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    By Mark Keating, OFRF Policy Consultant

     There is another organic research victory to celebrate beyond the $100 million over five years allocated to the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) in the new Farm Bill. The USDA announced this week that it is accepting applications for the 2014 Organic Transitions (ORG) program to fund the development and implementation of research, extension and higher education programs to improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers, as well as those who are adopting organic practices.  While limited to a total of $4 million for the program and an upper limit of $500,000 for individual projects, ORG grants are highly effective at bringing together agricultural professionals – primarily research scientists and extension educators – with working organic farmers to explore practical solutions to common production challenges and constraints.

     Thanks to intensive grassroots advocacy work, applicants for both ORG and OREI grants must include organic farmers in the design, implementation and evaluation of the proposed research.  Funded research must be conducted on certified operations and remain in compliance with all applicable organic production and handling requirements.  The ultimate objective is to learn from organic farmers, advance that knowledge through peer-review quality research and then share the results with the broader agricultural community so that more farmers adopt organic practices.  This last point is significant – not every farmer who benefits from OREI and ORG research will be or choose to become certified, but their success makes that research all the more valuable. 

     The priority areas specified in this year’s ORG call for applications also demonstrate how responsive the federal organic research programs are to the core principles and objectives of organic agriculture:   

Priority 1: Documenting and understanding the effects of organic practices such as crop rotation, organic manure, mulch and/or compost additions, cover crops, and reduced or conservation tillage on ecosystem services, greenhouse gas mitigation, and biodiversity

Priority 2: Improved technologies, methods, model development, and other metrics to document, describe, and optimize the environmental services and climate change mitigation ability of organic farming systems.

Priority 3: Develop cultural practices and other allowable alternatives to substances recommended for removal from NOP’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances 

Priority 4: Outreach to students and producers: Projects may target students or their information providers (such as college teaching faculty) for information delivery on organic agriculture. This activity may include the development of college curriculum or other resources in the area of organic agriculture, with a focus on the transition period.

     These priority areas reflect a keen appreciation of where organic agriculture came from and the tremendous potential it possesses to redress the great ecological challenges we face moving forward.  As a longtime funder and champion of organic agricultural research , OFRF can’t help but feel a little like a proud parent watching their offspring mature and start shaking up the world. Please see information about OFRF’s Request for Proposals for its upcoming grants cycle for proposals due May, 2014.

The deadline to apply for an ORG grant this year is April 4, 2014.

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