Gordon’s Policy Corner

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|

From Fields to Research Labs: how your story can inspire change

June is fully in swing here in Vermont where I live and down in DC where the Farm Bill process continues. 

In Vermont, the first cutting of hay is being dried and bailed, ewes and their lambs are headed to pasture, and crops are getting in the ground. In the Northeast we’ve also just experienced an unusually late, historic frost. If you were like me, and rolling the dice to plant a little early this year, I hope you didn’t lose too many crops and are able to recover easily as we transition into the warmer weather again. The biggest sign that summer is here in New England, though, is the black flies that are now out in force! We’re looking forward to some rain in the forecast to keep things happy, as it’s been a dry spring again this year. Never a dull moment farming in a changing climate!

In DC, marker bills are being introduced and cosponsors corralled. This past month we were thrilled to share the announcement that the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act was officially introduced in Congress. You can take a look at our SOAR Act Toolkit here. Keep an eye out for a Senate Companion bill coming soon; we’re still working with representatives and partners to get the final details ironed out. (Sometimes with policy work it’s a hurry up and wait game!). Drafting of the Farm Bill is actively happening in both chambers, appropriations bills are slowly being drafted (partly due to the Debt Ceiling Debacle), and August recess plans are being made and solidified.  As we wait for the text of the Farm Bill which will come later this summer, and for Report Language from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in the coming weeks, policy work is in a holding pattern until the next sprint (did I mention hurry up and wait?).  

During this small lull in updates from DC, we wanted to take this opportunity to devote this month’s Policy Corner to ask you, dear reader, a favor:

Can you take a moment to share your story as a researcher or a farmer interacting with organic agriculture research?  We are collecting and amplifying stories of researchers around the U.S. who have effectively shared their research with decision-makers or have benefitted from organic research. Are you a farmer that’s participated in a research project?  Are you a researcher who has been awarded or participated in a project funded by the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) or Organic Transitions Program? Are you a farmer who has used research products that were created through these programs?  If so, it would be great to hear from you as we work to advocate in support of these programs, while also addressing the needed reforms we are fighting for!

We need your help to deepen the impact of our advocacy work! Facts, figures, and statistical breakdowns of the effects of increased public investment in agricultural research are important, but the lived experiences and stories of researchers and farmers communicate more than a report ever can. As we head into the summer months, can you take a moment to share a little bit of your experience with us? Or, share this with a farmer or researcher you know who has a good advocacy-related story to tell?

Thank you for being a part of the movement for organics.

Eat well,

Gordon

. . .

Photo credit: Matthew Bornhors

By |2023-06-12T14:06:31+00:00June 12th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

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

Written by Elizabeth Tobey and Gordon Merrick

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!

Appropriations

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 |2023-12-06T23:01:09+00:00April 21st, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

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,

Gordon

By |2023-04-17T21:39:15+00:00April 13th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Communicating with Legislators workshop series

The Organic Farming Research Foundation is hosting a series of workshops this spring on Communicating with Legislators. The sessions will be free and held remotely. Upcoming session dates are:

  • Wednesday, March 29th from 3-4:30 pm EST
  • Thursday, April 13, 12pm-1:30pm EST
  • Tuesday, April 25, 6pm-7:30pm EST

The workshop is designed to provide researchers with the tools and resources needed to effectively communicate their research and the importance of their work to policymakers and the general public. We will give particular focus on the unique challenges and opportunities of working at public universities. The workshop will cover topics such as:

  • Communicating research findings to non-experts
  • Building relationships with policymakers and stakeholders
  • How to reach out and work with your institution’s Government Relations Office

We will also provide workshop attendees with ongoing opportunities to support issues important to publicly funded research into organic agriculture topics! 

Click Here to register for one of our Workshops!

Legislatures were designed to react to information brought to it, rather than actively seek out that information, which is why it is so important to contact your representatives. 

Congress is at the beginning stages of drafting the next Farm Bill, and they want to hear from experts like you! Survey data shows that Congressional staffers continue to hold scientists and researchers in high regard, and respect the insight you have to offer.  

All are welcome to join these workshop sessions. There is no cost to participate, and the workshop will provide opportunities to network with other researchers, policymakers, and advocacy experts.

Please feel free to reach out directly to Gordon Merrick, OFRF’s Policy & Programs Manager with any questions, (gordon@ofrf.org). We hope to see you in the workshop sessions!

By |2023-04-17T21:40:09+00:00February 16th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Catching up on the Farm Bill in Gordon’s Policy Corner

As you might have noticed, this Congress has already made some history, taking 15 ballots to elect Kevin McCarthy speaker of the House.  As that dust settles, the rules of the House have been agreed upon, and committee membership gets finalized, we at OFRF and our partners are getting a clearer picture of the Farm Bill landscape.  One thing remains abundantly clear, that agricultural research continues to be a bright spot for bipartisan legislation, and we are excited to leverage that fact this Farm Bill cycle.

If you missed it, we published a piece in the Organic Farmer Association’s Organic Voice, “Stepping Up To The Organic Research Challenge: The 2023 Farm Bill Must Grow Investments to Meet Growing Demand.”  In it, we lay out our three priorities for organic research for the 2023 Farm Bill. First, increase the organic research funding at the Agricultural Research Service to represent its market share, producing environmentally and economically sound management systems for all producers. Second, continue to support and develop the investments the National Institute for Food and Agriculture has been making in organic agriculture research. Lastly, fully fund and expand the Organic Market and Data Initiative.

By |2023-04-17T21:40:45+00:00January 13th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Farmers on the Frontlines: Climate Change and the Farm Bill

2023 Farm Bill Presents Opportunities for Farmers and Ranchers on the Frontlines of Climate Change

Farmers and ranchers, the people who produce our food, are often on the frontlines of challenges facing our society. Among the most pressing of those issues is the changing climate and an industrial food system that prioritizes profits over the health and wellbeing of people and the planet. Combined with the unprecedented loss of biodiversity, these three issues have even been called a triple threat to humanity.

Image from Frontiers article “Narrow and Brittle or Broad and Nimble? Comparing Adaptive Capacity in Simplifying and Diversifying Farming Systems”

These challenges are interrelated. The current standard methods of conventional food production are an outgrowth of the technological and chemical advancements of the mid 20th century, which resulted in a rapid increase in the ability to export calories in the form of commodity crops, such as corn and soy. This production depends on the ubiquitous use of cheap agri-chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and continued expansion of farmer-debt (as discussed in this article and this article) to increase scale and maintain technological relevancy. This ‘get big or get out’, petroleum-dependent production system decreases biodiversity and weakens the landscape’s capacity to be resilient and adapt to our changing climate. It also makes our food system vulnerable to even slight shifts in things like crop production or labor availability. 

Farmers often keenly feel the challenges presented by warmer temperatures, increased flooding, and other extreme weather events. Caroline Baptist is the owner of the River Valley Country Club, a small farm in Washington state. “Farming on a floodplain and a floodway can be a challenge, and changes in climate over the years have only exacerbated this issue,” Baptist says. “The property owner from whom I lease land remembers experiencing 1-2 major floods a year when he first began farming in the area in 1993. More recently, we’ve seen these numbers double and triple.” Describing a recent flooding event Baptist says, “Some areas of the farm were under water by 15 feet and accessible only by canoe. This flood and every flood since is a sobering experience, illustrating clearly that the climate crisis is real, and it affects farmers firsthand.”

Past farm policies that favored the ‘get big or get out’ model led to increases in monocultures. The resulting abundance of commodity crops in the food system correlates with increases in processed foods, and associated adverse health effects in low-income and systemically underserved communities (more on that here).  

SCF Organics brings fresh produce to people experiencing food deserts.

Shaheed Harris is the farm manager at Sumpter Cooperative Farms (SCF) in South Carolina. Among many other endeavors, SCF runs the Midlands Organic Mobile Markets, which are a suite of vans that directly distribute locally grown organic foods to the food deserts in the Midlands region of South Carolina. This project aims to address the need for equitable food access in communities in nearby metro areas with limited access to healthy foods. “Those places are areas … where they don’t have a grocery store,” Harris explains. “A lot of people don’t have vehicles to drive and they’re basically living on the nearest equivalent of a gas station. So they’re eating out of a gas station and getting chips and all types of processed foods that don’t really have a lot of nutrition.” Through the Midlands program, Harris says SCF aims to serve the people in these areas who would not otherwise have access to fresh healthy foods.

The farm bill is a package of legislation, updated once every five years, that sets the stage for our food and farming systems. The current farm bill expires in October of 2023, and a new suite of legislation will be developed and put into action. This farm bill cycle is a ripe opportunity to make solid advances towards a just transition to a new type of production that both mitigates and adapts to our changing climate, supports the health of the land and the people producing our food, and can help prevent food insecurity by increasing the amount of organic, nutritious food on American’s dinner plates.

Because of their place on the front lines of these challenges, farmers and ranchers represent a vibrant space of innovation and creativity to meet them. Our farmers and ranchers answering these challenges should be sources of inspiration on policy tools and instruments for the 2023 farm bill. 

Clover cover crop, to be tilled back into the soil.

Jesse Buie is the president of Ole Brook Organics in Mississippi. One of the main environmental factors that Buie deals with is a lot of rain which can cause leaching of nutrients from the soil. To combat this he focuses on building healthy soil by making sure that he is constantly adding organic matter. At Ole Brook Organics they do this primarily by incorporating all the plant matter back into the soil. Any grasses or crop residue left after a crop is harvested are chopped up and tilled back into the fields, forming a closed-loop of nutrient cycling.

At SCF Harris is dealing with the opposite environmental concern: too little water. They have addressed this challenge by implementing Dry Farming practices that he learned from his family’s farming heritage. This style of farming, which combines unirrigated crop production with shallow cultivation offers a promising alternative in times of uncertain water resources. 

Building resilience to economic disruptions has led some farmers to increase their use of local inputs, processors, and distributors, avoiding or lessening the impacts of supply chain disruptions in global markets. And as an added benefit this localization increases the access to nutritious, culturally appropriate, and tasty food that can connect communities. 

Rotational grazing can be a tool for healthy pasture management.

Dayna Burtness is a farmer at Nettle Valley Farm in Spring Grove, Minnesota, raising pastured pigs. “We’ve been able to build community while building land resiliency,” she explains. “We’re able to work with nearby farmers and fruit growers to take non-marketable produce and turn it into delicious pork, which is benefiting everyone! It reduces the amount of food waste and helps other farmers put what they grow to good use. We are working hard to help create a different type of food system, we just wish there was more public support to really kick this change into overdrive.”

Federal research, conservation, and market development programs created and funded in the Farm Bill make all of these things possible, but expanded support is necessary to continue to support farmers and create a healthier future for people and the planet. If you want to get involved in advocating for a better food system, Ariana Taylor-Stanley (ariana@sustainableagriculture.net) at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition or Gordon Merrick (gordon@ofrf.org) at the Organic Farming Research Foundation!

. . . 

Links for further reading:

Narrow and Brittle or Broad and Nimble? Comparing Adaptive Capacity in Simplifying and Diversifying Farming Systems, Frontiers

Green Revolution: History, Impact and Future, by H.K. Jain, available through most book suppliers

Chicken farmers say processors treat them like servants, AP News 

Farmers and animal rights activists are coming together to fight big factory farms, Vox 

2021 Tied for 6th Warmest Year in Continued Trend, NASA Analysis Shows, NASA 

The 2010s Were the Hottest Decade on Record. What Happens Next?, Smithsonian Magazine 

Americans are eating more ultra-processed foods, Science Daily

Ultra-processed foods and adverse health outcomes, The BMJ

Examining the Impact of Structural Racism on Food Insecurity: Implications for Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disparities, National Library of Medicine

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Community at Disproportionate Risk from Pesticides, Study Finds, Beyond Pesticides

Equitable Access to Organic Foods: Why it matters, Bread for the World

What is the Farm Bill, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Hunger and Food Insecurity, Feeding America

By |2023-04-17T21:25:13+00:00January 9th, 2023|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|
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