More Funding for Organic Farming Research Available from USDA

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By Mark Keating, OFRF Policy Consultant

Great news from Washington, DC last week as USDA released its call for proposals for the 2014 Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) competitive grant program. Thanks to strong grassroots advocacy, the 2014 Fall Bill includes $20 million annually in OREI funding for the next five years and USDA has lost no time in making the first installment available.  The deadline for applications is May 8.

OREI is the USDA’s preeminent investment in dedicated, peer reviewed organic research and, like OFRF, has a solid record for including certified farmers in experimental design and implementation.  Since its inception in 2004, the program has awarded more than $62 million to 65 proposals which are required to integrate research, extension and education components.  The 2014 call for proposals identifies seven priority funding areas including systems-based animal production, animal health and pest management practices, post-harvest handling, processing and food safety practices and educational tools for Cooperative Extension personnel and other agricultural professionals.  Long an important source of funding for innovative research on plant breeding and genomics, OREI has added work on animal genotypes and breeds adapted to organic systems as a priority funding area this year as well.

To appreciate the practical value of this work, visit the eOrganic website summarizing the initial results from an OREI-funded research project responding to the highly destructive Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB).  Established in more than 40 states, the BMSB is proving especially difficult to manage in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions where it has adapted itself to multiple fruit, vegetable and grain crop hosts.  Even with their toolbox of toxic pesticides, conventional producers have struggled to suppress the BMSB so an organic breakthrough on this high stakes challenge could represent a significant paradigm shift in pest management.  Dr. Matt Grieshop of Michigan State University, one of the lead investigators on the OREI project, received OFRF grants for research on other organic pest management concerns in 2011 and 2009.

Due to the protracted struggle over renewing the Farm Bill, OREI and numerous other USDA organic, sustainable and local farming initiatives received no funding in 2013.  A groundswell of public support (Many of them OFRF action alert members) for these programs from across the country led to their reauthorization in 2014 with many receiving increased funding.  Both OREI and its companion Organic Transitions competitive grants program are now up and running as part of USDA’s significantly expanded service to organic farmers.

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