About Elizabeth Tobey

This author has not yet filled in any details.
So far Elizabeth Tobey has created 43 blog entries.

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

Dr. 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.

Dr. 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 |2023-11-28T16:55:59+00:00April 5th, 2023|News|

Wilson Organic Farms, Chris Wilson

The Organic Farming Research Foundation is honored to share this farmer story, featuring Chris Wilson, business manager and farmer at Wilson Organic Farms. The following article is based off of an interview with Chris that was conducted earlier this year. You can press play below to listen to an edited version of the interview, or click this link to download it and listen later!

Chris Wilson remembers the day that the first load of milk from his family’s farm was picked up by the Organic Valley cooperative. The Wilson farm, which has been in the family for seven generations, began the transition to organic in the mid 90s, inspired by a neighbor who was making the switch as well. The certification process takes three years on land that has been receiving inputs that are prohibited under the organic program, and the Wilson family farm also needed to transition their herd of dairy cows. They started the process in 1996 and by 1999 all their crop land was certified organic. January 2nd, 2000 the Organic Valley truck pulled away from the farm for the first time, full of certified organic milk.

Chris Wilson (right) walks the farm with his partner and their child.

Chris Wilson is the business manager, and seasonal labor. The farm, which is located in the driftless region of Wisconsin, has been passed down in his father’s side of the family since it was first homesteaded in 1848. Now it is managed by a network of extended family including several of Chris’s cousins, with seven different families participating in total. Although transitioning the farmland through the generations hasn’t always been easy, it’s something that the Wilson’s don’t take for granted. In a world where access to farmland is one of the biggest barriers of entry into agriculture, inheriting a family farm is a huge advantage. They have worked hard to find ways to ensure that anyone in the next generation who wants to be involved will be able to participate in the farm business, and that older family members who are retiring are also provided for.

Transitioning to Organic

The family originally had some hesitations about making the change to organic production. They started with just a small portion of their farm the first year, but soon went all in, transitioning the full 1000 acres that they were farming at the time. “We had concerns about losing some tools for antibiotics in the livestock,” Chris explains. “But that ultimately ended up being a non-issue as we got into (it), and really the animals, they build up better immune systems and we have less problems today than we ever did when we had those tools.”

“We had concerns about losing some tools for antibiotics in the livestock, but that ultimately ended up being a non-issue as we got into [it], and really the animals, they build up better immune systems and we have less problems today than we ever did when we had those tools.”

Wilson Organic Farms now manages 3500 acres total. Of that, about 2600 acres are in crops, with a mix of alfalfa, forage mixes, corn for silage and snaplage, and grain, wheat, barley, soybeans, yellow peas and occasional other food grade crops. The remaining 900 acres is in pasture, 250 of which supports their dairy herd, and the remainder which is used for heifers and beef cattle.

Wilson Organic Farms began their transition to organics in the mid 90s.

Looking at their farming practices now, Chris says that organic standards reflect the way that they approach farming with the inclusion of livestock. They utilize resources in a “circular motion,” as he says. Livestock fertilize the ground, crops grown in the ground feed the livestock, and all of it contributes to feeding life in the soil. They intensively graze the milk cows, which means they move them daily during the grazing season. As they eat, they leave behind their manure and also trample the ground, the combination of which provides tremendous eco benefits to the soil.

Organic farming principles “lined up with things we were already doing and things that we already believed in,” Chris says. “…and that made it a really easy transition for us, philosophically.” And he adds, “We got the premium for the crop, so we were rewarded for that effort.”

NRCS Partnerships

The Wilson farm has also partnered with their local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to design and implement a variety of conservation practices and to support their transition to organic. They have received support for farm infrastructure and implementation of different farming practices through NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Projects that the Wilson farm has implemented have ranged from implementing cover cropping and intensive rotational grazing, installing improved fencing and watering systems, livestock corridors, and creating season-long forage for pollinators. Chris was quick to point out that in addition to the financial support, another aspect of what NRCS has to offer “is the expertise that’s brought to the table.”

“The other aspect of this that doesn’t show up in the dollars and cents is just the expertise that was brought to the table on laying that stuff out and thinking about it holistically. Our NRCS rep happened to be an expert in setting up water infrastructure, so he was able to think about some of the detailed engineering questions.”

Pasture Infrastructure Programs

NRCS cost-share programs assisted Wilson Organics with improved pasture infrastructure.

Through a cost share program, Wilson Organic Farms received financial support for improved pasture  infrastructure and installation costs. They installed a six-strand barbed wire fence around the whole perimeter, and hired someone to install it. Chris points out that they had the option to install it themselves, which could save labor costs. They also installed underground water lines throughout the pasture. The NRCS program offered a cost share per linear foot, which Chris says “covered 50-60% of total cost.” This was similar to the support they received for the cow lanes they installed, where the cost share was based on square feet of cow lane. Their local agent was able to help them think through the details and layout of the systems they wanted to install. This financial and logistical support helped the farm transition from large paddocks to a rotational system that improves pasture and soil health.

Cow lanes in action at Wilson Organic Farms.

Cover Cropping

Another project that Wilson Organic Farms implemented with NRCS support was integrating cover cropping into their crop plan. Chris explains that “you sign up the number of acres you want to cover crop” and then there’s a list of cover crops you can use. “It’s been super successful,” he adds. They now have a system in place that includes cover cropping at three different times in the year. The cost share support for this project spans five years.

Wisconsin Honey Bee Pollinator Initiative

The farm also hosts Field Days with their partners, such as NRCS and Organic Valley, to share what they are doing with others.

Wilson Organic Farms has also participated in the Wisconsin Honey Bee Pollinator Initiative, a statewide project to increase pollinator habitat in the grazing landscape. By incorporating a variety of different plants, and shifting the grazing schedule, the farm is able to create an environment where pollinators had continuous access to flowering plants. The seed mix includes lots of clovers and other plants that result in a long season of blooms. This program also required that they only graze each section of pasture every 30 days. That is a core principle of intensive grazing anyway, which was already something that Wilson Organic Farms was practicing. They often wait 40-45 days to rotate cattle back onto the same pasture during the driest parts of the season. This allows the pasture to regrow between grazing. “It’s pretty incredible to see,” Chris says. “I come out to the farm in late April, early May when the dandelions are blooming all the way into the fall when the burdock plants are starting to bloom. And there’s flowers, you can find tons of flowers any day of the year, and there’s tons of bees, tons of pollinators.”

As well as implementing these programs, the farm strives to share what they’re doing and what they’ve learned with others. They typically host at least one field day each year, either in partnership with the NRCS, their local Extension Service, or Organic Valley. Their focus is often on natural resource management on farms. For instance they recently hosted a field day on organic cropping systems and water resource management for farms. Last year their topic was grazing systems. These events invite farmers in the region to come tour Wilson Organic Farms and learn more about the farm programs that are available. For farmers who are curious about what’s available, Chris’s advice is to “meet with your local NRCS agent and start a conversation.” Then, he adds, “Start small. Maybe cover crop a few acres, see how it goes. You can expand if you want or try something else if it’s not for you.”


Organic Valley is a farmer-owned cooperative that aggregates and distributes milk products from coast to coast.

Wilson Organic Farms milk continues to be sold to Organic Valley and made into cheese and butter for distribution nationwide. Their milk is also used in many Stonyfield products as well as other store brand products. Organic Valley is a farmer owned cooperative with around 1600 participating farms located across the country. “It is unique,” Chris says, “because it evolved from a group of farmers who wanted to farm using organic principles and reach a consumer who valued those things.” To this day the cooperative is committed to supporting small farms, and member farmers have a strong voice in decision-making.

In addition to the dairy products, Wilson Organic Farms also grows hard red winter wheat, which is sold to a mill 10 miles away. It is ground into flour for Meadowlark Organics, and distributed nationally. They also sell corn and soybeans to local farmers who are raising livestock. And they sell beef cattle off the farm, most of which is processed locally and sold in the local or regional area.

Farming in a Changing Climate

A young calf will grow up on pasture in an organic, rotational grazing system at Wilson Organic Farms.

Like many farmers, the Wilson family has not been immune to the effects of intensified weather patterns. In 2018 and 2019 the region they’re in received unusually high rainfall, sometimes getting several inches in a day, for weeks on end. This kind of weather pattern can make a farm particularly susceptible to runoff and erosion, especially in a region with more sloping terrain like where the Wilson farm is located. Now they’ve had two years of drier than normal weather in 2021 and 2022. Chris describes the recent rain pattern as “scarce but timely,” with the area receiving rain only about once every three weeks. Chris attributes the resiliency of their farm in the face of both extreme rain and drought to the diversity of crops and to the prevalence of perennials in their farm system. They strive to have a living root in the ground as many days of the year as possible. They are able to do this using long and diversified crop rotations, including perennial crop production like alfalfa and grass mixtures. Their crop rotation and cover cropping means that they always follow a crop immediately after it comes out of the field, either with the next cash crop or a cover crop.

You have eco benefits, where you have perennials and cover crops and different things that are grabbing rainfall and filtering it. It’s incredible to see the differences in how that soil can absorb rainfall when it does come and then also weather long periods without rainfall and still stay productive.

The nearly year-round soil cover, and the soil-holding and water-holding capacity of the root systems protects against erosion and helps the soil to absorb water when it does come and then withstand the periods of dryness without losing productivity. Also, because the farm has several different enterprises they are not relying on the success of just one or two crops in order for the farm to have a successful year. This doesn’t make it easy, but it does mean that they’ve been able to watch their fields maintain productivity during adverse weather events.

Here are a sampling of photos from Wilson Organic Farms of the work they have done in partnership with NRCS.

By |2023-04-17T21:29:55+00:00April 4th, 2023|Farmer Stories, News|

Highlights from the Southern Cover Crops Council Conference

Thelma Velez, OFRF Research and Education Director, and Mary Hathaway, OFRF Research and Education Coordinator, recently attended the 2023 Southern Cover Crop Council Conference in Baton Rouge, LA. In this blog post Mary shares some of the highlights from thought-provoking sessions and stimulating conversations happening in the world of cover crops.

February 15-16, 2023 the Southern Cover Crops Council (SCCC) hosted their second bi-annual conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The conference brought together farmers, researchers, industry professionals, and extension services for two days of knowledge-sharing and networking through producer panels, breakout sessions, poster sessions, and field demonstrations. The conference was also a great opportunity for us to share OFRF’s Southern soil health Guidebook and our new, free online course: Soil Health Strategies for the Southern Region.

The breakout sessions included a wide range of topics, such as: Cover Crop Use in Organic and Vegetable Systems; Utilizing Cover Crop Biomass for Forage; Cover Crop Impacts on Pest and Weed Management; Unintended Consequences of Cover Crops; Choosing Cover Crop Varieties, in addition to sessions on farmer adaptations to equipment, and of course, soil health. As with many good conferences, you can find yourself ruminating on which will be the most interesting or informative sessions to attend. As someone who has felt the fear of missing out on a compelling presentation, I was relieved to find that the conference organizers  designed the agenda using a flipped model so that attendees had a second opportunity to participate in any of the given sessions they may have otherwise missed.

The specialty crop farmer panel above was especially lively. From Left to Right, Donna Isaacs, executive director for Campti Field of Dreams, John Bitter, farmer and owner of Frog Song Organics in Florida, Arnold Caylor, former director of North Alabama Horticultural Research Center and farmer, and Ed James, citrus grower and owner/operator at J&R Groves in Florida.

While Donna Isaacs is the ED at Campti Field of Dreams, a Louisiana non-profit focused on outreach and education in historically-underserved communities, she also co-owns and operates DeLaTerre Permaculture Farm, a 14-acre diversified farm where they support and teach beginning farmers how to grow using regenerative organic practices and also implement No-Till Organic Market Garden Production statewide as part of a USDA NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant. John Bitter and his partner, Amy Van Scoik, of Frog Song Organics grow over 80 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs in Alachua County, Florida. They also raise chickens and pork on pasture and integrate their livestock and cropping systems with the use of cover crops. Arnold Caylor has been using cover crops in vegetable production systems in Alabama for many years. He has experience using a variety of mixtures for summer and winter cover crop, including growing brassicas for pest control, cereals for biomass and weed control, and legumes for nitrogen. Ed James, grows citrus on 45 acres and now incorporates about a dozen different annual cover crop varieties. He also educates other citrus growers on the benefits of cover crops provides 100 percent of the nitrogen in his grove with cover crops.

The poster sessions showed a lot of great research is happening at universities across the South with respect to nutrient management, building soil health, and utilizing forage for dairy operations. The highlight of the SCCC was the opportunity to visit the Doyle Chambers Central Research Station at LSU’s Ag Center, where researchers had prepared field demonstrations. While the weather had threatened rain, it held off and gave us a windy overcast day perfect for hay rides through the fields. We learned about the use of technology, such as drones and PlantMap 3D cameras, for measuring cover crop biomass, as well as, the small-scale vegetable garden cover crop mixes comparisons before we had to rush to catch our flights home. 

While the producer panels, breakout sessions, and field demonstrations were all very enlightening, I think the true magic of the event happened in the conversations in between sessions. Covid-19 led organizers to cancel the 2021 conference, so us passionate advocates and practitioners in the cover cropping world were happy to gather and share the work that had transpired over the past few years. I was so grateful to get a chance to catch up with colleagues, learn more about ongoing cover crop research, and practical cover crop practices that farmers are integrating into their farm. I can’t wait for the next convening in 2025, Puerto Rico, here we come! 

Find out more about the Southern Cover Crops Council and the great work they’re doing here: https://southerncovercrops.org/ 

Thanks to the folks at Southern SARE for providing a scholarship for my colleague Thelma and me to attend this event!

By |2023-04-17T21:39:47+00:00March 20th, 2023|News|

Brian Geier (he/him/his)

Communications Contractor

Brian has worked within organic agriculture for over 20 years. While he did not grow up on a farm, his interest was sparked when volunteering with the Landless Peasant Movement in Brazil as a teenager. In college, he studied under Marianne Sarrantonio in the Sustainable Agriculture program at the University of Maine. Following seasonal internships at various crop/livestock farms, he worked under Dr. Michael Bomford on soil-borne disease control in organic vegetable systems at Kentucky State University. He has 8 years experience as a small farm operator and with commercial, organic, value-added processing, and was a co-founder of the Organic Association of Kentucky. In recent years, Brian worked with land-based non-profits with a focus on education programs, including White Oak Farm and Education Center and the Vesper Meadow Education Program. He currently lives on a farm in Indiana near Louisville and is launching a farm-based non-profit focused on land-connected crafts with his partner. When Brian isn’t in the office, you can most likely find him out on the farm or hiking near water, or, just as likely, in the water.  

By |2023-10-10T17:56:05+00:00March 3rd, 2023|Contractors|
Go to Top