Gordon’s Policy Corner

Organic Advocacy in Action: Reflections on NSAC Lobby Day

By Annika LaFave, OFRF Policy and Communications Intern

OFRF Policy & Communications Intern, Annika LaFave in front of the capitol after 8 official meetings during NSAC’s annual lobby day, and a “meet and greet” coffee chat.

Earlier this month, I had the exciting opportunity to participate in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Lobby Day with Gordon (OFRF’s Policy & Programs Manager). As the Policy and Communications intern for the Organic Farming Research Foundation and a recent newcomer to national agriculture advocacy, I have gained a deeper understanding of the Farm Bill and Appropriations processes and still have more to learn.

Our lobby day goals were to discuss the significance of the organic industry and how legislation like the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act (SOAR Act), Organic Research and Science Investment Act (OSRI Act), Continuous Improvement & Accountability in Organic Standards (CIAO), and Opportunities in Organic Act can address common challenges organic producers face. As anticipated, the lobby day underscored the vital role advocates play in conveying farmers’ needs to lawmakers.

Appreciating the intricacies of sustainable agriculture and the barriers farmers face requires a personal connection or lived experience. I was reassured to learn that many congressional agriculture committee staffers seem to “get it” and even have ties to farming in their backgrounds. It is reassuring to know that even with the appearance of continued inaction, there are internal agriculture champions working to help bridge the gap where lawmakers lack such a connection. One thing that stood out to me was the level of transparency staffers had when speaking about the status of the upcoming (delayed) Farm Bill and Appropriations negotiations.

Unifying Nature of Agriculture and Food

In a tumultuous global landscape grappling with climate change, social inequities, and political unrest, we all share a collective need for safe and reliable healthy food access. In this lies a belief widely held by many farmers and consumers regardless of party affiliation: a resilient food system is one that values conservation, ecologically-sound practices, human and animal welfare, and equitable access to basic needs. In most of our eight meetings with congressional staffers from both political parties, there was consensus that the needs of our vulnerable farms and food systems must be addressed. For me, these earnest interactions confirmed that sustainable agriculture, encompassing organic and regenerative practices, seems to have recognition as a nonpartisan bright spot in a difficult Congress.

Prioritizing Farmer-Driven Research Through Legislation

During the lobby day, OFRF staff and members of NSAC met with Leslie Deavers, Chief of Staff to the Associate Chief and Rebekah Lauster, Chief of Staff for the Office of the Regional Conservationists to discuss NRCS’ strategies on field staff recruitment and retention. OFRF is proud to be able to work with these partners to ensure high quality services for farmers.

A recurring topic of conversation in our meetings was how organic agriculture research overlaps with the needs of nonorganic producers. If we relate food systems policy initiatives to formative research principles and human-centered design, it’s clear that research objectives and dissemination methods should explicitly fit the needs and capacity of the “end user”. While trending tech-research exploring artificial intelligence and precision agriculture has the potential to transform our foodscape, it is essential that we recognize the immediate limitations of small and mid-sized producers’ ability to access such technologies. I appreciate the University of South Dakota’s researchers’ policy advice to approach agriculture research with a social justice framework, ensuring that we do not leave behind the farming communities most in need. Amid the complex challenges we face in today’s food system, we must prioritize farmer-centered approaches to address wicked problems.

The research sector represents an ever-important industry whose work directly impacts the economic and working lives of farmers and rural communities. It is essential that investments in agriculture research reflect both the economic and production needs of the farmers it aims to support. One particularly salient issue is the dwindling number of new small and midsize farmers—how can advocates and researchers best meet the needs of smallholder and beginning farmers, and ensure that they have a viable path forward? 

81% of BIPOC farmers and 63% of beginning farmers surveyed in OFRF’s 2022 National Organic Research Agenda specified that “managing production costs” is a significant production challenge. Among non-production challenges, “accessing labor” and “finding and developing markets for organic products” were among the top concerns for all surveyed farming demographics. A study from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) on the Profit Potential of Certified Organic Field Crop Production and University of Vermont’s study on labor management decisions for small and mid-sized farms are just two examples of how federally-funded research can address these key challenges.

Closing Thoughts

Advocating for farmers requires more than rhetoric; it requires tangible action and systemic change. Following the lobby day meetings, I feel inspired to dig deeper into USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) local food systems and organic production data as a means of informing my own advocacy work. You can get involved too, simply by calling your Representative and Senators to ask their offices to check in on the status of Organic Research in the upcoming Farm Bill and Appropriations negotiations. You can find their contact info here! Small actions by many people are what make this work possible. And if you’re interested in getting more involved, reach out to Gordon at gordon@ofrf.org!

By |2024-02-12T14:19:15+00:00February 12th, 2024|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

From Regulations to Legislation: Advocating for Organic Agriculture in 2024

The dawn of a new year always brings new opportunities. This year, we are continuing our work to advocate for expanded public investments in organic agriculture research. To be honest, 2024’s political landscape is admittedly daunting:

  • FY24 appropriations still need to be passed by the end of the month.
  • The Farm Bill is running up against a new March deadline.
  • The FY25 appropriations process is about to begin.
  • There’s a Presidential election on the horizon.

That being said, at OFRF, we see these events as opportunities to ensure organic agriculture gets the recognition it deserves.

As we highlighted last month, 2023 was a momentous year for organic policy development in the regulatory space. In 2024, we hope to bring that momentum to the legislative body and work with our coalition partners to amplify our voices and call for increased public investments in organic agriculture research.

To do this, we have two primary initiatives. First, we will continue to build broad support for the Organic Science and Research Investment (OSRI) Act in the Senate and the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act in the House. If you still need to get familiar with these significant marker bills, check out those links for an overview and some information on how you can help spread awareness about them. Second, we are committed to ensuring that appropriators comprehend the urgent need for increased funding in agricultural research and the far-reaching impact these investments have on the nation- economically, ecologically, and socially.

Including the SOAR and OSRI Acts in the 2024 Farm Bill is more than just a step forward in achieving parity between organic agriculture’s share of USDA research funding (currently <2%) and its market share (>6%). More importantly, these investments will touch the lives of communities nationwide.

Agricultural research programs extend beyond answering producers’ queries or supporting early-career scientists—although they excel at both. These programs significantly benefit the rural communities actively participating in and hosting vital research projects. Notably, every dollar invested in public agricultural research generates an impressive $20 of benefits. Despite this documented impact, public funding for agricultural research has seen a 20% decline since the turn of the century, in stark contrast to increased funding in other research areas during the same period.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, we are intensifying our efforts in appropriations advocacy, ensuring that the offices of appropriators understand the critical importance and impact of the programs under their control.

However, for us to maximize our effectiveness, we need your help! If you have a story involving a research finding, participation in a research project, or a persistent research question that needs answering, please use our story form to contribute and help us raise awareness!

As always, please reach out if you want to get involved or are curious about our work! gordon@ofrf.org

Eat well,

Gordon

By |2024-01-12T15:01:07+00:00January 12th, 2024|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Organic Agriculture Shines in the Face of 2023’s Challenges

2023 was a historic year by many measures.  Many of those measures were, for lack of a better word, bad. We’ve written before about the climate effects of this year, and now we have confirmed that we’ve experienced the hottest summer ever recorded, which coincided with record low sea ice levels. In politics, we witnessed a tumultuous speaker election for the first time in nearly a century, followed by the first ever ouster of a speaker just months later. All while narrowly avoiding a government shutdown. We are once again in a political and financial environment that makes work on a new Farm Bill and Appropriations legislation feel somewhat futile. 

But, there were historic movements of progress for the organic sector this year as well: 

  • The National Organic Program has promulgated multiple long-awaited rules: the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards, Strengthening Organic Enforcement, and Organic Livestock Origin Rules, among others. 
  • We at OFRF worked with Congressional partners and organic champions to introduce pieces of legislation that would continue to advance organic agriculture research by doubling the funds available to OREI and ORG research programs. 
  • Because of past efforts of OFRF and our allies, the Organic Research and Extension Initiative’s mandatory funding level was not at issue in Farm Bill extension negotiations, ensuring that this program is insulated from political turmoil. 
  • And OFRF board member April Thatcher was named “Organic Farmer of the Year” by the Organic Trade Association, which is a piece of history that hits close to home for us!  

Sometimes paying attention to the current events can lead to getting lost in the noise, but for every headline-warranting piece of bad news there’s certainly a positive development or generous act of kindness that goes unnoticed. As we enter the end of year period and reflect over the past year, try to take a moment and revisit some of those positive moments or acts of kindness.

As Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series put it: “happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Wishing you all many moments of light and happiness this winter. 

Eat well,

Gordon

By |2023-12-11T16:36:36+00:00December 11th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

From Farm to Policy: Organic Agriculture and Public Health

This month, Gordon’s Policy Corner has a guest author, OFRF’s 2023 Fall Policy & Communications Intern, Annika La Fave.

Until last year, I could not imagine a career path for myself other than farming. Working in sustainable agriculture for the last 14 years has inextricably linked my profession to my identity. However, after closing my small vegetable farm business in Oregon and moving to Maryland, I realized that I didn’t have it in me to start over. I also knew I was not alone. Many of my fellow small farm owners in Portland had also left farming due to financial hardship and lack of work-life balance. The unavoidable difficulties of farming as a profession was my inspiration for pursuing a graduate degree at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where I now study the intersection of public health, policy, and occupational sustainability and health for the ag community. OFRF’s meaningful work addresses these issues and more, and, as the fall Policy & Communications intern, I’m honored to be part of the team. This month, I’m taking over Gordon’s Policy Corner to talk about a few critical ways organic agricultural research and policy impact health outcomes for farmers.

How do policy, research, organic farming, and public health intersect? 

The farming community is affected by many key social determinants of health including:

Farmers are simultaneously among the most vulnerable and most vital members of our food system. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of a food system built within our current market dynamics, there are significant barriers to these circumstances changing. 

How can research guide food system policy? 

The first step toward promoting a healthier, more sustainable food system is ensuring federal and state governments support farm workers and local agricultural markets. Policymakers rely on researchers to demonstrate quantifiable issues within our food system and tangible opportunities to solve them. Only with this evidence, can advocates and policymakers demonstrate a critical need and rally support for meaningful policy development. Additionally, research can provide much needed technical and economic support for farmers to help improve their growing practices, increase yields, and make farming as profitable as it can be in light of the many barriers they face. In OFRF’s 2022 National Organic Research Agenda, which reported on surveys and focus groups conducted with transitioning and certified organic producers across North America, participants named the availability of organic research funds (54%), access to knowledgeable agricultural service providers (53%), and the imbalance of organic supply and demand (58%) among their top concerns.

OFRF’s role in addressing food system complexity: 

The needs of small and organic farmers are still underrepresented in the Farm Bill, but, thanks in part to the work of ag support organizations, USDA is now implementing more programs geared toward small, beginning, and historically underserved communities. Through my internship with OFRF, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how individual organizations can promote policy reform through coalition building. For instance, OFRF’s policy team continues to champion the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act (SOAR Act) as well as the Organic Science & Research Initiative Act (OSRI Act), which both aim to obtain necessary Farm Bill research funding to solidify our path toward a more equitable and resilient agricultural industry.

OFRF is also excited to be part of USDA’s Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), a program investing up to $100M over 5 years in cooperative agreements with organizations like OFRF to provide technical assistance and mentorship for transitioning and existing organic farmers. Knowing that small, beginning, and historically-marginalized farmers are particularly vulnerable to financial hardship and time constraints, the OFRF policy team has been working with TOPP West to develop toolkits for farmers to mitigate the common barriers they face when it comes to accessing USDA’s grants, loans, and technical support. Lately, I’ve been working to unpack NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in a brief guide to help farmers know exactly when and how to apply for financial assistance.

How can you promote public health and a more equitable food system?

To reduce the impact of global warming, we will need a societal shift toward supporting local food systems and organic farming practices. In doing so, we can also promote a stronger local economy, combat the ongoing health disparities disproportionately affecting the farming community, and ensure that the people growing our food are able to earn a livable wage. Please prioritize buying from local producers using organic growing methods whenever possible. Consider reaching out to your representatives to highlight the need for more financial and policy support to help reshape sustainable agriculture into a tenable profession. And, please join us for an upcoming virtual OFRF event, where you can learn new skills for communicating with legislators or get involved with your own farmer-led research.

. . .

All photos courtesy of Annika La Fave.

By |2023-11-10T15:20:58+00:00November 10th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

The Role of Long-Term Research in Sustainable Agriculture

Written by Elizabeth Tobey

The word unprecedented has become tiredly overused, as we weather the storms of one climate-induced disaster after another, and set new records for temperature extremes. Farmers and farm workers in particular are keenly aware of the impacts of this climate chaos; in a profession dependent on and deeply affected by the weather, people working in agriculture are canaries in the coal mines of rapidly changing weather patterns and new climate extremes. Earlier this year farmers in Vermont raced to harvest crops before flood waters overtook fields and contaminated crops, while farmers throughout the west coast donned n95 masks or respirators to work the fields amid hazardous air quality due to a wildfire smoke. These stories are sadly not uncommon; everywhere you look farmers are working hard to stay afloat in challenging conditions. Climate change is impacting farms and ranches across the nation and organic farms are particularly vulnerable; but they are also full of potential for climate adaptation and even mitigation.

A recent Civil Eats article showcased how the history of extractive agriculture in Maui set the stage for the devastating wildfires in early August. While it explains the tragic history leading up to the disaster, it also points out that agriculture can be part of the solution. “Basically everything that can be done negatively, agriculture can also do it positively. Agriculture can contribute to soil remediation, improved water quality, and biodiversity.” 

Cultivating corn at the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab in Beltsville, MD, with cultivated beans in the foreground

Because organic farms do not rely on synthetic chemicals, they tend to be more dependent on natural systems than their conventional farming counterparts. This can mean they are more vulnerable and easily impacted by climate change, but organic systems also hold tremendous potential to build climate resilience. Farmers have always adapted, and the unpredictability of our current climate continues to push farmers to seek innovative solutions and evolve their farming practices to help withstand and even mitigate the extremes of climate change. 

Long term agroecological research is critical in order to provide farmers with cutting edge understanding of how climate change affects different production systems and how different production systems can build resilience to withstand climate change. While a lot can be learned in short-term studies, there are things that only long-term observation can reveal. To better understand the role of long term agriculture research OFRF recently spoke with Michel Cavigelli, PhD about his work at the long term agricultural research (LTAR) station in Beltsville Maryland, ancestral homelands of the Piscataway and Nacotchtank. “I was always interested in long-term research because everything changes every year,” Cavigelli said.

Weather patterns can change so much year to year, that a two year study, for instance, may fall over the course of two good-weather years, or even a good year and a bad year, and the results will not accurately represent the full picture of how a farming system behaves over the course of several years and weather cycles. Other elements of agriculture change so slowly that it’s nearly impossible to measure them in a short period of time.

“You need long term data to look at things that change a lot from year to year, and you also need long term data to look at things that change slowly,” Cavigelli explained. “Soil organic carbon changes slowly, that’s probably the most notorious one. You usually need at least ten years of a treatment difference to see those [changes] statistically.”

Dr. Michel Cavigelli

Running a long-term study offered Cavigelli a unique opportunity to study Soil Organic Carbon (SOC). “There’s all this talk now about climate-smart agriculture, and looking at ways to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. So any increase in soil carbon is a decrease in atmospheric carbon.” 

At the Beltsville research site they have five different cropping systems in place: two conventional and three organic, with a variety of tillage practices and crop-rotations in place. The cropping systems they maintain are:

  • Conventional
    • no-till, 3-year corn-soybean-wheat rotation
    • standard tillage, 3-year, corn-soybean-wheat rotation
  • Organic 
    • standard tillage, 2-year corn-soybean rotation
    • standard tillage, 3-year corn-soybean-wheat rotation
    • standard tillage, 6-year corn-soybean-wheat-alfalfa rotation, with alfalfa as a three-year perennial crop

The conventional systems receive a double-cropping of soybeans after wheat harvest, while the three-year organic rotation gets a hairy vetch planting. “It’s still corn, soybean wheat, and then a legume,” said Cavigelli, of the 3-year organic rotation. “So it’s quite comparable to the two conventional systems.” This variety of cropping systems allows them to compare different production methods.

Along with studying SOC, Cavigelli also looks at crop yield, economic viability, soil quality and soil properties, weed population dynamics, and the overall health of the soil food web. He also explained the long term trial site functions as a base for other researchers to look at things that they don’t study at the Beltsville lab, such as soil invertebrate communities. “We provide the long term study for people to kind of helicopter in and do their specialty, which provides a lot more depth of knowledge of the different systems,” Cavigelli said. 

Organic soybeans at the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab in Beltsville, MD

The results of these studies help researchers like Cavigelli give more accurate and useful advice to farmers and ranchers. Along with publishing scientific reports on their findings, researchers at Beltsville engage in a variety of outreach activities to share their findings with the agricultural community. Prior to Covid, Cavigelli said he regularly presented at ag conferences and hosted field days at the research site that would draw groups of 80-100 farmers and others at a time. He also worked with partners at the local university extension office on a “traveling road show” tour to present findings to ag communities in the mid-Atlantic region, and is eager to reinstate those outreach activities now that the national emergency has ended.

There have been a lot of studies on no-till conventional agriculture, which allowed people to develop some robust conclusions early on. “That’s why no-till became the focus of what farmers ought to do to sequester carbon,” Cavigelli said. Based on this he explained that his initial hypothesis was that the organic systems would retain soil carbon at a rate somewhere between the conventional tillage and conventional no-till systems, taking into account the added organic matter from the organic systems but the disturbance from tilling.

Some of the initial results they’ve found in studies have surprised even Cavigelli. He initially expected the no-till systems to have higher SOC levels because of the decreased soil disturbance. However, when they looked at the findings after 11 years, the organic system actually had more soil carbon than the no-till system, although he made sure to point out that their latest study on SOC has not been fully vetted by peers yet; they will be submitting the paper soon. 

Farming Systems Project, Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab in Beltsville, MD

“A critical part of the story is that when the experiment was started we had relatively high SOC because the site had been planted to perennial alfalfa for at least 14 years,” Cavigelli said. “This also points to the value of perennials.” When Cavigeli’s team compared their results to archived soil samples from 1996, before the long-term systems trials began, the only cropping system that was not losing soil organic carbon over the long term was the 6-year organic rotation. As noted above, this rotation differs from the others by adding a three-year planting of perennial alfalfa before going back into an annual corn-soybean-wheat rotation. “It’s not a tree, it’s not the native perennials, but it’s still a perennial,” Cavigelli explained about the alfalfa. “And during the three years that it’s in there you’re not tilling, and you’re increasing root biomass and all that.” As a legume, the alfalfa roots have a symbiotic relationship with rhizobial bacteria that pull atmospheric nitrogen from the air and fix it in the plant, while the perennial root systems and the lack of tillage or soil disturbance for those three years support the soil in sequestering carbon. Alfalfa is also a valuable cash crop in itself, providing high quality livestock feed. 

“When we look at the difference between time-zero, 1996, and all five of our systems they all lose carbon except for the six-year organic system,” Cavigelli said. “It’s not just that it’s organic, but it’s that we have a perennial in there. So it looks like the story is that perennials are the best way to either maintain or increase soil carbon.” 

As we head into the unknown of our changing climate, long-term research will be increasingly important to help farmers and ranchers make informed decisions about their management practices and to help policy makers respond to the climate crisis with effective programs. However, funding for these long term projects is precarious. All the funding comes from Congress, and Cavigelli explained that it can be tough to make the case for long-term research. “They like to see more quick results, and it’s not quite as sexy as developing a new technology,” he laughed. Researchers like Cavigelli are limited by Congress’s funding decisions.  “It’s a harder sell,” Cavigelli continued. “And it’s a sustainability sell. The only way to measure our sustainability is doing things long-term. And the amount of money we get is directly related to how much research we can do.”

. . .

Dr. Michel Cavigelli is a Co-Director of the USDA Northeast Climate Hub, providing expertise on cropping system management and impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. He is also a Research Soil Scientist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service at the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab in Beltsville, Maryland. He serves as Lead Scientist of a research project that includes evaluating the long-term impacts of organic and conventional cropping systems management on sustainability. His areas of expertise include organic and conventional cropping systems, nutrient management, and environmental and microbiological controls on soil nitrous oxide production and emissions. He received a B.A. in Biology at Oberlin College in 1984, a M.S. in Agronomy at Kansas State University in 1990, and a Ph.D. in Crop and Soil Sciences and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Michigan State University in 1998. OFRF is grateful to Cavigelli for taking the time to speak with us about his work.

By |2023-12-06T20:49:03+00:00October 25th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Unpredictable Times in Agriculture and Policy

Our political and civic institutions are similar to agricultural operations. Both require a degree of predictability and adherence to deadlines to function effectively. In the same way that farmers depend on predictable climate patterns for successful cultivation, our governments rely on stability to meet the deadlines that shape policies and funding critical to our society.

Aerial view of storm water on cotton fields that are already saturated with days of heavy rain.

Aerial view of storm water on cotton fields that are already saturated with days of heavy rain. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

However, both realms face growing unpredictability. Climate change has disrupted farming with unpredictable weather patterns, altering frost dates, precipitation, and pest cycles, making it challenging to maintain smooth agricultural operations. Similarly, the political landscape in Washington, D.C., has become increasingly erratic, impacting our ability to foresee legislative actions and their potential effects.

This past month, Congress narrowly averted a government shutdown and allowed the 2018 Farm Bill to expire. Now, they have until November 15th to pass crucial Appropriations bills or another Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded. Additionally, there’s a tight deadline until late December to pass a new Farm Bill or extend the current one. However, the latter seems less likely due to persistent political disagreement.

The dynamics of climate instability and political gridlock are deeply interconnected. Yet, amidst this uncertainty, there is a powerful action we can all take to influence change: effectively communicating to legislators and policymakers how these issues impact our lives. Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is offering another round of our ‘Communicating with Legislators Workshop’ to support this work.

Here’s a snapshot of what you should know and what the workshop will cover in more detail:

  1. Legislatures are Reactive: Legislative processes respond to public concerns and emerging issues. If they don’t know about a problem or issue, they can’t act on it; conversely, if they don’t know something significant is happening, they can’t defend or support it.
  2. Legislatures are Slow-Working: The pace of legislative work is deliberate to ensure thorough consideration of implications. Continuous engagement ensures our perspectives remain in their purview as they deliberate policies.
  3. Consistent Input is Crucial: Legislatures need regular, diverse, and informed input from citizens to make effective and well-informed decisions.

Our ‘Communicating with Legislators Workshop’ is tailored for farmers and researchers in the organic farming sector. We equip you with insights into how legislatures operate, emphasizing your vital role in communicating about the issues you care about. 

One critical area where consistent input is necessary is in the realm of organic agricultural research. Organic farming isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a key player in our fight against climate change. The unpredictability climate change introduces is a significant challenge for farmers. Organic agricultural practices can mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting soil health, and enhancing resilience to extreme weather events. Research in this field is essential for mitigating and adapting to climate change, and we need policymakers to understand the importance of continuing to invest in it. However, this research is primarily funded through public appropriations, which have been decreasing since 2000.

Join us in this workshop to learn best practices and how you can advocate for increased investments in organic agriculture and research. Your voice matters, and it’s a potent force in shaping the future of our agriculture sector. Together, we can navigate these unpredictable times and work towards a more stable and supportive environment for organic farming.

Workshop registration is free. More info on our events page.

By |2023-10-16T15:12:37+00:00October 13th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner|

Gordon’s Policy Corner: Navigating September’s Shifts

Farm Bill Policy, Funding Implications, and Ways to Stay Engaged

September is a month of transitions. In Vermont it brings the first signals of autumn with cool mornings full of valley fog; in DC it brings a flurry of work before the end of the Federal Government’s fiscal year, which brings with it the expiration of the government’s funding and Farm Bill legislation, which are both in flux right now. 

For government funding, or appropriations, neither chamber has successfully passed all twelve of the necessary spending bills on the floor, which means much of the limited floor time for the rest of the year will be spent on both a continuing resolution and then hopefully passing full funding bills before the end of the year. But, that would mean the other expiring piece of legislation, the Farm Bill, would also need an extension. This is all-but guaranteed with the amount of work needed to bridge the yawning gap between the Senate and House spending bills. Some predict that the Farm Bill will be extended until the spring of 2024, some until after the elections in 2024.

As the Farm Bill and FY24 Appropriations situation continues to clear and muddy itself again, one thing remains certain, continued interaction with policy makers is imperative! We at OFRF want to ensure that you all have the ability to meaningfully engage. But, we also depend on our network and community to help keep us in the know of opportunities, too! Below are three ways you can plug in with OFRF and stay connected.  

  • Communicating with Legislators Workshop Series:

First and foremost, I am excited to share that OFRF is hosting another series of workshops aiming to give researchers and farmers some tools to effectively engage with policymakers. Our goal is to equip individuals within the organic farming community with the tools to effectively engage with and educate legislators about the impact of their organic research. This will be geared to both publicly funded researchers as well as farmers that utilize and participate in research.

There are four workshop sessions available:
– Thurs Sep 21st 7-8:30pm EST
– Wed Oct 11th 1-2:30pm EST
– Mon Oct 30th 5:30-7pm EST
– Tues Nov 21st 12-1:30pm ES
All sessions cover the same material, so you only have to attend one. I hope you will also share this opportunity with your colleagues and networks! Registration is FREE. You can find
details here.

  • Field Days with an Organic Component:

Second, we at OFRF are interested in hearing more about research field day opportunities, especially those with organic components, taking place near or organized by you! At OFRF, we are dedicated to fostering the exchange of knowledge and best practices in organic farming. If you know of any field days on the horizon that emphasize organic methodologies, we are keen to explore opportunities for collaboration, participation, or mutual promotion. 

  • Stay Connected with OFRF

Lastly, we always want to stress the significance of staying connected with you and the organic farming community. That is why we’re asking you to highlight any listservs or newsletters your local organizations or extension services operate that we should be aware of! These platforms enable us to learn about upcoming field days, networking events, and initiatives that align with our goals and values.

If you know of any field days that happen annually, especially those with organic components, or of any good newsletters with those events in your region, let me know at gordon@ofrf.org! Thank you for the work you do in the organic community! The possibilities to collectively contribute to the growth of organic agriculture, and empower the next generation of farmers and researchers is an exciting and real opportunity. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or to discuss your work. 

Eat well,

Gordon

By |2023-12-06T20:58:33+00:00September 7th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

What August Recess means for Organic Ag Advocacy

This month’s Policy Corner has a guest author, OFRF Policy and Communications Intern, Adam Bagul.

Almost as if chased away by the potent combination of heat and humidity that has descended upon the District of Columbia, our Senators and Representatives have returned back home to their districts for the August recess. Congress Members usually use this time to hold town hall meetings or to be available for in-district meetings. This break from the hustle and bustle of Capitol Hill presents a golden opportunity

Photo credit: Adam Bagul

for constituents to connect with their policymakers. Since 2023 is a Farm Bill year, let’s take a moment to delve into the Farm Bill process, a linchpin of agricultural policy, and use this recess to mobilize support for bills that will ensure a robust future for organic and sustainable agriculture in the United States.

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that shapes agricultural policy, nutrition programs, and rural development initiatives for the next five years. My internship with the Organic Farming Research Foundation has provided me with a front-row seat to this intricate process. I’ve witnessed various organic and sustainable agriculture advocacy organizations, all working towards a common goal – a resilient and sustainable agricultural future. I’ve worked to promote different marker bills, legislation used to signal positions on issues within our legislative bodies. This work has helped me to see that the Farm Bill isn’t just an obscure collection of irrelevant policies; it’s about our farmers, our land, our health, and our food security. The bills that make up this Farm Bill will dictate the immediate future of agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry of the US.

The August recess allows Congress to step back into their home districts, reconnect with their roots, listen to their constituents’ concerns, and gain a better understanding of local issues. Showing legislators that farms and organic businesses are part of your community, how they make an impact in their districts, and communicating what support they need to be successful are important actions to take during this period. As citizens passionate about agriculture and rural development, this is our moment to be heard. Meeting with policymakers might seem daunting, but it’s an avenue that holds immense potential to create change. Here are a few tips to make the most of your interaction:

  1. Plan Ahead: Reach out to your Congressperson’s local office to schedule a meeting. Be clear about the topic you wish to discuss and your objectives for the conversation.
  2. Do Your Homework: Familiarize yourself with the Congressperson’s stance on agricultural issues and the Farm Bill. This shows your commitment and helps tailor your conversation. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the marker bills being considered this year. OFRF has great resources for you to do so.
  3. Bring Data: Numbers and statistics can be persuasive. If you’re discussing the impact of a certain policy, back it up with relevant data. Another piece of information to bring could be lists of organizations within your legislator’s district that are in support of initiatives or bills that you support.
  4. Be Concise and Clear: Time is often limited. Clearly articulate your main points and concerns. Provide real-life examples to illustrate your arguments. Constructing a rough road map of how you’d like to share information with your legislator is a helpful way to ensure every point that you’d like to make is included.
  5. Engage Emotionally: Share personal stories that highlight the real-world implications of agricultural policies. Emotionally compelling narratives can leave a lasting impression.

These principles for successful conversations with our elected legislative officials are a part of my daily work as an intern at OFRF. Amidst this bustling realm of policy and legislation, my internship experience has been informative and rewarding. From diving into research on agricultural sustainability to participating in policy discussions, I’ve gained invaluable insights into the complexities of policy advocacy in the United States. At OFRF, much of my work consists of drafting and sending communications to congressional staffers, conveying the significance of marker bills centered around organic farming research for the impending Farm Bill, such as the Organic Science Research Investment (OSRI) Act and the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act. Similarly, sitting in on meetings between various organic and sustainable agriculture advocacy organizations has been edifying. Witnessing the behind the scenes work and shared determination to drive positive agricultural reform has been nothing short of inspiring. 

One particular initiative that I have been working with is the Safeguarding Agricultural Research (SARF) letter. This letter is a call for legislators to prioritize and protect agricultural research funding, written by OFRF, signed by organizations, businesses, and farmers from all over the US. The purpose of SARF advocacy isn’t just for Universities to receive more money for research; it’s about ensuring that our farmers have access to the knowledge and tools they need to overcome challenges. It’s about fostering innovation that leads to more resilient crops, sustainable practices, and a brighter agricultural future. My internship with OFRF has illuminated the necessity of agricultural advocacy: as engaged citizens we have a duty to communicate our priorities to our legislators and secure our commitment to the land and crops that sustain us. The August recess is an occasion for us to advocate for policies that bolster initiatives like SARF, in turn advocating for the resilience and vitality of American agriculture. Our voices, together, have the power to shape the future of our fields and farms.

If you have questions about OFRF’s policy advocacy work, or want to know how to get involved, please reach out: gordon[at]ofrf.org. As Gordon says:

Eat well,

Adam

By |2023-08-16T19:56:32+00:00August 10th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

OSRI Act Introduced

Today, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is happy to deliver to the leadership of Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry a letter in support of the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research 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 to these problems. 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 Senate, Senator Fetterman is joined by Senators Booker, Brown, Casey, Gillibrand, Welch, and Wyden to introduce the Organic Science and Research Investment Act. This legislation would increase the resilience of U.S. agriculture, create economic opportunity for producers, and result in improved ecological vitality of the landscape by:

  1. Creating the Coordinating and Expanding Organic Research Initiative. This initiative charges the Research, Education, and Economics agencies at USDA to catalog the current, ongoing research on organic food and agriculture topics and provide a path to increase organic agriculture research conducted and funded by the USDA.
  2. Directing the USDA to develop a plan to increase organically managed acreage. This plan will formulate how the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the sole in-house research operation at USDA, will dedicate a portion of their research fields to organic agriculture research.
  3. Bolstering programs operated by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The OSRI Act would provide stair-stepped budget increases to the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), expand the statutory priorities to include climate change, organic alternatives to prohibited substances, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. 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).
  4. Boosting funding for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI). The data produced through the ODI is essential for the development of risk management products and targeted market development. The OSRI Act directs the Economic Research Service (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.

We at OFRF are excited about this opportunity to support the expansion of organic agriculture research, and look forward to working with our partners and collaborators to advance the OSRI Act in the Senate, and the SOAR Act in the House this Farm Bill season.

View the final OSRI Act sign-on letter here.

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

View our OSRI Act Toolkit, for resources on how you can help spread the word

Support for the OSRI Act

“The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition strongly endorses the Organic Science and Research Investment Act (OSRI Act). The OSRI 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. In addition to increasing investments in critical organic research programs such as the Organic Agriculture Research and Education Initiative (OREI), this bill provides a structure for USDA to coordinate and expand organic agriculture research across REE agencies. This will increase the scientific research and economic data and analysis these agencies are able to provide so that both organic and conventional agricultural producers can sustain and improve their operations while helping us reach meaningful solutions for the climate crisis.” Nick Rossi, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

“As one of the oldest and largest organic certification agencies in the country, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association applauds Senator Sherrod Brown for his leadership on the Organic Science and Research Investment Act of 2023.  The increased research investments and coordination across the many USDA agencies will help farmers overcome production hurdles and implement holistic approaches to farming that result in better water management, water quality, soil health and resilience.  It is critical that we focus on the development of new public plant cultivars and livestock breeds that are regionally adapted and appropriate for organic production in this time of increasing weather extremes. “  Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA Policy Director

“The National Organic Coalition is thrilled to see the introduction of the Organic Science and Research Investment Act, and we appreciate the work of Senators Fetterman, Booker, Brown, Casey, Gillibrand, Welch, and Wyden to champion this bill. 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 to protect soil health and natural resources.” Abby Youngblood, National Organic Coalition

“The Northeast Organic Dairy Producer Alliance supports all the requests in the OSRI Act as a very necessary stage in the growth and stability of organic agriculture. Farmers need accurate data in establishing risk management, deciding to transition to organic and establishing a sustainable business plan. This is not available to the majority of organic commodities and presents difficulties in establishing safety net programs, disaster programs and incentives for transitioning to organic production.” Ed Maltby, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance 

“By investing in organic research, adding climate mitigation/resilience to legislative goals of OREI, and fully recognizing the contributions of Traditional Ecological Knowledge to climate solutions, the OSRI Act will go far toward building an equitable, resilient, and climate-friendly agriculture and food system.” Mark Schonbeck, Virginia Association for Biological Farming

“The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) recognizes the critical need for organic research for the responsible co-creation of just and ecological food and agriculture systems. The passage of the OSRI Act will provide vital funding to support this research.” Juliann Salinas, Women, Food and Agriculture Network

“This program has not only been a benefit to our faculty in staff working on organic agriculture, but has supported the transition of a lot of our partnering farms in the southeast.” Crystal James, Tuskegee University

“While organic agriculture makes up more than 6% of the food sales market, ARS and NIFA devote less than 2% of their research dollars to organic research. The policies in the OSRI Act signal to researchers that organic agriculture research is valued.” Jaydee Hanson, Center for Food Safety

“As a leader in organic rice and rice products, we are supportive of these efforts to grow and nurture the organic farming industry. We applaud the Senate’s leadership here and urge the body to adopt this legislation.” Natalie Carter, Lundberg Family Farms

“Continued funding and increased funding is necessary for equitable research for organic agriculture practices, materials, outreach and leading in promoting climate smart agricultural practices.” John McKeon, Taylor Family Farms

By |2023-11-01T16:26:29+00:00July 12th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

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,

Gordon

. . .

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 |2023-12-06T21:00:41+00:00July 7th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|
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