Research is Spurring Organic Innovation in Wisconsin

Mark Keating's picture

We’ve posted recently about new funding opportunities through the USDA’s two premier organic research initiatives – the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and the Organic Transitions Program (ORG). OFRF has long made the case that investing in such research is essential for deciphering and disseminating organic agriculture’s rich potential for high quality and quantity production which also sustains the environment and supports family farmers.

            A new report entitled Organic Agriculture in Wisconsin: 2014 UW-Madison Research Report supports our conviction by documenting the significant dividends the work is already returning.  The report highlights significant results drawn from 23 separate research projects underway in the state including work on dairy, cover crops, potatoes, fruits and vegetables and marketing. The research documents that organic practices including no-till crop production, rotational grazing and the use of cover crops and manure for fertility can reduce farmers' costs and while improving soil quality and other natural resources over time. Wisconsin has the second highest number of organic farming operations in the nation behind California, so this report covers a lot of ground nationally speaking.

            Just as many creeks and streams feed into the mighty Mississippi River, organic research in Wisconsin benefits from a wide range of federal, state and private funding sources.  The USDA’s OREI and ORG offer the greatest potential to fund sophisticated organic research over an extended period of time, which is why OFRF and its national network of partners worked diligently to see them generously funded in the 2014 Farm Bill.  However, we haven’t lost sight of those creeks and streams that are the start of bigger things.  OFRF continues to fund research in its early stages of development and we are very proud to have awarded grants to Wisconsin researchers including Dr. Bill Tracy, Dr. Amy Charkowski, and and Dr. James Nienhuis among others featured prominently in the report.

          Dr. Kate VandenBosch, Dean of UW’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, makes a noteworthy point in the report’s introduction by stating that “New knowledge about varieties and cropping practices that reduce reliance on herbicides and other purchased inputs can help cut costs and improve profitability under all types of farming systems.”  We have many ways of measuring the growth of organic agriculture, such as USDA’s recently updated list of certified operations. The report shows a 4% growth in certified organic farms in 2013 alone! However, we should keep in mind that our ultimate goal is to enable and assist all farmers to transition towards the holistic, self-sustaining production practices embodied in organic agriculture.  Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, and the best way to measure our success is by working to have core organic principles such as locally-adapted seeds and breeds, cover cropping and crop rotation, and raising livestock on pasture become ever more widely adopted.  Farmers need assurance that adopting organic practices makes sense both on the ground and for their bottom line and the results coming out of Wisconsin will increase their confidence.


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