 9th, 2021|News|

Creating a Southern Soil Health Course

By Shelby Kaplan, OFRF Research and Education Intern
She recently graduated from University of Wisconsin Madison with a degree in plant pathology and a minor in food systems. She will continue her studies in the fall at ASU to receive a graduate certificate in food policy and sustainable leadership.

As an OFRF intern this summer, I have been working with Thelma Velez, the Research and Education Program Manager, to create a free soil health course titled, Organic Soil Health for the Southern Region. This course builds on a recent OFRF publication, Building Healthy Living Soils for Successful Organic Farming in the Southern Region, and describes challenges in Southern soil health and ways to mitigate these problems in a sustainable way. 

Shelby Kaplan in a LabPersonally, the course is thought-provoking and provides a way for me to learn more about organic farming practices. I have an interest in sustainable agriculture and am eager to learn more about the organic farming space, while also hoping to help farmers improve their practices with science-based information. Although the Midwest environment where I went to college differs quite a lot from Southern ecosystems, I have travelled abroad several times in order to broaden my knowledge of organic agriculture in other regions. 

The goal of the course is to assist organic farmers in the South and show practical strategies to help improve their crops by improving the soil, which will build resilient farms. Healthy soil is the basis for successful farming, so finding ways to better manage it and improve on the practices already in place is critical. As the climate continues to change and put increased pressure on farmers, there needs to be an even greater focus on ways to improve the capabilities of soil and the ways we use it.

Supporting organic farmers by providing up-to-date information is an important step in improving organic systems and our environment. Helping to create this course has taught me more about organic systems in the Southern environment, their challenges, as well as possible solutions. 

I hope to continue supporting the organic farming community through working with OFRF in other ways in the future!

By |2021-07-27T15:57:35+00:00July 27th, 2021|News|

Recent Report Recommends Organic Policy Improvements

The Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University recently published The Critical To-Do List for Organic Agriculture, which features 46 recommendations that would improve the state of organic agriculture in the United States. OFRF Executive Director, Brise Tencer, and consultants Mark Schonbeck and Ferd Hoefner, were acknowledged for their advice and support in helping formulate the 46 recommendations.

While policy-based improvements can be time consuming, the majority of recommendations in the report could be accomplished administratively by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), meaning the USDA can make the changes without any additional input from Congress.

Among the 46 recommendations are a number of priorities that the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has prioritized and advocated for, including recommendations to:

(1) develop a national organic plan;
(2) implement a USDA-wide organic agenda;
(3) take a whole of government approach to organic agriculture;
(4) restore the organic advisor to the Secretary;
(7) address racial justice and social equity;
(12) increase organic research;
(23) reinvest in the Organic Transitions program;
(25) restore cost-share funding;
(33) elevate organic in climate policy;
(35) promote ecosystem services;
(37) increase conservation support;
(39) fund research on breeds and seeds adapted to climate change;
(40) identify organic as climate smart;
(43) improve crop insurance tools;
(44) incent recoupling crops and livestock; and
(46) restore the field buffer initiative.

For some recommendations–such as implementing a USDA-wide organic agenda–OFRF has already developed and shared more specific, agency-by-agency recommendations with the USDA. In addition, in an April 2021 letter to Secretary Vilsack, OFRF specifically asked the Secretary to implement several of the recommendations, such as restoring the organic advisor to the Secretary, increasing organic research at USDA to match organic’s six percent market share, restoring cost-share funding, and increasing conservation support.

We look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack and his staff to implement these changes in the coming years!

By |2021-07-16T20:28:18+00:00July 16th, 2021|News|

Caroline Baptist

Caroline Baptist - OFRF Communications Manager

Communications Manager

caroline@ofrf.org

831-204-8116

Caroline Baptist has over 15 years of nonprofit, corporate and agency experience as a communications professional. She graduated from Washington State University with a BA in English and Digital Technology and Culture.
Caroline is a first-generation female farmer of color and owner of the River Valley Country Club, a 5-acre farm in the greater Seattle area. Caroline raises row crop vegetables and pasture-raised livestock and poultry. She is interested in topics of organic farming, regenerative agriculture, local food security, community health and mutual aid.
By |2021-10-13T23:45:30+00:00July 15th, 2021|Staff|