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So far Elizabeth Tobey has created 36 blog entries.

Organic Agriculture & Research in a Changing Climate

Gordon’s Policy Corner, July 2023: This year has already sent a clear message to the world that our changing climate is no longer a future concern, but a current hazard. At OFRF, our staff is spread out across this nation. During our virtual staff meetings I hear personal reports from our staff dealing with historic tornadoes, hail, and smoke in the midwest; swinging from a millennia-era drought to unprecedented flooding in the West; sweating through a heat dome and drought in the Southeast; breathing smoke-filled air from wildfires raging through Canada. This spring we experienced unheard-of late frosts where I live in New England, and as I write this we’ve shifted from historic short-term drought a month ago to historic flooding this week, with road closures and evacuations occurring across Vermont.

We are living in the anthropocene era of Earth’s history. We know that organic agriculture has the potential to significantly mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, yet we continue to see a lack of any urgency for action to answer these problems in Washington DC.

This Farm Bill has been continually framed as a “flat farm bill,” meaning that there will be no increases to the baseline budget of programs. This means that for any program to see an increase in funding, another program must be cut. That is why we are championing bills in Congress like the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act in the House, and the Organic Science and Research Investment Act in the Senate, being introduced this week. These are not the only actions we are taking, though, and are actively working with coalitions to make it clear to the Senate and House Committees on Agriculture that this is not the time to reduce research funding. 

Agricultural research programs don’t just answer producer’s questions or support early-career scientists (although they do both of those things). They also significantly benefit the rural communities that actively participate in and host these crucial research projects. Every dollar invested in public agricultural research generates an impressive $20 of benefits. Despite this well-documented impact, public funding for agricultural research has experienced a 20% decline since the turn of the century, while funding for other research areas has increased during the same period.  

Gathering signatures for organizational letters is a crucial part of Farm Bill strategy, but what carries real impact is the ability to make this a human story. We need your input on the challenges being faced, and the research products that are helping you overcome them and thrive. For us to communicate with the powers-at-be in our nation’s capital, we need to hear what you are experiencing, and how continued and expanded investments into research and conservation are needed to answer these challenges. Please use this quick form to share your story, and we will follow up with you to make sure it is brought to the right ears.

Eat Well,


. . .

Featured image by Ted Eytan – https://www.flickr.com/photos/taedc/50258343683/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93703987

By |2023-07-17T15:58:23+00:00July 7th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

From Fields to Research Labs: how your story can inspire change

June is fully in swing here in Vermont where I live and down in DC where the Farm Bill process continues. 

In Vermont, the first cutting of hay is being dried and bailed, ewes and their lambs are headed to pasture, and crops are getting in the ground. In the Northeast we’ve also just experienced an unusually late, historic frost. If you were like me, and rolling the dice to plant a little early this year, I hope you didn’t lose too many crops and are able to recover easily as we transition into the warmer weather again. The biggest sign that summer is here in New England, though, is the black flies that are now out in force! We’re looking forward to some rain in the forecast to keep things happy, as it’s been a dry spring again this year. Never a dull moment farming in a changing climate!

In DC, marker bills are being introduced and cosponsors corralled. This past month we were thrilled to share the announcement that the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act was officially introduced in Congress. You can take a look at our SOAR Act Toolkit here. Keep an eye out for a Senate Companion bill coming soon; we’re still working with representatives and partners to get the final details ironed out. (Sometimes with policy work it’s a hurry up and wait game!). Drafting of the Farm Bill is actively happening in both chambers, appropriations bills are slowly being drafted (partly due to the Debt Ceiling Debacle), and August recess plans are being made and solidified.  As we wait for the text of the Farm Bill which will come later this summer, and for Report Language from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in the coming weeks, policy work is in a holding pattern until the next sprint (did I mention hurry up and wait?).  

During this small lull in updates from DC, we wanted to take this opportunity to devote this month’s Policy Corner to ask you, dear reader, a favor:

Can you take a moment to share your story as a researcher or a farmer interacting with organic agriculture research?  We are collecting and amplifying stories of researchers around the U.S. who have effectively shared their research with decision-makers or have benefitted from organic research. Are you a farmer that’s participated in a research project?  Are you a researcher who has been awarded or participated in a project funded by the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) or Organic Transitions Program? Are you a farmer who has used research products that were created through these programs?  If so, it would be great to hear from you as we work to advocate in support of these programs, while also addressing the needed reforms we are fighting for!

We need your help to deepen the impact of our advocacy work! Facts, figures, and statistical breakdowns of the effects of increased public investment in agricultural research are important, but the lived experiences and stories of researchers and farmers communicate more than a report ever can. As we head into the summer months, can you take a moment to share a little bit of your experience with us? Or, share this with a farmer or researcher you know who has a good advocacy-related story to tell?

Thank you for being a part of the movement for organics.

Eat well,


. . .

Photo credit: Matthew Bornhors

By |2023-06-12T14:06:31+00:00June 12th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Introducing the Organic Researcher Spotlight Series

OFRF recognizes the power of stories to affect change. We have embarked on a project to collect and share the stories of researchers, specifically those whose work is embedded within the organic community. In this effort, we are happy to introduce this first Organic Researcher Spotlight. Our Researcher Spotlight Series showcases current research being done on some of the toughest challenges faced by organic producers across the country. Through a series of interviews, OFRF is sharing updates and results from exciting collaborative research projects currently being funded by the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and the Organic Transitions Program (ORG).

Organic farmers consistently report that pests are one of the most challenging aspects of organic production, especially in the south. For farmers producing small fruits like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and stone fruits like peaches or cherries, the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD), an invasive fly of Asian origin, has been causing damage to crops since its first documented presence in the United States, in 2008. 

Photo: University of Georgia Department of Entomology

Dr. Ash Sial, University of Georgia blueberry entomologist, has heard and seen this damage first-hand working with farmers in the region. To respond to this emerging pest and to provide answers to how to control the pest organically, Dr. Sial leads the “SWD Organic Management” grant, collaborating with researchers across the country and with farmers in the south.

This OREI-funded research focuses on understanding the life-cycle of this pest, and builds a groundwork of understanding of how the fly is (or is not) surviving on farms. Working collaboratively with organic farmers in the region, Dr. Sial’s research is identifying how certain cultural and physical controls, like pruning strategies and mulches, can effectively control this newly-introduced pest. Watch OFRF’s interview with Dr. Sial from early 2023:

For more information about SWD, check out OFRF’s factsheet, watch this SWD presentation by Dr. Sial, and learn more about his work on SWD at the University of Georgia.

By |2023-06-07T20:35:21+00:00June 7th, 2023|News|

The Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act is here!

May 25, 2023- Today, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) delivered to the leadership of House Agriculture Committees a letter in support of the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act. OFRF and the undersigned believe this bill represents significant investments into answering research questions that organic producers continue to grapple with. 

“We are excited to be able to work with Organic Champions in Congress to help ensure there are resources available to support the success of organic farmers and ranchers across the nation. Over the last several years OFRF has collected robust information from farmers about their research and education needs and these bills would provide much needed investment in solutions. These bills are also an important signal to early career researchers that organic agriculture research is an important, respected, and securely-funded area to engage in,” Brise Tencer, OFRF Executive Director

The 2018 Farm Bill was an important step towards recognizing the status of the organic agriculture industry, OREI reached mandatory funding levels. The organic agriculture market has continued to mature over the past five years of the Farm Bill, partly due to this increased investment. For this growth to continue, organic producers must be given their fair share of resources dedicated to agricultural research. This bill intends to do just that with the 2023 Farm Bill.

In the House, Representatives Newhouse(WA-04), Panetta(CA-19), and Pingree(ME-01) are all leading the way, introducing the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act. This legislation does three things that would increase the resilience of U.S. agriculture, create economic opportunity for producers, and result in improved ecological vitality of the landscape:

  1. Bolsters the funding for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative. The SOAR Act would provide stair-stepped budget increases to the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), from $60 million in 2024 to $100 million in 2028. 
  2. Provides Congressional authorization and direction for the Researching the Transition to Organic Program. The bill would also provide first-time Congressional authorization for the Researching the Transition to Organic Program (RTOP), currently known as  the Organic Transition Research Program (ORG), with an authorization for appropriations of $10 million a year from 2024-2026 and $20 million from 2027-2028. 
  3. Bolsters funding for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI). Providing $10 million over the life of the Farm Bill, the SOAR Act would double the farm bill funding for this crucial joint-initiative of three USDA Agencies: NASS, Economic Research Service (ERS), and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The data produced through the ODI is essential for the development of risk management products and targeted market development. The SOAR Act also directs ERS to conduct a full, systematic evaluation of the economic impact organic agriculture has on rural and urban communities, taking into account economic, ecological, and social factors.

In the Senate, we are working with Agriculture Committee leaders to introduce a comprehensive companion to the SOAR Act. We look forward to announcing this bill in the coming weeks with broad support.

View the final SOAR Act sign-on letter here.

Download an informational one-pager to learn more about What the SOAR Act does, Why it’s Important, and How you can Help

Statements of support for the SOAR Act:

“Organic Valley applauds congressional leaders who recognize the importance of public investments in organic research.  Research enabled by this legislation represents the building of collective knowledge to help organic farmers gain on-farm efficiencies.  It allows businesses like ours to bring to bear a confidence and commitment in partnership with academic institutions and federal agencies to continuously improve the organic farming systems.  This is necessary as organic is part of the larger agricultural landscape and pressures we all are facing to balance natural resource protection and grow good food for consumers in the U.S. and globally. ”  Adam Warthesen, Senior Director of Government & Industry Affairs, Organic Valley.

“Research is key to tackling the many challenges farmers face and organic research benefits all farmers. In fact, many of the farming practices embraced by organic farmers, such as cover cropping and other regenerative agricultural practices, are now being adopted across the board. NOC is thrilled to see the introduction of the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act to provide resources for the ecosystem-based approach that is so central to successful organic farming.” Abby Youngblood, Executive Director, National Organic Coalition

“The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauds Representatives Newhouse, Panetta, and Pingree for their steadfast leadership in supporting organic farmers and ranchers. The SOAR Act makes meaningful investments in providing organic producers with the research and tools they need to continue to improve upon already climate friendly and resilient farming systems and meet the growing market demand for organic products.”  Nick Rossi, Policy Associate, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

“The Organic dairy industry suffers from a lack of available data for farmers to make decisions on their individual contract with their buyers, assessment of their economic future and risk management. Organic Dairy has no safety net program because USDA and Congress do not have the data available to develop one. They are left exposed to dramatic market fluctuations outside their control.Ed Maltby, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance

“Organic research is funded at a tiny fraction of overall agricultural research yet benefits the whole farming community – an investment in organic research is an investment in the future of our food system!”  Katie Baildon, Policy Manager, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY)

“A robust investment in organic agricultural research is an investment in a climate-stable and food-secure future for the US and the world” Mark Schonbeck, Virginia Association for Biological Farming

“Organic Research Programs have not only been a benefit to our faculty and staff working on organic agriculture, but have also supported the transition of a lot of our partnering farms in the southeast.” Crystal M. James, JD, MPH, Tuskegee University

“As a leader in organic rice and rice products, we strongly support the further development of organic farming and foods. We urge Congress to do the same with this legislation.” Natalie Carter, Lundberg Family Farms

“Research funding for organic agriculture needs to be increased and acknowledged as a critical and instrumental strategy in carrying agriculture forward “ John McKeon, Taylor Farms 

By |2023-07-10T17:32:26+00:00May 25th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Gordon’s Policy Corner: Organic Week with OTA

This past week I participated in Organic Week with the Organic Trade Association (OTA), where the Confluences conferences organized by The Organic Center merged with the OTA’s policy presentations and advocacy day. The participants in this week-long event represented a diverse range of individuals, including long-standing certified organic producers, farmers venturing into organic farming for various reasons, scientific researchers investigating the effects of plastics on our food system and environment, as well as plastic manufacturers and food distributors actively seeking alternatives.

Heading home from DC on the train, I had the chance to reflect on the week and on how much progress has been made in organic agriculture policy. During my meetings with members of Congress from both major political parties, it was abundantly clear that they and their staff were well aware of the benefits of organic farming and understood why the industry deserves support from the Farm Bill. In fact, just this week, OTA announced that the annual organic market has exceeded $67 billion, with the food market contributing over $60 billion. Organic sales now make up more than 6% of the total food marketplace. However, despite these impressive figures, research investments in organic agriculture remain insufficient. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture allocates less than 2% of its budget to organic agriculture, while the Agricultural Research Service dedicates less than 1%.

These facts are precisely why we are so enthusiastic about the organic leaders and champions we have in Congress. In the House, OFRF has been collaborating with Representatives Newhouse (WA-04), Panetta (CA-19), and Pingree (ME-01) to introduce the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act (SOAR Act). Meanwhile, in the Senate, we have been working with supportive allies to develop a companion bill, and we will share more details in the upcoming weeks! We are offering various avenues for involvement to support these crucial pieces of legislation, including toolkits with templates for outreach and social media, explanations of the bills’ provisions, opportunities to share personal stories related to research, and more! If you wish to contribute to these efforts, please feel free to contact me at any time: gordon@ofrf.org.


By |2023-05-15T15:34:37+00:00May 12th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

OFRF Policy Priorities for 2023 Farm Bill & Appropriations

2023 is a big year for the food and farm systems in the United States. This year the 2018 Farm Bill expires, and a new Farm Bill must be passed. The farm bill is a piece of omnibus legislation that gets passed every five years or so that impacts farming livelihoods, the practices used to grow food, and even what is grown. The farm bill covers programs ranging from increasing access to crop insurance for farmers to providing access to healthy, nutritious foods to families; from beginning farmer training to financial and technical support for sustainable farming practices. Essentially, the farm bill provides the policy and legal frameworks that make up our food and farm systems. What gets included or excluded from the farm bill has a tremendous impact on farming and the food system in the US for the next five years. 

Simultaneously, the annual appropriations process is also underway. This process happens every year and establishes the discretionary budget for the United States. Congress uses what is known as an authorization-appropriation process. Put simply, authorization of spending establishes policy priorities and paths forward for agencies and the programs they administer. Appropriations then funds those agencies and programs, unless there is mandatory funding included in the farm bill.

The farm bill is an authorization bill. But, it also includes some mandatory funds, which are  funding sources outside of the general appropriations process. The general appropriations process determines the budget for what is authorized in the farm bill but not funded through mandatory funding. Drafting a policy is only the first step in the advocacy process. Making sure the government has the tools and the budget it needs to effectively implement and administer those policies and the programs that are created is just as important. If something is determined as a priority in the farm bill, but then doesn’t get allocated sufficient funding in the appropriations process, it won’t get very far. This is why OFRF, along with our partners, engage in both processes. We advocate for both the policies and the funding to help organic farmers thrive. 

As an organization committed to the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems, OFRF is deeply involved in both the farm bill and the appropriations processes. We are working hard to advocate for organics at every turn.

At the core, OFRF is concerned with:

  • Building resiliency to both climate and supply chain disruption through organic management and more localized food systems.
  • Investing in research in organic agriculture. Research has significant benefits to public good and return on investment, with each dollar of investment into public research providing over $20 in economic benefit.
  • Supporting the expansion of organic production to meet increasing market demand for organic products through additional investments in research relevant to organic producers.
  • Making sure organic producers, and those interested in transitioning to organic production, have the research tools and opportunities needed to thrive.

Demand for organic products continues to grow while domestic production has not kept pace, resulting in consumers purchasing more and more imported organic products. Agricultural and economic research is essential to support organic producers and facilitate increased domestic production of organic products. The policies OFRF is advocating for will result in expanded research tools to farmers. They also provide market signals to researchers that organic agriculture research is a valued and important area of study. This incentivizes young researchers to pursue organic agriculture research projects and expertise in their careers.

Public investments in agricultural research can also have a significant impact on rural agricultural communities. This is something that OFRF continues to center in our work. For example, many grant research programs require that research projects involve local agricultural producers. This participation means that farmers, ranchers, and food producers are involved in the research and ensures that the research produces action-oriented, usable products that increase the economic profitability and ecological vitality of farming operations. Additionally, nearly all projects provide compensation to the participating farmers, paying them for their time and effort involved in the research. This represents a direct benefit to producers engaging in research projects.

The Farm Bill

OFRF’s priority areas are:

  • Increase the organic research being conducted by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to a portion equal to the organic market share.
    • In 2022, the ARS (the sole in-house research operation at USDA) spent ~$15 million on direct organic research out of a $1.8 billion budget, or less than 1%. That same year, the organic product sales market exceeded $60 billion for the second time, representing over 6% of the total market. Organic and conventional producers depend on research products that help them make economically and ecologically smart decisions. The long-term research projects at ARS produce high-quality research products that are not always possible through shorter-term, grant-funded projects. The Farm Bill is an important opportunity to send a clear message to ARS that they must increase the amount of funding going to organic agriculture to at least its market share to help producers meet the opportunity of increasing demand for organic products.
  • Increase investment into the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) research into organic management strategies
    • OFRF is calling for widespread investment across all NIFA research programs to meet the increasing need as more producers transition into organic production, especially given that there is no research component supported by the USDA’s historic Organic Transition Initiative. Increasing NIFA funding for organic research across all competitive grant programs, from OREI to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), would provide continued support for developing the technical service and institutional knowledge necessary to meet the needs of producers nationwide.
  • Fully fund and expand the Organic Data Initiative (ODI)
    • ODI is a multi-agency initiative that performs economic analysis, organic risk assessments, survey and statistical analysis, and market data collection. This program has been successful in providing valuable information to Congress, government agencies, and the organic sector. There has not been a full, systematic USDA review of the organic market since 2014. Funding the ODI would allow the USDA to provide that service. An increase in funds would allow for stronger intra-agency cooperation and be used to modernize systems and provide high-value, accurate organic price reporting and organic data collection.

In order to address these priority areas, we are working with our partners in Congress in both the farm bill process and the annual appropriations process, including introducing multiple marker bills and submitting testimony to committees. A marker bill is a bill that is introduced in Congress to signal policy ideas and gather support. A marker bill communicates widespread support through the process of co-sponsorship. These marker bills do not get adopted as standalone bills, but are designed to be incorporated into the larger farm bill. Marker bills help lawmakers, industry representatives, and grassroots advocates build support for policies. With large omnibus legislation like the farm bill, having smaller packages like marker bills help ideas get attention. The more support that a marker bill receives, the more likely it will be to get included into the final bill, so keep an eye out for opportunities to support these efforts!


In our appropriations advocacy for 2024, we have four specific requests for discretionary funding, intimately related to our policy and program advocacy: (1) $35 million and report language for organic agriculture topics at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS); (2) $10 million for the Organic Transitions Research Program (ORG) operated by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA); (3) $60 million, or full authorized levels for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) operated by NIFA; and (4) $1 million for the Organic Data and Markets Initiative (ODI), a joint initiative of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), Economic Research Service (ERS), and the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS).

All of the policies included in these efforts represent countless hours working with our partners, and a significant step toward providing needed investments into organic agriculture research, and supporting a rapidly-growing and -maturing organic food and agriculture market. 

To deepen the impact of our advocacy, though, we need your help! Facts, figures, and statistical breakdowns of the effects of increased public investment in agricultural research can be compelling, but the experiences and stories of researchers and farmers communicate the impact more than a report ever could. This is why we at OFRF are beginning to implement a new strategy in our policy advocacy: story banking. We are collecting and amplifying stories of researchers who have effectively shared their research with decision-makers. The first example we shared is the story of Dr. Eric Brennan, who was able to weigh in on Ag Order 4.0 and change the course of history. If you have a story about the impacts of your research, please reach out to share it with us! 

Marker bills we worked with Congressional partners to craft will be introduced over the next two weeks. We are excited to share more details about them and our advocacy work soon. Stay tuned.

. . .

Read more:

2018 Farm Bill

NSAC, What Are Appropriations, https://sustainableagriculture.net/our-work/campaigns/annual-appropriations/what-are-appropriations/

NSAC, What is the Farm Bill, https://sustainableagriculture.net/our-work/campaigns/fbcampaign/what-is-the-farm-bill/

USDA, Farm Bill Spending, https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-commodity-policy/farm-bill-spending/

By |2023-04-21T15:29:43+00:00April 21st, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Darryl Wong

Executive Director, Center for Agroecology

Darryl Wong recently began his tenure in the newly created executive director role at the Center for Agroecology (CfA) in the summer of 2022. Previously, he was the CfA Research Lands Manager, a position he had held since 2013. Darryl has worked across the center’s production, education, and research programs, co-managing 10 acres of production fields, instructing beginning farmer and undergraduate agroecology courses, and collaborating on faculty field research.  He is concurrently completing his Ph.D. in the Environmental Studies Department, focusing on soil health, regenerative agriculture and organic no-till systems in California.  Darryl has farmed for over 15 years and spent 6 years owning and operating a diversified organic farm North of Santa Cruz.

By |2023-04-18T20:25:55+00:00April 18th, 2023|Board|

Catherine Greene

Natural Resource Economist

Catherine Greene is a natural resource economist who pioneered and led research on the U.S. organic sector from 1988-2020 in USDA’s Economic Research Service. She initiated USDA’s first organic commodity analysis and farm sector surveys, and led research on organic production, marketing and policy. Catherine has received numerous government awards, including the USDA Plow Honor Award in 2011 and the National Association of Government Communicators Blue Pencil Award in 1995, as well “unsung hero” awards from industry and nonprofit groups. USDA publications include U.S. Organic Farming Emerges in the 1990s and Beyond Nutrition and Organic Labels—30 Years of Experience with Intervening in Food Labels. Catherine has an M.S. degree in Agricultural Economics and B.S. degree in Sociology from Virginia Tech.

By |2023-04-18T20:23:18+00:00April 18th, 2023|Board|

Gordon’s Policy Corner: on the ground in DC, Farm Bill updates, and more

From L-R: Abby Youngblood (ED of NOC), Rep. Balint (VT-AL), Dr. Jennifer Taylor (Lola’s Organics), and Gordon Merrick (OFRF)

It has been a busy spring in the policy world this year! With “marker bill season” fully upon us, OFRF is actively working with our coalition and congressional partners to advocate for expanded public support for organic agriculture research. As OFRF’s Policy & Programs Manager, I was down in DC participating in the National Organic Coalition’s fly-in from March 21st to 24th. I met with eight different congressional offices during the week, and the coalition members met with nearly 60 in total!  I had the opportunity to voice the importance of organic agriculture research with two Congressional members, Representatives Jimmy Panetta (CA-19) and Becca Balint (VT-AL). The conversation with Rep. Balint happened while we were walking between other meetings, some true sidewalk lobbying! As part of this fly-in, coalition members, including myself, were also able to meet with USDA Undersecretary Jenny Moffitt to speak about strengthening the administrative processes that make up the National Organic Program, and the historic investment in supporting organic producers in the USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative.

Alongside our direct engagement with Congress, we also are actively working to support you in sharing your experiences with these programs and the policy making process!  One example is the important work Eric Brennan, PhD engaged in when he presented testimony in a California policy making process, making sure that the policies pursued by the State were grounded in science and reality. You can read about, and listen to, Eric’s testimony here. To further this work, we’ve been offering a workshop series for publicly-funded researchers discussing the unique challenges and opportunities for researchers employed at public universities.

If you want to get involved in advocating for continued and expanded public support for organic agriculture research, please reach out to me, Gordon Merrick, at gordon@ofrf.org.  We are developing toolkits for congressional outreach discussing our priorities as well as marker bills we are supporting as they are introduced. Keep an eye out for those materials in future newsletters and communications from us!

And if you want to learn more about the Farm Bill, here are some additional resources that we use in this work:

Eat well,


By |2023-04-17T21:39:15+00:00April 13th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Researcher Advocacy Highlight: Eric Brennan

Eric Brennan is an example of what can happen when researchers are in the right place at the right time to lend their expertise to policy decisions.

Eric Brennan with cereal cover crop samples from Ag Order 4.0 Trials

Brennan is a research horticulturist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Salinas, California. He specializes in organic farming systems and climate-smart agriculture, and the policy decision he was able to weigh in on was Ag Order 4.0, a regulatory program that protects groundwater resources from agricultural runoff. This regulation affects over 540,000 acres of irrigated land in the central coast region of California and applies to growers who operate irrigated lands, animal feeding operations, or nurseries. In the press release when the regulatory program was launched, it says “The requirements in Ag Order 4.0 protect human health, protect and restore the beneficial uses of surface and groundwater, and achieve water quality objectives specified in the Central Coast Basin Plan by minimizing nitrogen discharges to groundwater, minimizing nutrient, pesticide and sediment discharges to surface water. The order also requires the protection of riparian and wetland habitat.” 

The day before the Ag Order 4.0 regulation was to be adopted, Brennan was given 10 minutes to comment on the regulation. His testimony was based on his long-term systems research on cover crops and compost use in intensive organic vegetable production systems. His presentation is available to watch here. For Brennan, it was the experience of truly being in the right place at the right time, and with the right research to share. “This was the most important presentation I’ve given in my career,” Brennan later said. In ten minutes he succinctly and convincingly argued that the regulation was scientifically flawed and presented cover crop data from the long-term organic system study in Salinas to explain how to fix it.

During the Q&A that followed the presentation, all 5 board members unanimously voted to change the regulation as he had suggested. “It was truly amazing to witness this happen live,” Brennan said. One of Brennan’s colleagues at UC Berkeley even called the hearing a “nail-biter.” The full three-hour adoption hearing is available to watch here.

Trials of cover crop for Ag Order 4.0

Ag Order 4.0, was adopted in 2021 by the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. In order to meet its goals of protecting water and minimizing discharges this regulatory program establishes nitrogen discharge targets and limits over time, ratcheting down allowed values of N applied minus N removed from 500 pounds per acre by the end of 2023 to 50 pounds per acre by the end of 2051. It provides incentives for farmers to use cover crops, compost, organic fertilizers, and third-party programs to comply with the regulation and protect the environment. And, in part due to Brennan’s informed testimony, and input from colleagues like Richard Smith with the University of California Cooperative Extension, growers can get credits for using cover crops that have a minimum biomass of 4,500 pounds per acres, and a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio equal to or greater than 20 to 1. 

Soon after the Ag Order 4.0 regulation was adopted, Brennan and Smith set up several extensive trials funded by the California Leafy Greens Research Board to provide farmers with simple ways to meet the regulatory requirements. Some of this has been published in this paper on predicting cover crop biomass and this 8 minute video. Eric also shares some of his research findings on cover crop nitrogen credits and estimating cereal cover crop biomass in this recent 10 minute video.

Various cover crops growing in the long-term organic systems trial in Salinas

For more of Brennan’s thoughts on these topics, you can read this page on his USDA Agricultural Research Service website, titled My Philosophy or Views on Sustainability & Organic Agriculture.

We applaud Brennan for putting his research into actionable use through civic engagement. His story is a great example of the type of practical research at the USDA-ARS that is helping organic and conventional farmers improve the sustainability of their systems, and informing policy makers so regulations are based in reality and farmers get the support and information they need.

By |2023-04-07T16:54:07+00:00April 5th, 2023|News|
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