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Farmer Led Trials Program Spotlight: Colby Farms

Written by Jose Perez, OFRF’s Research & Education Engagement Coordinator

Tim and Becky Colby own Colby Farms, a 14 acre farm in Papillion, Nebraska, where they produce vegetables, fruits and some livestock products for their community. As beginner and veteran farmers, they are in their second year of transitioning a historically conventional farm to organic production. Having previously farmed in Arizona for 3 years, they came back to Nebraska to tend the land where Becky’s grandfather once farmed.

Tim and Becky have exciting plans for their farm. They hope, in time, to create a farm-to-school program, offer value-added food classes, and build a commercial kitchen. They hope to establish a fruit orchard with apples, peaches and other stone fruits to offer u-pick, as well as raise chickens, goats, bees, and perhaps cows. 

Dealing with soil compaction

The farm is located in a floodplain with clay heavy soil vulnerable to compaction. Decades of conventional corn and soybean rotations have contributed to this problem. Tim and Becky knew from the beginning that they needed to improve soil structure to produce quality crops. A USDA representative also noticed soil compaction and recommended using deep taproot cover crops to address this challenge. 

In their first year at their Nebraska farm, they planted a sorghum sudangrass cover crop, which resulted in a lot of organic matter produced. However, they quickly noticed that the cover crop roots had failed to penetrate the soil beyond the hardpan. 

Tim and Becky had a lot of questions to address regarding the use of cover crops to reduce soil compaction: What cover crop species should they use? How many cover crop cycles are needed? And, would there be any potential weed or pest concerns? Weed pressure is very high due to continuous use of the same crop rotation in the land for over 30 years. Sorghum sudan appeared to provide very good weed suppression but only after mowing three times. On the other hand, they are concerned about possible infestations of Japanese beetles, which have occurred in the past on soybeans. How would the cover crop respond to such an infestation?  This is where their interest in OFRF’s Farmer Led Trials (FLT) Program came in.

Q: What motivated you to apply for the FLT program?

“Being part of the FLT program was a no-brainer for us on our farm. The land on our farm is in desperate need of rejuvenation and planting cover crops is the obvious solution. By partnering with OFRF, not only do we get some funding but we get to create a project that will help us determine the very best cover crops to solve some of our soil health issues. We get expert advice and feedback through all stages of the project from planning, implementing, data collection, and interpreting results. Then, at the end, not only does our Farm get answers to legitimate questions that will improve our soil, but we get to share this data with others that might be asking the same question. FLT’s are a win-win-win scenario for the farmer, the research group, and future farmers that will be able to learn from the data.”   Tim Colby

Farm trial plan

OFRF staff is currently working with Tim and Becky to figure out the best way to establish a cover crop comparison trial that can point towards the best cover crop options for reducing soil compaction at the farm. Using a 2 acre area, preliminary plans are to plant a mix of peas, oats and vetch during spring and make the comparison for the fall season using daikon radish, tillage radish, rye and canola cover crops. Preliminary measures include soil compaction, weed suppression, and soil nutrient levels through lab analysis.

Tim and Becky know that dealing with soil compaction goes beyond just planting deep-rooted cover crops. They have plans to use reduced tillage practices, and create permanent beds and living walkways in order to minimize soil compaction. All these measures will contribute to a healthier soil structure. At OFRF, we are excited to be a part of the Colby’s learning journey, and hope that their work will inspire more farmers to conduct research trials on their farms. 

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This story is part of a series profiling farmers who are taking part in OFRF’s Farmer Led Trials (FLT) program. Farmers receive seed funding and technical support from OFRF to address their challenges through structured on-farm trials. To learn more about OFRF Farmer Led Trials Program, visit our website page at https://ofrf.org/research/farmer-led-research-trials/

By |2024-04-08T17:27:49+00:00April 8th, 2024|Farmer Stories, News|

Growing Together, one year with the USDA Transition to Organic Partnership Program

Time has a way of slipping through our fingers, yet it leaves behind a trail of achievements and lessons learned. I can’t believe it’s already April! And that means it’s been a year since the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) joined the USDA Transition to Organic Production Partnership in the West/Southwest region (TOPP-W/SW). This month, we are taking a moment to reflect on the journey, the milestones achieved, and the future we’re cultivating together for organic and transitioning-to-organic producers.

Joining TOPP-W/SW wasn’t just a decision; it was a commitment to deepen our roots in the organic farming community and extend our reach to those transitioning to organic practices. Our goal was clear: to bridge the gap between USDA farm support programs and the farmers who need them most. And what a year it’s been! Through dedication and collaboration, we’ve developed an array of deliverables designed to empower farmers at every step of their organic journey.

We recognized early on that knowledge is power. To demystify the process of accessing USDA support, we crafted comprehensive resource guides and toolkits, which are distributed to nearly 30 partner organizations working directly with farmers in the West/Southwest region. These toolkits provide our on-the-ground partners with information and communication materials meant to serve as a beacon for farmers navigating the often complex landscape of organic certification, conservation programs, and other financial and technical assistance programs. Importantly, we have made strides in our efforts to provide these materials in both English and Spanish, recognizing that significant numbers of farmers transitioning to organic are Spanish-speaking. In addition to creating all our TOPP-W/SW toolkits into Spanish, we recently added a Spanish Resources page to our website.

With TOPP-W/SW so far we have provided resources on the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) in English and in Spanish, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) in English and in Spanish, and the Organic Transition Initiative (OTI) in English and in Spanish, which includes a general guide for How to Talk to Your NRCS Office. We are looking forward to continuing to develop and disseminate toolkits like these to help farmers and ranchers access much-needed support in their organic journey. All of the TOPP-W/SW resources are available on the Organic and Transitioning Resources page of our website.

These toolkits and explainers are just the beginning, we are also working to amplify the stories of organic producers who have utilized financial and technical assistance programs. Information is important, but stories provide a spark to action that information doesn’t often offer. If you are a farmer in who has used USDA support programs, please reach out! We would love to hear your story, and we have stipends to offer as compensation for your time speaking with us. 

As we celebrate this one-year milestone, we’re reminded of the journey ahead. The seeds we’ve planted together with our TOPP-W/SW partners are beginning to sprout, but there’s more work to be done. We’re committed to expanding our resources and continuing to be a science- and research-equipped partner in this work. The feedback and stories from the farmers we’ve worked with will continue to guide our path forward.

Whether you’re a seasoned organic farmer, in the midst of transitioning, or simply exploring the idea, we’re here for you. Our journey with TOPP-W/SW is just one chapter in a larger story of growth, resilience, and community. We invite you to join us, share your experiences, and together, let’s continue to cultivate a future where organic farming thrives.

As we reflect on this past year and look to the future, our gratitude goes out to each farmer, partner, and supporter who’s joined us on this journey. Your dedication to organic and transitioning-to-organic production is the true force behind our collective achievements. Here’s to another year of growth, challenges, and triumphs in the organic farming community. For more information on accessing our resources or getting involved, visit our website or reach out directly (gordon@ofrf.org). Your journey to organic farming is one we’re eager to support.

Eat well,

Gordon

By |2024-04-04T20:52:45+00:00April 4th, 2024|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Beyond Buzzwords: Organic is Regenerative

You may have heard the term “regenerative” a lot lately in agricultural circles or on food labels at the grocery store. The term has caught the attention of consumers interested in the impact of their food choices, and farmers and policymakers looking for ways to adapt to or mitigate climate change. We are at a unique moment to promote transformative farming practices, but it’s critical to understand what we’re rooting for.

Although the term ‘regenerative’ has gained widespread traction, definitions of the term vary widely. Unfortunately, in some cases, it is used to describe conventional agriculture that adopts a single conservation practice, such as no-till, and labels it regenerative. Changing one practice and calling it regenerative drastically misses the mark of what truly whole-system, regionally-adapted, thoughtfully-practiced organic and regenerative agriculture can be.

Organic farmers have been using regenerative organic practices since long before the terms “organic” or “regenerative” were coined. Yet, as a wave of climate-change awareness sweeps over decision-makers in food and agriculture policy, organic farming is often overlooked as a climate solution. 

Organic agriculture is grounded in principles that collaborate with nature, foster healthy soil, and contribute to clean water, biodiversity, and thriving farm communities; it encompasses the essence of holistic and regenerative farming. At OFRF, we recently embarked on a project to map the synergies between organic and regenerative agriculture practices and develop a messaging toolkit to help organic advocates explain how organic is regenerative. We found three key themes that come together to highlight the critical role that organic agriculture can play in creating a healthy future for people and the planet:

#1 Organic Agriculture Supports a Resilient Planet. It is…

Climate-Friendly:

Nearly 90% of organic farmers use cover crops, which protect soil, help sequester carbon, and prevent erosion. Organic growers also lead the way in crop rotation, intercropping, and green manures, all of which are research-backed methods to improve resilience and increase fertility. 

Healthy for Soils:

Maintaining and improving healthy soil is a core requirement of organic agriculture. The USDA National Organic Program mandates best conservation management practices, including diversified crop rotation, cover cropping, careful nutrient management, and other methods to protect or improve soil health. 

Protective of Biodiversity:

Organic farmers are required to preserve and protect biodiversity and natural resources to replenish or maintain ecological balance on farms. Research has found that organically managed lands have higher rates of both species richness and abundance when compared to conventional cropping systems. Organic farming significantly increases populations of beneficial insects, birds, soil-dwelling organisms, mammals, reptiles, and plants. 

Systems Focused:

Organic production emphasizes overall system health, including clean air, water and soil.  The interaction of management practices is the primary concern, rather than any individual technique. 

#2 Organic Agriculture Builds Healthy Communities. It is…

Good for the Economy:

Organic farms and businesses create jobs throughout the supply chain. In 2022, organic food sales in the United States broke through $60 billion for the first time. And in 2023, total organic sales (including organic non-food products) were a record $67.6 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Industry Survey. The organic sector is expected to remain stable or grow as generations who are conscious about health and the environment prioritize purchasing organic food for their families, especially their children.  

Safer for Farmworkers and Rural Residents:

Organic farms rely on natural inputs, like compost and natural pesticides. Certifiers review all inputs organic farmers plan to use and conduct random tests to ensure no prohibited pesticides are used. These regulations protect farmers, farm workers, neighbors, and nearby waterways from exposure to toxic chemicals. 

Better for People:

Pesticides are designed to be poisons. The properties that make them toxic to insects and weeds can also make them toxic to other forms of life, including people. Eating organic protects people from toxic pesticide and herbicide residue on food products.

Better for Animals:

The use of antibiotics and hormones is prohibited in organic production. Instead, organic producers must use holistic practices to maintain livestock health. Studies show that organic farms harbor fewer antibiotic-resistant microbes than their conventional counterparts, and organic meats are less likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventional meat products (another health benefit for consumers). 

#3 Organic Agriculture is Trustworthy. It is…

Third-Party Certified:

Organic farming has a legal definition, which makes it a solid tool for holding farmers and food producers accountable to sustainable practices and letting consumers know what they are supporting with their food purchases. To sell products labeled “organic,” farmers and food processors must undergo a rigorous certification process, which includes working with a USDA-accredited third-party certifier which ensures integrity and accountability.

Non-GMO:

Organic is THE choice for consumers wanting to avoid GMOs. Organic certification prohibits farmers from using genetically modified seed and requires practices that prevent contact of organic crops with GMOs.

Tried and True:

Organic farming is not new; many of the methods used in organic farming today have their roots in traditional ecological knowledge and Indigenous farming practices. The National Organic Program was created over 30 years ago, informed by decades of experience of farmers and ranchers, soil and plant scientists, food system workers, environmentalists, and consumers. 

Evolving and Improving:

The standards are designed to be responsive to changing needs and continue to evolve. Organic agriculture may not be perfect, but there are built-in pathways for improvement. 

In short, organic agriculture is a powerful tool to address climate change, build healthy communities, and foster a sustainable future that we can trust in. To achieve this future, we must continue to invest in organic agricultural research, products, and farmers. 

By |2024-03-27T20:51:57+00:00March 27th, 2024|News|

Amanda Abraham (she/her/hers)

Development & Policy Intern

email: amanda[at]ofrf.org

Amanda Abraham (she/her/hers) joins the OFRF team as the Spring 2024 Partnerships and Policy Intern. She is an undergraduate student studying Sustainability Science at Arizona State University. She has an immense passion for uplifting the well-being of people and the planet, which she achieves through her compassion for others, willingness to learn, and overwhelming curiosity about how the world works.

Amanda also loves to cook. She adores the relationships she has fostered through learning to cook from others, and sharing her own creations. It is this love for food that has led her to the organic agriculture space, as she is eager to inspire others to learn more about where their food comes from and express her gratitude for the people who cultivate healthy and nutritious foods. Amanda aspires to evolve into a leader who encourages equality, promotes farmer and consumer well-being, and educates others about the importance of sustainable food practices.

Outside of her role as a full time student, Amanda enjoys every opportunity she can to be outside whether that is meditating, swimming, or watching the sunrise and sunset. In her free time, she loves to read books and spend time in the company of family and friends.

By |2024-03-27T15:23:58+00:00March 27th, 2024|Interns|

New Toolkit Highlights How Organic Practices Lead the Way in Regenerative Agriculture

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

OFRF Releases a Suite of Messaging Resources for Organic Advocates to Amplify the Power of Organic Farming for Climate Solutions and Healthy Communities

(March 11, 2024) The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is proud to announce the launch of an innovative messaging toolkit, “Organic is Regenerative,” designed to address the growing interest in sustainable food choices and climate-friendly agriculture. As consumers increasingly seek to understand the environmental impact of their food, and farmers strive to combat climate change, there’s a unique opportunity to promote transformative practices. This toolkit emphasizes science- and standards-backed messaging about the benefits of organic agriculture as a regenerative farming practice.

“Organic growers are leaders when it comes to climate resilience, adaptation, and mitigation,” said Brise Tencer, OFRF Executive Director. “We are excited to share this resource that summarizes the latest scientific insights on how organic fosters healthy soil, and contributes to clean water, biodiversity, and thriving farm communities.”

While the term ‘regenerative’ gains traction, the role of organic farming in this conversation is often overlooked. Organic agriculture embodies principles of collaboration with nature. It fosters healthy soil, clean water, biodiversity, and thriving farm communities. Organic is the original climate-smart agriculture. This toolkit aims to clarify misconceptions about organic practices and highlight their role in regenerative land stewardship. It includes versatile resources such as print/digital fliers, a presentation slide deck, social media graphics, and a comprehensive message mapping spreadsheet providing evidence-backed statements for various audiences.

“This toolkit includes a strong suite of science-backed resources highlighting the many ways in which organic is regenerative. It not only showcases clear messaging, it also includes the supporting evidence,” said Thelma Velez, OFRF Research and Education Director. “Our goal is to provide organic champions and farmers with the tools they need to communicate how organic practices support healthy soils, strong communities, and a more livable planet.”

Explore our toolkit at www.OFRF.org/organic-is-regenerative.

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About Organic Farming Research Foundation

OFRF works to promote the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that attract more farmers and arable land to organic production.

For more information, please visit www.OFRF.org

Media Contact

brise@ofrf.org

By |2024-03-20T17:20:09+00:00March 12th, 2024|News, Press Release|

Shaping Agriculture Policy for a Sustainable Future

At OFRF, we continue to work closely with coalition partners to remain aware of the ever-evolving landscape of agriculture policy at the federal level. For this March’s Policy Corner, I wanted to share all of the work we’ve been up to this year and what we’re looking forward to. 

Earlier this month, OFRF submitted comments on the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Practice Standards (CPS) and the Agricultural Marketing Service’s Specialty Crop Competitiveness Initiative (SCCI). These are significant opportunities to highlight the conservation and economic benefits related to organic management. You can take a look at our comments on our advocacy page. Please reach out if you have any questions!  

Along with this advocacy related to the executive branch, we’ve continued to be engaged in the legislative process related to our priorities. The Farm Bill, the everlasting gobstopper of a policy topic, continues to lurch from hopeful timelines in the spring to calls to extend the 2018 policies another year. We will continue to engage on this crucial piece of legislation as it is one of the most essential policy-drivers in the United States food system. That’s why we were in DC last month with our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. We talked with Representatives and Senators about the importance of organic agriculture research, continuing to build momentum for the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) and the Organic Science Research Investment (OSRI) Acts.

Similar to the agriculturalists up in the northern part of the country, now is also the time we are planting seeds for FY25 appropriations, even as we rapidly bring a close to the FY24 Agriculture Appropriations process. We’ve been sending detailed requests to legislators’ offices about the impact of organic agriculture research on their districts and states. We have also been busy drafting written testimony that will be submitted to both chambers’ agriculture committees, making sure that the case for expanded organic research is put on record. Lastly and most importantly, we’re scheduling meetings with appropriators to ensure they understand the importance of organic agriculture to their states and the country. Once these documents are submitted, we will share them with you all!

But, looking forward to the rest of the year, we’re excited about the opportunities ahead of us. Coming up later this month is the National Organic Coalition’s fly-in, a crucially important venue for the organic movement to use our voice to raise awareness about the bills and programs important to it. Later in May, we will be at the Organic Trade Association’s annual Organic Week, where we’ll be sharing updates on the state of organic research with organic industry representatives and participating in congressional meetings to bring this information to legislators. 

Something we’re very excited about, though, is the upcoming August recess and the ability to not just tell legislators about the importance and impact of research projects but show them. If your institution or farm is interested in organizing an in-district meeting or field day in August/October, let us know so we can work with you to communicate that opportunity to legislators during recess! We’re also interested in hearing about the logistical and administrative burdens of running a successful field day. Please reach out to me at gordon@ofrf.org with insights!

Eat well,

Gordon

By |2024-03-10T17:12:04+00:00March 10th, 2024|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

OFRF Releases New Soil Health Course in Spanish

(Español abajo)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

As Part of a Commitment to a More Inclusive Agricultural Community OFRF Expands Access to Spanish-Language Resources for Sustainable Farming

(March 6, 2024) – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is pleased to announce a new, free online course in Spanish, focused on the importance of improving soil health for agricultural production. With partners at the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), and the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), we present Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo, (Fundamentals of Soil Health). This Spanish-language course focuses on the world of soil and explains how to promote soil health as part of a functioning ecosystem. Healthy soils allow farmers and ranchers to increase production with lower costs, and make agricultural businesses more economically productive, while promoting the health of the environment, animals, and humans. This course discusses practices such as cover cropping, amendment application, tillage and crop rotation, and provides tools to help farmers decide which management practices are best suited for their operation.

Access the Soil Health Course here.

OFRF also recently added a Spanish-language Resources page to our website, dedicated to making education, research, and technical assistance resources accessible to more Spanish-speaking farmers. In our continued efforts towards a more inclusive and equitable agricultural system, and to promote language justice, OFRF will continue to develop and translate grower education factsheets, video content, and technical assistance resources. 

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About Organic Farming Research Foundation

OFRF works to promote the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that attract more farmers and arable land to organic production.

For more information about OFRF, please visit www.OFRF.org

Funding for the online soil health course, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo, was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant 21SCBPCA1002. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA

Media contact

thelma@ofrf.org

La Fundación para la Investigación en Agricultura Orgánica lanza un nuevo curso sobre salud del suelo en español

PARA PUBLICACIÓN INMEDIATA

Como parte de nuestro compromiso con una comunidad agrícola más inclusiva, OFRF amplía el acceso a recursos en español para la agricultura sostenible

(6 de marzo de 2024)La Fundación para la Investigación en Agricultura Orgánica (OFRF por sus siglas en inglés) se complace en anunciar un nuevo curso en línea gratuito en español, enfocado en la importancia de mejorar la salud del suelo para la producción agrícola. Creado en colaboración con el Programa de Investigación y Educación sobre Agricultura Sostenible de la Universidad de California (UC SAREP), la Asociación para la Agricultura y el Entrenamiento de la Tierra (ALBA) y el Centro Nacional para la Tecnología Apropiada (NCAT), presentamos Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo. Este curso en español se centra en el mundo del suelo y explica cómo promover la salud del suelo como parte de un ecosistema funcional. Los suelos saludables permiten a los agricultores y ganaderos aumentar la producción con costos más bajos y hacer que las empresas agrícolas sean más productivas económicamente, al tiempo que promueven la salud del medio ambiente, los animales y los seres humanos. Este curso cubre prácticas como cultivos de cobertura, aplicación de enmiendas al suelo, labranza y rotación de cultivos, y proporciona herramientas para ayudar a los agricultores a decidir qué prácticas de manejo son las más adecuadas para sus operaciones.

Accede al Curso de Salud del Suelo aquí.

OFRF también agregó recientemente una página de Recursos en Español a nuestro sitio web, dedicada a hacer que los recursos de educación, investigación y asistencia técnica sean accesibles para más agricultores de habla hispana. En nuestros esfuerzos continuos hacia un sistema agrícola más inclusivo y equitativo, y para promover la justicia lingüística, OFRF continuará desarrollando y traduciendo fichas técnicas, videos y recursos de asistencia técnica para agricultores.

Acerca de la Fundación para la Investigación de Agricultura Orgánica

OFRF trabaja para promover la mejora y la adopción generalizada de sistemas de agricultura orgánica. OFRF cultiva la investigación orgánica, la educación y las políticas federales que atraen a más agricultores y tierras cultivables a la producción orgánica.

Para obtener más información sobre OFRF, visite www.OFRF.org

La financiación del curso en línea sobre salud del suelo, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo, fue posible gracias al Servicio de Comercialización Agrícola del Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos (USDA) a través de la subvención 21SCBPCA1002. Su contenido es responsabilidad exclusiva de los autores y no representa necesariamente las opiniones oficiales del USDA.

Contacto

thelma@ofrf.org

By |2024-03-20T17:22:13+00:00March 6th, 2024|News, Press Release|

Farmers Announced for OFRF’s new Farmer-Led Trials Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

10 organic farmers across the country selected to receive technical support for innovative on-farm trials

(March 4, 2024) OFRF is proud to announce the launch of our innovative Farmer Led Trials (FLT) Program with the selection of our first ten farmers. The FLT Program will support farmers and ranchers in conducting practical, on-farm research that address farming challenges and increase farmer-led innovations in organic farming. OFRF will provide technical support and seed funding to implement these on-farm trials, and create space to foster a community of farmer-researchers. 

“Farmers are experimenters by nature. Helping them add a few scientific steps to their farm trials can lead to more concrete and trustworthy results that they can share with other farmers”, said Thelma Velez, Director of Research and Education Programs. This program was created to support farmers in accomplishing just that by providing technical support and minimizing the risk of trying a new practice.

This first year cohort includes a mix of beginning farmers, BIPOC farmers, and veteran farmers spanning specialty crops, grain, and vineyard operations. All participants are certified organic or in transition to organic. The research topics identified by the farmers focus on building soil health, cover crop use, weed and pest management, shade cloth use during summer, planting distances, companion planting, and variety breeding. The following is the full list of farmers selected:

OFRF has been working to create this program for over two years, and we are so excited to get started and provide more direct support for farmers, said Thelma Velez, Director of Research and Education Programs. We are eager to see how these on-farm trials will benefit organic farmers in the long run.

To learn more about the Farmer-Led Trials Program, please visit our program page on the OFRF website. Additionally, check out the brand new OFRF publication titled Farmers Guide to On-Farm Research. https://ofrf.org/research/farmer-led-research-trials/  

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This project is supported through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP). TOPP is a program of the USDA Organic Transition Initiative and is administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP).

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About Organic Farming Research Foundation
The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) 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
jose@ofrf.org

By |2024-03-20T17:23:24+00:00March 4th, 2024|News, Press Release|

Carrots, Tomatoes, and Field Days

Bringing farmers & researchers together

At OFRF, celebrating and strengthening the relationship between the researcher and the farmer is one of our greatest joys. We see these roles coming together and overlapping at Field Days – educational events often held on a working farm or ranch or at an agricultural research site. These events usually include demonstrations of specific management practices and equipment or highlight research methods and results. They are an excellent way for farmers to learn about new research findings, researchers to gain insight into the most pressing issues for producers, and networks to grow between them to continue these exchanges. 

With our team spread across the country, we are eager to know more about field day events happening in various regions and to highlight more stories of these cross-pollination events. Do you host Field Days? What kind of events do you plan? Who attends them? And best of all – what are you researching? We want to see what you are up to!

Back in November, our Development Director, Leah Lawson, had the opportunity to attend a carrot trial field day at McHenry County College’s Center for Agrarian Learning in Crystal Lake, Illinois, the ancestral homelands of the Peoria, Bodwéwadmi (Potawatomi), Myaamia,  Očhéthi Šakówiŋ,  Hoocąk (Ho-Chunk), and Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo). Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

Carrot Trial Field Day

By Leah Lawson, Partnerships and Development Director OFRF

It was one of those beautiful fall days when the air was crisp and cool. As I drove out to the campus, the sky faded into a beautiful prairie sunset of purples, reds, and oranges – much like the colors of what was to be my favorite carrot of the night.

Our three hosts for the evening, Sheri Doyel, Micaela Colley, and Kim Sowinski, took us through the process and purpose of the project titled “Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture” (CIOA). We learned about domestication pathways and how culinary and cultural history blend together to create varieties throughout the world. We also learned about the process of carrot breeding. They only flower after the second year of growth, so harvesting the seeds is a long process. Each carrot variety has to be grown in a separate tent to keep them separate and prevent insects with unwanted pollen from getting into the mix.

Of course, the best part of the evening was tasting the carrots. We tried ten varieties grown on the MCC Student Farm, rating them each for taste, sweetness, texture, and color. Sheri and Kim collected all of this data to aggregate with the results from all the other farms participating in the study. Each variety will also receive ratings from the growers on soil health, disease resistance, and production rate. You can sign up on the Seed Linked website if you want to join a similar trial.

Unfortunately, my two favorite carrots were not great producers, so I don’t think I will find them at my local farmers’ market soon. However, I did get to take some of the leftover carrots. After returning home, I conducted another quick tasting with my kids, and we all marveled at their differences.

OFRF is working on building a database of Field Day opportunities around the country, so if you know of events like this, please get in touch! Let us know how you communicate or find out about research in your area. You can reach us at fieldday@ofrf.org 

If you’re interested in learning how to host a Field Day, check out this Farmer Field Day Toolkit from SARE.

New disease-resistant carrot and tomato varieties being developed in partnership with organic farmers

OFRF just released two new research summaries highlighting this carrot trial and a similar tomato study. These two important, long-term organic crop breeding projects both focus on the interaction between soil microbes, genetics, and disease management, and both involve participatory plant breeding efforts between organic farmers and researchers.

Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA): Leveraging On-Farm and Below-Ground Networks

Carrots are an economically important crop for organic specialty crop farmers, with 12% of US carrot acreage under organic management bringing more than $120 million in farmgate sales. Since 2011, researchers leading the CIOA project have been looking to improve carrot varieties for organic production. A central idea behind this work is that carrot varieties associate effectively with soil microbes for enhanced resilience to biotic and abiotic stresses, which can reduce the need for off-farm inputs. By conducting on-farm research and participatory carrot breeding projects, scientists and farmers work together to better understand below-ground networks and develop new varieties.

Tomato Organic Management and Improvement Project (TOMI): Part II

A diverse and virulent complex of fungal, watermold, and bacterial pathogens threaten organic tomato production. The Tomato Organic Management and Improvement Project (TOMI): Part II, led by Dr. Lori Hoagland of Purdue University, builds on previous research (TOMI: Part I), which found that soil and root microbiomes play a substantial role in mediating crop disease resistance. In this second phase of TOMI, researchers want to better understand the role of tomato genetics in promoting specific rhizosphere microbes that mitigate disease issues. The three-pronged approach investigates, 1) The potential for microbial biocontrol agents to promote disease suppression, 2) How plant genetics and microbes interact, and 3) The development of varieties with stable disease resistance using a farmer-participatory approach.

By |2024-03-20T17:25:30+00:00February 12th, 2024|News|

Organic Advocacy in Action: Reflections on NSAC Lobby Day

By Annika LaFave, OFRF Policy and Communications Intern

OFRF Policy & Communications Intern, Annika LaFave in front of the capitol after 8 official meetings during NSAC’s annual lobby day, and a “meet and greet” coffee chat.

Earlier this month, I had the exciting opportunity to participate in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Lobby Day with Gordon (OFRF’s Policy & Programs Manager). As the Policy and Communications intern for the Organic Farming Research Foundation and a recent newcomer to national agriculture advocacy, I have gained a deeper understanding of the Farm Bill and Appropriations processes and still have more to learn.

Our lobby day goals were to discuss the significance of the organic industry and how legislation like the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act (SOAR Act), Organic Research and Science Investment Act (OSRI Act), Continuous Improvement & Accountability in Organic Standards (CIAO), and Opportunities in Organic Act can address common challenges organic producers face. As anticipated, the lobby day underscored the vital role advocates play in conveying farmers’ needs to lawmakers.

Appreciating the intricacies of sustainable agriculture and the barriers farmers face requires a personal connection or lived experience. I was reassured to learn that many congressional agriculture committee staffers seem to “get it” and even have ties to farming in their backgrounds. It is reassuring to know that even with the appearance of continued inaction, there are internal agriculture champions working to help bridge the gap where lawmakers lack such a connection. One thing that stood out to me was the level of transparency staffers had when speaking about the status of the upcoming (delayed) Farm Bill and Appropriations negotiations.

Unifying Nature of Agriculture and Food

In a tumultuous global landscape grappling with climate change, social inequities, and political unrest, we all share a collective need for safe and reliable healthy food access. In this lies a belief widely held by many farmers and consumers regardless of party affiliation: a resilient food system is one that values conservation, ecologically-sound practices, human and animal welfare, and equitable access to basic needs. In most of our eight meetings with congressional staffers from both political parties, there was consensus that the needs of our vulnerable farms and food systems must be addressed. For me, these earnest interactions confirmed that sustainable agriculture, encompassing organic and regenerative practices, seems to have recognition as a nonpartisan bright spot in a difficult Congress.

Prioritizing Farmer-Driven Research Through Legislation

During the lobby day, OFRF staff and members of NSAC met with Leslie Deavers, Chief of Staff to the Associate Chief and Rebekah Lauster, Chief of Staff for the Office of the Regional Conservationists to discuss NRCS’ strategies on field staff recruitment and retention. OFRF is proud to be able to work with these partners to ensure high quality services for farmers.

A recurring topic of conversation in our meetings was how organic agriculture research overlaps with the needs of nonorganic producers. If we relate food systems policy initiatives to formative research principles and human-centered design, it’s clear that research objectives and dissemination methods should explicitly fit the needs and capacity of the “end user”. While trending tech-research exploring artificial intelligence and precision agriculture has the potential to transform our foodscape, it is essential that we recognize the immediate limitations of small and mid-sized producers’ ability to access such technologies. I appreciate the University of South Dakota’s researchers’ policy advice to approach agriculture research with a social justice framework, ensuring that we do not leave behind the farming communities most in need. Amid the complex challenges we face in today’s food system, we must prioritize farmer-centered approaches to address wicked problems.

The research sector represents an ever-important industry whose work directly impacts the economic and working lives of farmers and rural communities. It is essential that investments in agriculture research reflect both the economic and production needs of the farmers it aims to support. One particularly salient issue is the dwindling number of new small and midsize farmers—how can advocates and researchers best meet the needs of smallholder and beginning farmers, and ensure that they have a viable path forward? 

81% of BIPOC farmers and 63% of beginning farmers surveyed in OFRF’s 2022 National Organic Research Agenda specified that “managing production costs” is a significant production challenge. Among non-production challenges, “accessing labor” and “finding and developing markets for organic products” were among the top concerns for all surveyed farming demographics. A study from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) on the Profit Potential of Certified Organic Field Crop Production and University of Vermont’s study on labor management decisions for small and mid-sized farms are just two examples of how federally-funded research can address these key challenges.

Closing Thoughts

Advocating for farmers requires more than rhetoric; it requires tangible action and systemic change. Following the lobby day meetings, I feel inspired to dig deeper into USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) local food systems and organic production data as a means of informing my own advocacy work. You can get involved too, simply by calling your Representative and Senators to ask their offices to check in on the status of Organic Research in the upcoming Farm Bill and Appropriations negotiations. You can find their contact info here! Small actions by many people are what make this work possible. And if you’re interested in getting more involved, reach out to Gordon at gordon@ofrf.org!

By |2024-02-12T14:19:15+00:00February 12th, 2024|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|
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