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Organic for Climate Research Priorities

September 1, 2020 – As legislators continue to consider comprehensive climate legislation, OFRF is working closely with Congress and partner organizations to ensure the voices of organic farmers are heard on Capitol Hill. Organic agriculture has great potential to sequester carbon, mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reduce the environmental impacts of fertilizers and pesticides, and build resilience to a changing climate in our farms, ranches, rural communities, and food systems. Significant investments should be made in organic agriculture to advance its climate change mitigation potential.

Historic wins for organic agricultural research in the 2018 Farm Bill provide $395 million for organic agriculture research and education over the next ten years and secure permanent funding for organic research at USDA. OFRF’s organic research priorities focus on ensuring this increased investment advances organic agriculture’s contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation and responds to the top challenges facing producers who want to farm more sustainably.

Below is a summary of our recommendations:

  1. Advance soil health and fertility management to sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build resilience to climate change stresses – Soil health, soil biology and biodiversity, and fertility management remain top priority research topics for organic producers, especially as they experience the growing impacts of climate disruption. Further research is needed on organic soil management strategies that optimize agricultural resilience, carbon sequestration, and net GHG reduction.
  2. Increase research on systems-level approaches to weed, pest, and disease management to minimize pesticide use, conserve biodiversity, and enhance carbon sequestration – Organic farmers are prohibited from using synthetic inputs to manage weeds, pests, and disease, and therefore rely on some level of physical soil disturbance to control weeds. Crop diversification, cover cropping, weed-competitive cultivars, and sound nutrient management can limit weed pressures, reduce the need for tillage and cultivation, and thereby protect soil carbon and soil health. Organic farmers and all farmers will benefit from developing practical tools and integrated strategies to manage weeds with minimal tillage.
  3. Promote research on organic livestock and poultry, advanced grazing management, and crop-livestock integration to sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enhance climate resilience of livestock production systems – USDA-funded organic animal agriculture research continues to lag far behind consumer demand for organic meat, dairy, and eggs. Furthermore, recent research highlights the climate benefits provided by advanced rotational grazing and crop-livestock integration. More research is needed so organic ranchers are equipped with the tools and resources they need to manage livestock and poultry in climate-friendly ways.
  4. Promote breeding and development of new public crop cultivars for resilience to climate disruption and performance in climate-mitigating organic production systems – Privatization of the seed industry and replacement of public cultivars with patented seeds have substantially narrowed seed choices for farmers, and revoked their right to save and select seeds adapted to their local conditions. Furthermore, with ongoing climate disruption, farmers urgently need crop cultivars specifically developed for stress hardiness. Organic farmers need regionally adapted, climate resilient non-GMO seeds suited to their production systems and markets.

Read the complete research priorities here. Don’t forget to check out our climate toolkit for advocates, and policymakers and our policy recommendations for making regenerative organic farming systems part of the solution to the climate crisis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2020-09-01T21:21:42+00:00September 1st, 2020|News, Soils|

Cover Crops for Weed Management

August 18, 2020 – Roller crimper termination of cover cropsBalancing soil health and weed management is a serious challenge for organic producers. Tillage is an effective method of controlling weeds, but is energy intensive and can degrade soil health. Cover cropping is an alternative practice that can suppress weeds and build soil health. However, when to terminate cover crops is not straightforward. Terminating cover crops using a roller crimper—a piece of equipment that gently pushes the cover crop residue over the soil surface—has been shown to effectively suppress weeds in row-crops such as soybean, but less is known about the efficacy of roller-crimped cover crops in vegetable production. In 2019, OFRF provided a grant to Professor Alex Woodley at North Carolina State University to begin addressing this question in sweet potatoes, an economically important crop in North Carolina.

The study used a roller-crimper modified for sweet potato beds to assess whether fall planted cover crops mitigated the need for economically and environmentally costly tillage practices in organic sweet potato systems. In response to farmer-identified challenges, the study also examined whether cover crops present a tradeoff between soil health and pest management by providing habitat for wireworms, a significant pest in the study region.

Overall, the study demonstrated that when cover crop biomass is low, weed suppression is limited in cover cropped sweet potato beds. Yields were also significantly reduced in cover cropped beds in comparison to tilled beds, as a result of strong competition from weeds for water and nutrients, which was controlled through repeated cultivation in the tilled beds. Palmer Amaranth was primary driver in yield loss, which showed a remarkable ability to reduce soil nitrogen by 60%. Issues with drought and deer pressure may have also contributed to reduced yields overall, as yields in the tilled beds were also lower than expected. Cover cropping did not appear to increase the presence of wireworms, suggesting there is not a tradeoff between soil health and pest management in this system.

The project identified significant obstacles associated with using cover crop litter for weed management in sweet potato systems, indicating further research is warranted to optimize weed control practices and yields. The preliminary findings of this OFRF-funded project were leveraged to secure a $1.9 million OREI grant that will continue to explore how to implement roller-crimped cover crops for weed suppression in organic sweet potatoes.

Read the final report here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2020-09-08T23:24:37+00:00August 18th, 2020|News, Soils|

Fresh From the Fields: A-Frame Farm

August 6, 2020 – Luke and Ali Peterson became partners in A-Frame Farm in 2016 with farming mentors, Carmen and Sally Fernholz in Madison, Minnesota. Today they farm 500 certified organic acres employing practices such as cover cropping, minimal tillage, and crop livestock rotation with the goal of becoming self-sustaining and truly regenerative.

Prior to farming, Luke spent several years working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. After the birth of their first daughter, Luke wanted to find a way to spend less time on the road and more time at home with the family. Both Luke and Ali shared a growing desire to restore the environment, help mend a broken food system, and build strong community. Ali continues to work full-time as a nurse practitioner.

While at the Department of Natural Resources doing prairie restoration, Luke says he worked with a pretty unique group of people with backgrounds in environmental science and related fields. “Working with them, my eyes were opened to how destructive agriculture can be. I learned a lot and did research on how our natural ecosystem used to function on its own. I got really interested in it when I started learning about how that ecosystem actually created more meat protein when nobody was farming. Things like that made me very curious.”

“We started buying old machinery, got a small fleet of equipment and began farming conventionally. Two years into it, I began selling seed for a local co-op for Monsanto and some of the big companies. Being involved with that business really opened my eyes to agriculture as get big or get out. I started thinking about how I could fit into this world of two extremes—one is trying to produce as much food as possible no matter what the cost and the other (from the DNR) is preserving land and not letting anybody use it. They were two opposites. I decided organic farming would be the best solution. I still wanted to grow food and I loved farming. I learned that corn and soybeans weren’t necessarily even food and that was kind of personal to me and bugged me quite a bit. So that pushed me into organic farming.”

The farm was transitioned to organic in 2014. “Ever since then we’ve been educating ourselves more and more and we have a very diverse crop rotation,” says Luke. They’re planting more perennials and introducing a grass-fed beef herd. “We’re taking some row crops out of production, introducing grass-fed beef and then rotating that throughout the farm for our fertility source. So, we went from conventional to organic, and now that we’re organic, we want to become truly regenerative.”

Luke says the transition to organic isn’t easy. “Money is always a challenge when you’re starting a new enterprise and three years out from seeing any return. My wife’s job as a nurse practitioner allowed us to pay the bills.” What’s his best advice for new farmers? “Find a mentor and connect on social media with other farmers.”

Luke was lucky because his neighbor has been farming organically for forty years. “Any time I had a question I could ask him and he had all this experience that he was willing to share. That’s another reason I was successful. I never really had any crop failures like a lot of beginning organic farmers have because I was given all that information right off the bat.” Going to MOSES made a big difference as well and youtube has been really helpful. There’s a lot of pretty incredible farmers out there says Luke and they are willing to share both their successes and failures to help others learn.

What does Luke mean when he says truly regenerative. “We use a lot of regenerative practices but I still wouldn’t say we are regenerative because we import fertility from off the farm. I think the main thing is supplying your own fertility. It forces you to do a lot more intense soil health practices that you don’t have to do if you just bring in your nutrients.”

Diversification is the name of the game for Luke and he’s constantly on the lookout for new opportunities. The relationships he’s set up with local bakers to sell his small grains provide the income that allows him to incorporate soil health practices like cover cropping and diverse crop rotations, introducing perennials like Kernza and alfalfa. “We’re selling all of our small grains locally and working to build a marketplace where we can have long-term relationships with people,” Luke explains. “We’re new at this so we’re negotiating a price that works for everyone.”

“We sell our corn to a local organic hog farmer and our soybeans to Blue River Hybrids as seed. Seven Sundays is a new company in Minneapolis that I’m growing buckwheat forthis year. There’s only so much you can do with the main staple crops, and they’re long season. I’m working on finding businesses that want a unique crop other than what the general market wants. That’s the lever I need to move my farm towards being regenerative because every time I can add a unique crop, I can be a lot more creative. The buckwheat is short season, which means I can plant cover crops prior to the buckwheat in the fall, graze that for fertility, and then plant winter wheat. It’s kind of the opposite of corn, which takes a lot of fertility, and makes it hard to get a cover crop in and graze it. Corn also involves more tillage, which the buckwheat doesn’t.”

“We eliminated all tillage in the fall and the only tillage we do is to terminate a perennial that’s been in the soil for three years or more because we either have to use tillage or a chemical. And we don’t do any fall tillage on our corn, soybeans, or small grains in the fall. In the spring we do a light pass with a field cultivator, two inches deep, to prepare a seed bed. Once our row crops are up, we do have to cultivate as well. It’s tillage, but very shallow, minimal disturbance.”

When it comes to building soil health, Luke says the changes they’ve made have yielded impressive results. “We stopped the deep tillage four years ago and two years into it, it was starting to blow our minds the soil textures we have on our farm compared to before. We’ve also been pretty aggressive on the cover crops and between the two of those things, our soil has become much more alive and much more forgiving. It’s amazing the mentality we used to have about tillage, that it would warm up and dry out your soils faster in the spring. Honestly, nothing could be further from the truth. We get out in the fields as soon as our neighbors who are doing the deep fall tillage. Our soil temperatures are the same temperature if not higher. We think it might have something to do with the microbial life, that it is actually heating things up. There is more activity and more air in between the soil particles. When we do have a 70-degree day, it captures that heat better.”

Luke says these practices, along with the livestock benefits and really pushing the rotation by marketing as best he can to find alternative crops will allow him to become more flexible, self-sustaining, and truly regenerative. “We are very disconnected from our food system and the pandemic has brought this to light. I’m creating my own branding and using social media to tell people what I’m doing every day and why I’m doing it. Consumers buy what’s available at the grocery store and it’s up to us to put something different in front of them.”

You can learn more about A-Frame Farm on their websiteand follow them on Instagram at @aframefarm.

By |2020-08-06T23:03:18+00:00August 6th, 2020|Farmer Stories, News|

Organic for Climate Policy Recommendations

August 6, 2020 – Earlier this year, OFRF released a toolkit for consumers, advocates, and policymakers on how best regenerative organic farming systems can and should be part of the solution to the climate crisis. With our communications campaign well underway, we expanded our focus and strategy on climate legislation.

As conversations around the climate crisis continue to evolve on Capitol Hill, OFRF wants to ensure that climate legislation includes support for organic agriculture given its many climate benefits—from enhancing our soils’ carbon sequestration potential and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions to reducing environmental impacts related to fertilizer and pesticide use and building resilience to extreme weather events. Implementing regenerative organic agriculture systems is the best approach to mitigating climate change and its impacts on farms, ranches, rural communities, and food systems.

We developed farmer-focused, science-based policy recommendations for Congress to:

  1. Increase investments in organic agriculture research
  2. Remove barriers and strengthen support for organic systems
  3. Promote the widespread adoption of organic agriculture through technical assistance

Best organic farming practices continuously regenerate the soil, enhancing its ability to store more carbon and be more resilient to increasingly erratic weather events. We need to be doing everything we can to build resilience in our food and farming systems and to transition to systems of production that are climate-friendly, like regenerative organic farming.

The recently released report by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (Select Committee) included a building block with recommendations to enhance organic agriculture as a climate-mitigating solution. Congress should absolutely embrace the recommendations posed by the Select Committee on organic agriculture. Additionally, to continue improving and expanding organic production systems and their climate-mitigating potential, OFRF recommends Congress adopt the following policy recommendations:

  1. Increase funding for research to reduce GHG emissions, and enhance carbon sequestration and climate resilience in organic production systems – USDA research programs like the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) require increased funding to support urgently needed innovations in climate change mitigation and adaptation, particularly for organic and sustainable production systems. We recommend engaging Tribal producers and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers from the outset to develop the best and most practical solutions with farmer buy-in. Congress should also invest in public plant and animal breeding research efforts with an emphasis on seeds and breeds adapted to regenerative organic agriculture and local and regional climate stresses.
  2. Incentivize climate-friendly farming practices and ensure organic farmers can effectively access federal conservation programs – Organic farmers should be recognized and financially rewarded for their contribution to soil health, carbon sequestration, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. More support is needed to ensure organic producers can access Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation programs by aligning conservation practice standards with organic production practices, training NRCS staff in organic systems, and providing more organic-specific options through programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
  3. Promote transition to organic agriculture by providing incentives and addressing barriers, while protecting the integrity of the organic label – support the transition to organic agriculture by increasing reimbursement rates for certification cost-share programs, creating an advance payment option for socially disadvantaged and limited-resource producers applying to certification cost-share programs, and by removing the separate lower payment limit for organic producers under EQIP.
  4. Complete the research cycle by investing in education, Extension, and outreach – support widespread adoption of the latest findings and tools uncovered by research. Farmers need a trusted scientific resource to be successful, and University Extension, NRCS, and other agency personnel can fill this role.

Read our full policy recommendations here and stay tuned for opportunities to engage in future advocacy efforts!

 

 

By |2020-08-06T17:45:09+00:00August 6th, 2020|News|

Focus Group Hosts Needed for National Survey

organic farm standAugust 4, 2020 – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) are conducting a USDA-funded national survey of certified organic producers and producers transitioning to organic production to identify their top challenges and research/Extension needs. As part of this project, we are seeking applications from organizations that support certified organic and transitioning agricultural producers to facilitate and coordinate a virtual focus group. Focus group data will be used to inform the 2021 National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) and State of Organic Seed (SOS) reports, and OFRF will provide organizations a $1,000 stipend for their help coordinating and facilitating one virtual focus group.

The goal of the focus groups is to hear directly from farmers and ranchers what issues or challenges they face on a number of important topics, such as organic production practices, economic and social barriers to organic production, and information and resources that would support their success as an organic producer. The information gathered from these discussions will be used to build a comprehensive roadmap for future research investments to advance organic agriculture across the United States.

If your organization is interested in supporting this important work, please visit our Request for Applications for more information about this opportunity and how to apply.

Applications must be submitted by September 15th by 5pm PST.

Applicants will be notified of selection by October 1, 2020.

View the current NORA and SOS reports.

By |2020-08-04T19:20:14+00:00August 4th, 2020|News, Press Release|

Regional and Long-Term Agricultural Research Build Climate Resilience

July 30, 2020 – Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) website on July 16, 2020. OFRF is cross-posting relevant blog posts from this series covering provisions of the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) that impact or highlight organic agriculture’s role in addressing climate change. The ARA represents the first comprehensive piece of legislation introduced in the House of Representatives addressing climate change and agriculture. Read blogs one, two, three, and four here.

This fifth blog focuses on regional and long term climate research, and it was co-authored by Mark Schonbeck, Research Associate for the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), and Cristel Zoebisch, Climate Policy Associate at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in partnership with OFRF.

Food and agriculture research is critical to improving farm and rural viability, public health, food security, and agriculture’s potential to address the climate crisis. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investment in research has stagnated for decades. In response, the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) recognizes the importance of public research in enhancing agriculture’s potential to sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and build local and regional resilience to extreme weather events and other stresses. The legislation seeks to triple federal investment in public food and agriculture research by 2030 and quadruple it by 2040.

The ARA adds a tenth purpose to current statutory purposes for federal agricultural research, extension, and education, “to accelerate the ability of agriculture and the food system to first achieve net zero carbon emissions and then go further to be carbon positive by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

The bill aims to achieve this by establishing climate adaptation and mitigation as statutory priorities for the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI), Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI), Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), and the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA).

The climate crisis requires long term (decades), nationwide research and outreach endeavors that address region-specific impacts of climate change, and deliver new and emerging solutions to producers. To address this, the ARA would increase funding for two important existing USDA programs: Climate Hubs, run by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the ARS Long-Term Agroecological Research (LTAR) Network. We focus here on the ARA provisions for these two programs, which were also included in the recently published House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis report.

Establishing a National Network of Regional Climate Hubs

The ARA provides a first-ever legislative authorization for the USDA Climate Hubs at $50 million per year, a nearly six-fold increase over current funding. The bill codifies the national networkof regional hubs to support climate risk mitigation and adaptation established during the Obama presidency. These hubs deliver science-based, region-specific, cost-effective, and practical tools and technical support to help producers and landowners make effective conservation and business planning decisions in response to a changing climate.

Consistent with current practice, the ARA tasks ARS and USFS to partner with other federal agencies, Extension, colleges and universities, agricultural experiment stations, state and local governments, tribes, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to deliver Climate Hub services. In addition, the ARA directs each regional hub to solicit stakeholder input on regional priorities and collaborate with farmers and NGOs in conducting research and outreach on priority topics including:

  • GHG mitigation benefits of agroforestry, advanced grazing systems, crop-livestock integration
  • Improved measurement of soil carbon, GHGs, and soil health
  • Biological nutrient cycling and plant-microbe partnerships

Finally, the ARA directs Climate Hubs to work with the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) to better account for climate risk and risk mitigation through soil health management in RMA actuarial tables and provide recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture.

The USDA launched the ten Climate Hubs in 2013 to deliver science-based, practical information and tools to help farmers and land-owners sustain agricultural productivity, natural resources, and rural economies under increasing climate variability. Each Climate Hub works with farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders within its service area to address the region’s specific climate risks and develop regionally-relevant adaptive strategies.

The USDA Climate Hubs have already provided a wide diversity of practical tools, including up to date reports on current drought conditions and other climate stresses, new adaptive strategies, workshops and educational programs, and case studies of farms that have utilized a five-step Adaptation Workbook to develop site-specific climate response plans. Some examples include:

Check out the Climate Hubs website to access more information, including upcoming workshops, events, and educational opportunities.

The ARA would expand the reach and impact of Climate Hubs by authorizing them and increasing their funding to $50 million per year. For some perspective, for just 25 cents per taxpayer, this vital network could empower our farmers and ranchers to become active leaders in our efforts to turn the climate crisis around.

Promoting Long Term Agroecological Research

The ARA also provides a first-ever legislative authorization for the ARS Long Term Agroecological Research (LTAR) Network at $50 million per year. Currently, all 18 LTAR sites rely on $20 million in annual appropriations, which leaves some sites unfunded and all sites underfunded.

In addition, the ARA would:

  • Establish climate change adaptation and mitigation as major statutory purposes of the LTAR Network
  • Integrate measurements and data collection across LTAR sites to enhance understanding of agroecosystem function in all major U.S. agricultural regions and production systems
  • Make data collected through the network openly available to researchers and the public

The USDA established its first Long Term Farming Systems Trials site at Beltsville, MD in 1910 and has since established long term trials at over a dozen other sites across the U.S. Current research priorities include comparisons of soil health, nutrient cycling, water efficiency, carbon sequestration, and net GHG emissions in contrasting cropping and grazing systems.

For more information on the research conducted at each LTAR site, click here.

In 2011, Drs. Mark Walbridge and Steven Shafer of USDA proposed establishing a network of ARS Long Term Agroecological Research sites. They did this to address the mounting challenges facing U.S. agriculture in feeding a growing population in a time of climate change and diminishing quantity and quality of soil and other natural resources. Recognizing the need for a coordinated nationwide response to these challenges, they recommended that sites share and coordinate research questions, protocols, data collection and analysis, and interpretation. The LTAR Network that emerged from this recommendation established the following priorities:

  • Improve agroecosystem production and function
  • Address climate variability and change
  • Conserve natural resources and protect the environment
  • Promote rural opportunity and prosperity

Understanding the impacts of climate change on U.S. agriculture and vice versa, and optimizing agricultural practices for climate mitigation and resilience will require a long term commitment and close collaboration among research endeavors representing all major agro-ecoregions and production systems. The LTAR Network tackled this challenge on a shoestring budget of $20 million per year ($1.1 million per site) with no guarantee of future funding. By establishing a legislative authority for $50 million a year and affirming climate mitigation and resilience as top priorities, the ARA would substantially strengthen the capacity of the LTAR Network to help producers meet the challenges of climate change, water shortages, and soil and other resource degradation, and strengthen our food system.

For more information, see the AgCROS (Agricultural Collaborative Research Outcomes System) website for the LTAR Network.

What Comes Next?

The ARA recognizes that agriculture has enormous potential to sequester carbon and reduce GHG emissions and that further research is needed to realize this potential. As farmers and ranchers continue to adapt and innovate, long-term research will help empower them to address the climate crisis.

Both the ARA and the House Select Committee’s report on the climate crisis include important provisions that should become part of any comprehensive climate legislation and the 2023 Farm Bill. OFRF and NSAC will continue to work to gain broad, bipartisan recognition and support of agricultural research as a vital part of the climate solution.

 

 

 

 

By |2020-08-11T19:29:19+00:00July 30th, 2020|News, Press Release|

Combating the Climate Crisis Through Conservation

July 16, 2020 – Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) website on July 10, 2020. OFRF is cross-posting relevant blog posts from this series covering provisions of the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) that impact or highlight organic agriculture’s role in addressing climate change. The ARA is the first comprehensive piece of legislation introduced in this Congress addressing climate change and agriculture.

Last week, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released its highly anticipated report, outlining policy recommendations for Congress to implement for the U.S. to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The report included a chapter on agriculture, recognizing its critical role in our efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Many of the provisions from the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA), the most comprehensive piece of legislation addressing agriculture and climate change introduced in Congress, were included in the Select Committee’s report.

The ARA is made up of six building blocks that align well with the agriculture components highlighted in the Select Committee’s report: agricultural research, pasture-based livestock, soil health, farmland preservation, renewable energy, and food waste.

In this blog, we dig into the soil health provisions in the ARA, emphasizing the proposed changes to the country’s primary working lands conservation programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Both the ARA and the Select Committee’s report call for increased funding and expansion of CSP and EQIP to increase climate mitigation and resilience in agriculture.

A major increase in support for working lands conservation programs is critical if the agriculture sector is to reach the goal of net zero by 2040 as outlined in the ARA. Federal policy and resources need to support the transition of agriculture from current production systems to more climate-friendly and resilient ways of farming, which requires a significant investment in existing conservation programs like CSP and EQIP.

Without increased investment and commitment to conservation agriculture by the federal government, farmers and ranchers will not have the tools and resources they need to meaningfully participate and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. The ARA outlines the changes and increased support conservation programs need for agriculture to fulfill its potential to mitigate climate change.

Climate-Focused Working Lands Conservation Programs

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

EQIP offers farmers and ranchers financial cost-share and technical assistance to implement conservation practices on working agricultural land. Farmers and ranchers participating in EQIP can install or implement structural, vegetative, and management practices – like improving irrigation efficiency, restoring pasture, or improving nutrient management.

The ARA would enhance EQIP’s ability to address climate change by adding greenhouse gas emissions reduction and carbon sequestration to the program’s purpose and listing both greenhouse gas emissions reduction and carbon sequestration in the top ten practices that can receive higher payment rates.

EQIP assistance is available through a general funding pool and also through special initiatives with separate funding that highlight specific practices or natural resources, such as the Organic Initiative (OI). Organic agriculture builds soil health and does not rely on energy-intensive chemical inputs, resulting in increased carbon storage and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing incentives for organic production and for transition to organic are critical investments needed for agriculture to fulfill its potential to mitigate climate change and to build more resilient farming systems.

For years, EQIP-OI has had a separate, lower payment limit than general EQIP, which has discouraged many organic producers and those wishing to transition to organic production from applying to the program. The ARA would eliminate the discriminatory lower organic payment limit, taking an important step to improving the program’s outcomes on soil health and resilience.  

Within EQIP, 50 percent of national funding is set aside for livestock operations. The ARA would target at least two thirds of that 50 percent to advanced grazing management, including management-intensive rotational grazing which has a huge positive benefit for carbon sequestration in agricultural soils. The ARA would also limit EQIP funding available for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) and their massive environmental and greenhouse gas footprint by mandating that any CAFO receiving EQIP funding must develop and implement a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan.

Finally, the ARA would add greenhouse gas emissions reduction to the purposes of the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) focused on air quality and increase funding for air quality grants from the current $37.5 million to $50 million for each fiscal year starting in fiscal year 2021. The bill would also increase funding for CIG On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials from the current $25 million to $50 million per year from fiscal year 2021 to 2023 and bump funding even more to $100 million starting in fiscal year 2024. If the ARA becomes law, overall EQIP funding would increase from a little over $2 billion in fiscal year 2023 to $3 billion in fiscal year 2024 and beyond. This increased investment would result in more farmers and ranchers being equipped to adapt to and mitigate climate change on their farms and ranches.

Conservation Stewardship Program

CSP recognizes and rewards farmers and ranchers for the critical role they play as managers of our shared air, water, and soil resources. Through CSP, farmers can earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding comprehensive conservation activities on their land. As the largest working lands conservation program in the country, CSP can play a vital role in enhancing agriculture’s potential to sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build resilience.

The ARA would add soil health enhancement and greenhouse gas emissions reduction to the ranking criteria for applicants hoping to participate in the program. CSP already supports both of those goals, but it is not explicitly recognized in the program’s purposes. The bill would also add climate adaptation and mitigation as a resource concern that farmers may address through their participation in the program, and it would close loopholes that have allowed large landowners to receive higher payments than the law permits. Additionally, the ARA would restore automatic renewals under CSP to allow for continual improvement in soil health and carbon sequestration and incorporate more farmers and more acres in this urgent mission.

The ARA would also create a new CSP On-Farm Conservation Stewardship Innovation Grant program. The CSP On-Farm Innovation Grants would support on-farm research and development and pilot testing of innovative conservation systems and enhancements to further the program’s climate mitigation and adaptation potential. The legislation would increase total CSP funding from $725 million in fiscal year 2020 to $2 billion in fiscal year 2021 and gradually increase funding up to $4 billion in fiscal year 2024 and beyond.  

The funding cuts that were made to CSP in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills mean that farmers are increasingly struggling to obtain conservation assistance, signaling a weakening in our national commitment to conservation agriculture. Congress must bolster its commitment and investment to conservation agriculture, especially as the climate crisis continues to have devastating impacts on farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. We must support farmers as they adapt to climate change, and we must provide the tools and resources farmers need to be active leaders in our climate mitigation efforts.

Enhancing Program Implementation

The ARA makes several changes to enhance the way conservation programs are implemented, making it easier to engage farmers in good, climate-focused conservation practices. Among these enhancements are a set aside of one percent of total farm bill conservation program annual mandatory funding for a major, new conservation technical assistance initiative. This initiative, delivered by both the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and by third parties, would assist producers in mitigating and adapting to climate change by providing farmers with an expert in the field from plan to planting.

The Select Committee’s report includes this provision from the ARA calling for increased support for the NRCS Conservation Technical Assistance program and increased technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as research and deployment of agricultural climate solutions. For a more complete summary of the Select Committee’s support for the ARA, see our blog on the report.

Finally, the ARA would also direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to adjust payment rates as necessary to accelerate progress toward the legislation’s bold goal of getting the United States agriculture sector to net-zero emissions by 2040.

Intersection Between Racial Equity and Climate Change Legislation

The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the vulnerabilities of our food and farming systems and the disproportionate impact that environmental and economic shocks have on communities of color. Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to be affected by extreme weather events, like flooding, due to the legacy of many public policies that have clustered vulnerable communities in damage-prone areas, such as floodplains.

The ARA takes an initial step to address inequities that farmers of color and beginning farmers face regarding climate change and agriculture. The bill would increase the set-aside for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in both EQIP and CSP from a combined 10 percent of funding to a combined 30 percent of funding. While this is a small measure, it is a necessary one to ensure that farmers of color and beginning farmers, who often have the fewest resources and minimal capital, can access the tools they need to adapt to and to mitigate climate change on their farms.

The bill would also authorize USDA to provide incentives to help a new generation of farmers and ranchers to start using the full array of climate-friendly practices from the outset of their farming careers. Farmers and ranchers that start their farms centered around climate-focused practices will not only help us reach the goal of net-zero agriculture by 2040 but maintain that benchmark for decades afterward.

What Comes Next

The ARA and the Select Committee’s recent report provide a roadmap for legislative efforts to address the climate crisis. A major investment and commitment to working lands conservation programs is necessary for agriculture to fulfill its potential to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis.

Now that the Select Committee has released its report, containing many of the ARA provisions, NSAC and OFRF encourage everyone to reach out to their Representative to co-sponsor and support Congresswoman Pingree’s Agriculture Resilience Act. The bill provides the necessary resources to support agricultural solutions that reduce emissions and create resilient food and farming systems.

NSAC and OFRF encourage Congress to use the ARA and the Select Committee’s report to think differently about federal farm programs and reconsider how they can better support climate-resilient conservation farming. Their action now is vital to begin the pivot from our current federal policy which fosters and subsidizes overproduction, specialization, and consolidation that inevitably lead to greater climate disruption. Instead, legislators should build a new agricultural policy that ensures farmers have a central role to play in climate mitigation and adaptation. Farmers want to be better stewards and the public supports them, so Congress should do what is right and give farmers the policies, tools, and resources that they need to address the climate crisis.

You can read the full text of the Agriculture Resilience Act here and the Select Committee Report here.

Photo credit: Katherine Belk, Wild Hope Farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2020-07-16T18:59:04+00:00July 16th, 2020|News, Press Release|

OFRF & FFAR Announce Grants to Advance Soil Health Research

July 15, 2020 – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) are pleased to award three grants to researchers in California, Pennsylvania, and Texas to bolster soil health by developing innovative organic strategies for controlling weeds, pests, and disease. OFRF and FFAR formed a partnership in 2019 to increase funding for research that improves soil health and reduces environmental impacts.

“Developing bold strategies to mitigate pest, weed, and pathogen damage is critical to improving environmental health,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is proud to partner with OFRF to fund innovative soil health management techniques that enhance crop productivity and support thriving farms.”

Martin Guerena with the National Center for Appropriate Technology was awarded $17,337 to measure the efficacy of biosolarization—a new innovation in the realm of weed control that combines soil solarization (trapping solar radiation under a plastic tarp) with biofumigation (using biologically-active plant substances to suppress soil-borne pests and pathogens). Biosolarization includes the incorporation of organic amendments such as compost, cover crops, and green manure under solarization plastic. The carbon from these organic materials produces chemicals with bio-pesticidal activity, which acts as a fumigant when heated by the sun to eliminate weeds, and soil-borne pests and diseases. The research team aims to show that biosolarization can achieve equal or better weed control in less time compared to solarization alone. The research is taking place on three organic farms in the Sacramento Valley in northern California.

The semi-arid, subtropical climate in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley leads to year-round weed and pest pressure, which poses significant challenges for farmers. Historically, organic farmers in this region have relied on intensive tillage as a primary weed management strategy; yet tillage is detrimental to soil health and costly for farmers. At the University of Texas Rio Grande, Pushpa Soti received $19,620 to address weed and pest management in this region. Soti is evaluating whether cover crops can restore soil health, suppress weeds, and reduce pest populations. This research will provide farmers with information on cover crop selection and management that improves the long-term sustainability of organic agriculture systems.

Mary Barbercheck at Pennsylvania State University received $19,468 to provide farmers and agricultural professionals with information on using beneficial soil organisms to manage plant health and pests. The team is examining how to promote and conserve the beneficial soil fungus, Metarhizium robertsii. This fungus can increase plant growth and tolerance to environmental stresses, which are predicted to increase with climate change.

“Organic systems that emphasize soil health help farmers and ranchers increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director at OFRF. “These grants directly address the need for more research on organic practices that optimize soil biological activity, biodiversity, and function in different soils and climates.”

The partnership also funded research at Montana State University to study the optimum amount of lentil seeds that should be planted on each acre to improve soil health and yields when the legume is used as part of crop rotation on organic farms. Based on the promise shown in the first year, the Montana State University team received a second grant to continue studying the benefits of incorporating lentils into organic cropping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2020-07-15T17:29:40+00:00July 15th, 2020|News, Press Release|

Calling All Farmers: We Want to Hear From You!

June 17, 2020 – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) released two national organic surveys on February 18, 2020—one for certified organic producers and the other for producers transitioning to organic certification. This collaborative effort is part of a USDA-funded project seeking to learn more about the challenges and research priorities of organic farmers and ranchers, and those transitioning land to certified organic production.

During these uncertain times, it is more important than ever that farmers and ranchers make their voices heard.

Survey results will help us ensure our organizational programs meet the needs of organic producers and that the increased funding for organic research secured in the 2018 Farm Bill addresses the unique needs of organic production. Results will be published in updates of OFRF’s National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) report and OSA’s State of Organic Seed (SOS) report to provide a roadmap for future research funding.

For certified organic farmers and ranchers, the survey link on our secure website is:

https://www.opinion.wsu.edu/organicproduction/

For farmers and ranchers who are transitioning to organic certification, the survey link on our secure website is:

https://www.opinion.wsu.edu/transitionproducers/

The survey is being administered by Washington State University and all responses will be kept confidential. Questions about the survey may be directed to Lauren Scott at lauren.n.scott@wsu.edu or 1-800-833-0867.

The surveys are voluntary, confidential, and will take approximately 30 minutes to complete. You can skip any questions you prefer not to answer. We welcome you to complete the survey in multiple sittings. The online survey saves your responses as you go along. You can stop at any point, and then resume the survey at any time by following the appropriate link above and entering your survey access code, which will be generated when you first start the survey. The online program will allow you to resume where you left off. Upon completion of the survey, you can enter to win a $100 gift card to REI. If you do not have access to a computer and cannot complete the survey online, please call OFRF at 831-426-6606.

Thank you for your time and support of this project!

The project is supported by the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) grant no. 2019-51300-30249 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is a non-profit foundation that works to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production.

Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is a non-profit that works nationally to advance ethical seed solutions to meet food and farming needs in a changing world. Through research, education, and advocacy, OSA fosters organic seed systems that are democratic and just, support human and environmental health, and deliver genetically diverse and regionally adapted seed to farmers everywhere.

 

 

 

 

By |2020-07-07T18:11:07+00:00June 17th, 2020|News|

Building a Resilient Future in Food and Farming

June 16, 2020 – Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) website on May 28, 2020. The post has been updated and modified by Cristel Zoebisch, Climate Policy Associate for NSAC and OFRF, to incorporate a focus on organic agriculture’s role in meeting the goals outlined in the Agriculture Resilience Act introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) in February 2020. OFRF will cross-post relevant blog posts from this series covering provisions of the ARA that impact or highlight organic agriculture’s role in addressing climate change. The ARA represents the first comprehensive piece of legislation introduced in the House of Representatives addressing climate change and agriculture.

Americans today are faced with a failing food system. Bare shelves in grocery stores are accompanied by vegetables plowed under, milk poured down drains, and animals euthanized and buried. The COVID-19 disruption has shown the lack of resilience of American agriculture and the processing and distribution of its production. This disruption is not the first and it will not be the last that our food system will experience. Climate change is the foremost long-term disruption we face. Managers of America’s farm, forest, and grazing lands could play a crucial role in combating climate change.

The road to a more resilient agricultural system will be long and hard. Fortunately, far-sighted Members of Congress have joined NSAC, OFRF, and many other organizations to begin the first steps on that road. Earlier this year, the Agricultural Resilience Act (ARA) was introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) to begin the process of transforming American agriculture into a system that can rebound and adapt no matter what disturbance arises, including climate change.

Goals and Action Plan to a More Resilient Food and Farming System

ARA establishes a set of aggressive but realistic goals for farmers to help mitigate climate change and increase agricultural resilience, starting with the overarching goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. agriculture by no later than 2040. Net zero means that all remaining ongoing carbon, nitrous oxide, and methane emissions are offset by removing an equivalent amount of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. The single generation 20-year timeframe to reach that goal is achievable but only if appropriate policies are put in place soon. The bill provides a science-based blueprint through which U.S. agriculture and food systems can meet the challenge of the climate crisis.

ARA supports longtime organic soil health practices such as cover-cropping, rotational grazing, and composting, and the bill’s focus on multi-year support for research and resilient soil health practices is critical for our food supply and protecting our natural resources. ARA highlights the importance of sustainable and organic farming to mitigate the effects of climate change.

ARA’s substantive programmatic sections are divided into six additional titles, the key building blocks for creating a more resilient agriculture. Each of these titles is summarized below, concluding with the corresponding goals set by the legislation.

Soil Health

Healthy soils not susceptible to erosion are the foundation of agricultural resilience. Without them, a prosperous agriculture is impossible. A key to healthy soils is incorporation of more organic carbon in the soil. ARA encourages farmers to pull carbon out of the air and into their soils—removing greenhouse gases and increasing soil health. Soils containing more carbon capture and hold more water to help farmers deal with both drought and torrential rains.

Intensive row-crop agriculture has caused the loss of an average of 30 to 50 percent of carbon and organic matter in U.S. agricultural soils prior to such intense cultivation. Farmers have the tools to restore most of the carbon we have lost and, in the process, help reverse climate change. These tools include diverse crop rotations, cover cropping, conservation tillage, and other practices to build soil health.

A first step in restoring soil carbon is to keep soils under cover as much as possible. Bare soils erode and release carbon into the atmosphere. The bill sets the goal of increasing cover crop acres across the country to at least 25 percent of crop acres by 2030 and at least 50 percent 2040, with at least 50 percent of American cropland acres covered by crops, cover crops, or residue year-round by 2030 and rising to at least 75 percent by 2040.

The National Organic Standards require certified producers to implement crop rotation, cover cropping, tillage, nutrient management, and other practices that improve and maintain the physical, chemical, and biological condition of the soil, so organic agriculture can help meet the soil health goals outlined in the ARA.

ARA Goal: Restore at least half of lost soil carbon and maintain year-round cover on at least 75 percent of cropland acres by 2040.

Farmland Preservation and Viability

The conversion of grassland and forestland to cropland results in net greenhouse gas emissions. Conversions of native grasslands and forests to agricultural uses have resulted in large amounts of carbon lost from soils in the past, and losses on a smaller scale continue each year. As urbanization demands increase, agricultural land is also at risk of conversion to development. Converting agricultural land to development will have negative impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and our ability to store carbon in our soils. Long term it could also pose a threat to our food security.

The bill sets the interim goal of reducing the rate of conversion of agricultural land to development and the rate of grassland conversion to cropping by at least 80 percent by 2030 and eliminating the conversion of agricultural land and grassland by 2040. ARA protects one of our most valuable natural resources and one of the best tools we have to sequester carbon and build resilience in food and farming: our soil.

ARA Goal: Eliminate conversion of agricultural land and grassland by 2040.

Pasture-Based Livestock

The best soils in the world were created by grass-eating animals herded by predators to intensively graze and incorporate their manure into the soil. ARA seeks to reestablish such soil-building systems with modern management-intensive grazing on all pasture lands in the U.S.

Unfortunately, most animals in the U.S. rarely see pasture. They live in large confinement facilities which generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Adaptive grazing methods improve soils while reducing methane production. The more we move toward carefully managed grazing-based systems and the re-integration of livestock with cropping systems, the better the climate mitigation results. Given the dominant role of confinement systems today, the transition will take time. But the methane produced by confinement facilities can still be reduced through the conversion of wet manure handling and storage systems to dry storage and composting, reducing methane emission and creating a source of organic carbon for our soils.

ARA Goal: Establish advanced grazing management on 100 percent of grazing land, reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to the feeding of ruminants by at least 50 percent, increase crop-livestock integration by at least 100 percent over 2017 levels, and convert at least two thirds of wet manure handling and storage to alternative management by 2040.

On-Farm Renewable Energy

Another basic step to increasing resilience of our food system is to reduce the reliance of farms on non-renewable energy, while increasing energy efficiency and generating on-farm renewable energy. Farms can reduce costs by increasing efficiency and can create new income streams by using the sun and wind to generate energy. ARA proposes tripling the level of on-farm clean renewable energy production and installing and managing on-farm renewable energy infrastructure in a way that does not adversely impact farmland, natural resources, or food production.

ARA Goal: Implement energy audits on 100 percent of farms and triple on-farm renewable energy production by 2040.

Food Waste

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities and instabilities of our current food system. Reports about unharvested crops, dumping milk, and farmers having to euthanize their animals due to processing plant closures have made headlines across the country. Simultaneously, food banks have seen an increase in demand from struggling families.

Many farmers have surplus food available since they have lost their customers due to closures of farmers markets, schools, and restaurants, but the infrastructure is not currently set up to connect farmers and families in need of food. The waste of food in the COVID-19 crisis is heart-breaking when many are going hungry. However, food waste has long been ubiquitous in our food system.

Through ARA provisions such as making composting a conservation practice eligible for support under federal working lands conservation programs, creating a new grant program to support large-scale food-waste-to-energy projects, and supporting schools to reduce food waste, ARA is setting the path forward on reducing food waste across our food supply chain.

ARA Goal: Reduce food waste by at least 75 percent by 2040.

Agricultural Research

None of the above goals can be reached without significant expansion of investment in research on climate change adaptation and mitigation, soil health, agroforestry, advanced grazing management and crop-livestock integration, on-farm and food system energy efficiency and renewable energy production, food waste reduction and related topics to accelerate progress toward net zero emissions by no later than 2040.

Our food and agricultural system affects public health, environmental protection, climate resilience, and the rural and national economy. However, federal funding for food and agriculture research has stagnated for decades, jeopardizing our future and hindering our ability to innovate in ways that improve farm viability, rural vitality, public health, and food security.

OFRF fully supports ARA’s goal of quadrupling federal funding for food and agriculture research and extension by 2040. Since its inception, OFRF has worked to cultivate organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and organic acreage into organic production. OFRF and a coalition of organic champions reached a historic win for organic agriculture in the 2018 Farm Bill by securing permanent funding for organic agriculture research and education through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). OFRF will continue to work to inform increased investment by ensuring future research and programs are relevant and responsive to the top challenges facing organic farmers and ranchers, including climate change.

ARA Goal: Quadruple the total federal funding for food and agriculture research and extension by 2040.

What Comes Next?

ARA proposes specific tools and incentives to achieve all the above goals. More detail will be provided in additional blogs in this series over the next few weeks.

ARA is a first step toward transforming our food system to make it less susceptible to disturbance whether from a virus, climate change, or any unknown and unanticipated disruption.

A resilient U.S. food system is possible. We must take the lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis and begin the journey to a safe and reliable food system for America. ARA sets a path forward for agriculture to survive and thrive and be part of the solution to the climate crisis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2020-06-16T17:28:49+00:00June 16th, 2020|News, Press Release|
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