News

Carrots, Tomatoes, and Field Days

Bringing farmers & researchers together

At OFRF, celebrating and strengthening the relationship between the researcher and the farmer is one of our greatest joys. We see these roles coming together and overlapping at Field Days – educational events often held on a working farm or ranch or at an agricultural research site. These events usually include demonstrations of specific management practices and equipment or highlight research methods and results. They are an excellent way for farmers to learn about new research findings, researchers to gain insight into the most pressing issues for producers, and networks to grow between them to continue these exchanges. 

With our team spread across the country, we are eager to know more about field day events happening in various regions and to highlight more stories of these cross-pollination events. Do you host Field Days? What kind of events do you plan? Who attends them? And best of all – what are you researching? We want to see what you are up to!

Back in November, our Development Director, Leah Lawson, had the opportunity to attend a carrot trial field day at McHenry County College’s Center for Agrarian Learning in Crystal Lake, Illinois, the ancestral homelands of the Peoria, Bodwéwadmi (Potawatomi), Myaamia,  Očhéthi Šakówiŋ,  Hoocąk (Ho-Chunk), and Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo). Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

Carrot Trial Field Day

By Leah Lawson, Partnerships and Development Director OFRF

It was one of those beautiful fall days when the air was crisp and cool. As I drove out to the campus, the sky faded into a beautiful prairie sunset of purples, reds, and oranges – much like the colors of what was to be my favorite carrot of the night.

Our three hosts for the evening, Sheri Doyel, Micaela Colley, and Kim Sowinski, took us through the process and purpose of the project titled “Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture” (CIOA). We learned about domestication pathways and how culinary and cultural history blend together to create varieties throughout the world. We also learned about the process of carrot breeding. They only flower after the second year of growth, so harvesting the seeds is a long process. Each carrot variety has to be grown in a separate tent to keep them separate and prevent insects with unwanted pollen from getting into the mix.

Of course, the best part of the evening was tasting the carrots. We tried ten varieties grown on the MCC Student Farm, rating them each for taste, sweetness, texture, and color. Sheri and Kim collected all of this data to aggregate with the results from all the other farms participating in the study. Each variety will also receive ratings from the growers on soil health, disease resistance, and production rate. You can sign up on the Seed Linked website if you want to join a similar trial.

Unfortunately, my two favorite carrots were not great producers, so I don’t think I will find them at my local farmers’ market soon. However, I did get to take some of the leftover carrots. After returning home, I conducted another quick tasting with my kids, and we all marveled at their differences.

OFRF is working on building a database of Field Day opportunities around the country, so if you know of events like this, please get in touch! Let us know how you communicate or find out about research in your area. You can reach us at fieldday@ofrf.org 

If you’re interested in learning how to host a Field Day, check out this Farmer Field Day Toolkit from SARE.

New disease-resistant carrot and tomato varieties being developed in partnership with organic farmers

OFRF just released two new research summaries highlighting this carrot trial and a similar tomato study. These two important, long-term organic crop breeding projects both focus on the interaction between soil microbes, genetics, and disease management, and both involve participatory plant breeding efforts between organic farmers and researchers.

Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA): Leveraging On-Farm and Below-Ground Networks

Carrots are an economically important crop for organic specialty crop farmers, with 12% of US carrot acreage under organic management bringing more than $120 million in farmgate sales. Since 2011, researchers leading the CIOA project have been looking to improve carrot varieties for organic production. A central idea behind this work is that carrot varieties associate effectively with soil microbes for enhanced resilience to biotic and abiotic stresses, which can reduce the need for off-farm inputs. By conducting on-farm research and participatory carrot breeding projects, scientists and farmers work together to better understand below-ground networks and develop new varieties.

Tomato Organic Management and Improvement Project (TOMI): Part II

A diverse and virulent complex of fungal, watermold, and bacterial pathogens threaten organic tomato production. The Tomato Organic Management and Improvement Project (TOMI): Part II, led by Dr. Lori Hoagland of Purdue University, builds on previous research (TOMI: Part I), which found that soil and root microbiomes play a substantial role in mediating crop disease resistance. In this second phase of TOMI, researchers want to better understand the role of tomato genetics in promoting specific rhizosphere microbes that mitigate disease issues. The three-pronged approach investigates, 1) The potential for microbial biocontrol agents to promote disease suppression, 2) How plant genetics and microbes interact, and 3) The development of varieties with stable disease resistance using a farmer-participatory approach.

By |2024-02-12T14:51:36+00:00February 12th, 2024|News|

Organic Advocacy in Action: Reflections on NSAC Lobby Day

By Annika LaFave, OFRF Policy and Communications Intern

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

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

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

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

Unifying Nature of Agriculture and Food

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

Prioritizing Farmer-Driven Research Through Legislation

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

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

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

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

Closing Thoughts

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

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

Cultivating Connections

EcoFarm 2024 & OFRF’s Organic Agriculture Research Forum

This January, almost half of the OFRF team traveled to Monterey, CA  to meet in-person for the OFRF Organic Agriculture Research Forum (OARF) which was held in conjunction with EcoFarm. Considering we are a fully remote team spread across the country, this was a big opportunity for us to connect and showcase our work. OFRF research forum consisted of eight workshops embedded within the 2024 EcoFarm conference. The forum focused on sharing the latest research relevant to organic producers, with a loaded agenda that touched on production issues, soil health, weed management, and of course, organic integrity. The team was immersed in two days of strengthening relationships, fostering new connections, and listening to farmers’ and researchers’ current work and perspectives on the industry. Here are the conference highlights from #TeamOFRF:

Thelma Velez, Research & Education Director

I can’t deny that the best part of hosting OARF at EcoFarm was getting to hang out with so many OFRF staff and board members (past and current), and connecting with partners from across the region. I know that as the Director of Research & Education I should say I was most excited for the great sessions we organized or the workshops that shed light on challenges facing organic growers. But there is something magical about connecting with like-minded folks driven to make the farming world a better space for everyone. It was enlightening to see the tracks dedicated to Indigenous and Tribal knowledge, justice in the food system, and accessible content in Spanish. I am really proud of our team for pulling together great content for OARF. Jose’s presentation on our new Spanish-language course, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo, was a big hit, and the printed resources we had in Spanish and English flew off the tables. I presented in a session focused on the synergies between organic and regenerative practices and principles. This is both a popular and contentious topic, and I was glad to know that my message resonated with so many growers in the audience.

Mary Hathaway, Research & Education Program Coordinator

I have been hearing about EcoFarm since I was a volunteer with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) almost two decades ago, and I was excited to finally get a chance to attend. The grounds of Asilomar are a beautiful backdrop for learning, and leaning into the awe of nature through our organic experience.  Meandering through the beach boardwalks as a casual conversation unfolded with colleagues, or walking out of an inspiring session to the smell of sage and salt were the calm backdrop to a busy few days. Sessions on minimal tillage and supporting BIPOC farmers to transition to organic were especially of interest to me. I also had the pleasure of moderating “Cultivating Farmer-Researcher Collaboration in Organic Agriculture Research”. It was wonderful to hear farmers’ experiences with on-farm research, as well as researcher curiosity on how to better engage; it was a lively conversation that has stuck with me. And of course, you can’t mention the highlights of a multi-day conference without mentioning the meals! Sharing meals of locally sourced ingredients with new friends is a definite highlight of my conference experience. 

Jose Perez, Research & Education Engagement Coordinator

It was my first year attending EcoFarm and it didn’t disappoint! I was excited to meet and hear from farmers and service providers who were passionately engaged in the organic farming movement. I particularly enjoyed the session on calculating nitrogen supply for organic vegetables presented by UC Cooperative Extension and Full Belly Farm. I also enjoyed presenting on the new OFRF’s online Soil Health course in Spanish, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo, and connecting with the Latinx community, including many Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) staff and students.

Leah Lawson, Partnerships & Development Director

All of my agricultural work has been overseas or in the Midwest, so attending EcoFarm was interesting on many levels. I enjoyed learning about the farms and programs in California – seeing what was the same and what was different from other regions I’m more familiar with. I learned a lot about grafting, scions, and fruit trees. The seed swap was fascinating as I chatted with people growing things that are not common in the Midwest. It was a warm and welcoming experience and I look forward to returning in the future.

Kelsey Grimsley, Office & Administrative Manager

This was my third time at EcoFarm, and it was my favorite! It was exciting and motivating to be in-person with so many coworkers who live all over the US, and to feel like there was a team effort to make the most this conference. We would talk between sessions and exchange ideas and experiences in the social hall, then head out to the next event with a clear vision and mission. I’ve always been most inspired when I’m around people with overlapping passions. It was clear that so many conference attendees were looking for where they could plug in to foster a sustainable future. I was elated when we ran out of ALL our research materials the first day of the conference and I had to drive back to Santa Cruz to restock. From our series of soil health guides, to our informational booklet on the certification cost share program, to the executive summary of our new guide to on-farm research, our free resources were being picked up by folks as they passed our table. I spoke with an inspiring variety of people, including a beginning farmer from Thailand, a person using tech to help farming efficiency, and many young people hoping to get involved in whatever way they could. Ultimately we passed out over 835 hard copy research resources. I’m already looking forward to going back next year and bringing even more informational materials!

Gordon Merrick, Policy & Programs Manager

This was my second time attending EcoFarm, but my first time was during COVID so it was a digital conference. The in-person version is definitely a lot more exciting! It was great being able to take part in the constant work of building community in the sustainable and organic agriculture spaces. I was able to attend the session related to the (hopefully) upcoming Farm Bill and the importance of the federal legislative process to farmers, ranchers, and eaters.  Hearing the perspectives of people engaged in all levels of the food system has always been a priority of mine, and EcoFarm certainly offers a venue to do exactly that!

Proof we have fun together. Left: Jose & Mary explore the California Coast. Above: Kelsey, Thelma, Mary, & Jose share a meal. Right: Kelsey & Thelma enjoy a quiet moment between conference sessions.

By |2024-02-12T13:49:43+00:00February 9th, 2024|News|

Organic Transition Initiative (OTI) Deadline Announcement

Thanks to the Organic Transition Initiative (OTI), USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has made $75M in cost-share grant funding available to certified organic and transitioning-to-organic growers under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to meet the Conservation Practice Standard for Organic Management (CPS-823).

This post and the PDF below provide step-by-step instructions for contacting your local NRCS office to inquire about available financial and technical assistance programs available to you.

OFRF has developed a PDF to help farmers communicate with NRCS about accessing the Organic Transition Initiative.

It is available in both English and Spanish. >>>

“How to talk to your NRCS office about the
Organic Transition Initiative (OTI) resources available for you”

“Cómo hablar con su oficina del NRCS sobre los
programas de apoyo para la transición a orgánico”

Organic farmers must manage their land without prohibited inputs for 3 years for their products to be certified. This transitioning period can be incredibly challenging as farmers and their land adjust to new production practices. OTI is intended to help producers implement conservation activities required for certification, receive expert technical support, and recover foregone income due to reduced yields during the transition period through EQIP.

Important Note: Although the national deadline has been extended to March 1, 2024, states set their own ranking dates independently. 

  • State Deadlines:
    • Arizona: Feb 2, 2024(General EQIP ranking date)
    • California: Feb 16, 2024 (General EQIP ranking date)
    • Hawaii/Pacific Islands: Mar 8, 2024
    • Nevada: Mar 29, 2024 (General EQIP ranking date)
    • New Mexico: Fall 2024 (General EQIP ranking date)
    • Texas: Jan 26, 2024
    • Utah: Mar 29, 2024 & June 28, 2024 (General EQIP ranking date)

Step 1. Research your options.

Step 2. Connect with USDA. Create or update your account at Farmers.gov, and contact your local NRCS office to get started. Your conservation specialist will confirm your eligibility and help you identify which projects & practices best suit your operation. Directing the agent to NRCS-sponsored webinars and training modules the Organic Farming Research Foundation and Oregon Tilth have developed for NRCS field agents may be helpful.

Contact your state office for additional assistance:

Guiding Questions: Check out our “How to talk to NRCS about the OTI” PDF for additional topics, available above!

  • I __own/rent__ my land. What documents will you need for completion of my EQIP application by the deadline?
  • I am eligible for the increased and advanced payment option for Historically Underserved farmers. How will this change my application process?
  • My farm is __certified/transitioning_ to organic. What additional information will you need for completing my conservation plan and application by the deadline?
  • Can I get financial assistance for conservation work I have already started or completed?
  • Can NRCS help me develop and implement a comprehensive conservation plan that is tailored to my organic operation?
  • When is the deadline for the next EQIP ranking period?

Step 3. Schedule your conservation plan development. Your NRCS conservation specialist will work with you to develop a conservation plan for your operation and complete the AD 1026 form.

Step 4. Gather your application documents.

  • Official tax ID (Social Security Number or Employer Identification Number)
  • Adjusted gross income certification (Form CCC-941), which requires your Taxpayer ID Number and AGI from the previous 3 tax years.
  • Deed, or property lease agreement and written authorization from the landowner to install structural or vegetative practices.
  • Farm tract number (obtained from Farmers.gov or FSA membership).
  • Documentation of organic certification (if applicable).
  • Documentation of your land’s irrigation history (if applicable to project).
  • Documentation of previous improvements made to the property.

Step 5. Complete your application & submit! Your NRCS conservationist will assist you in finalizing your application. 

Step 6. Implement your plan. If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done. You’ll be provided with guidelines and a timeframe for implementing your plan. You will be reimbursed after your work is inspected and approved. Advanced payments not expended within 90 days of receipt must be returned to NRCS.

As essential stewards of the land, organic farmers deserve support. Don’t let funding be a barrier to realizing your farm’s potential. Take the first step towards growth and sustainability by applying for assistance through the Organic Transition Initiative before your state’s deadline.

Note: all of this information is available below in Spanish. Obtain additional translated materials, or schedule interpretation services for phone calls or in-person visits, https://www.farmers.gov/translations, or request personalized Spanish language support for any USDA resource, https://www.farmers.gov/translations#spanish-request.

By |2024-01-31T23:21:21+00:00January 31st, 2024|News|

From Regulations to Legislation: Advocating for Organic Agriculture in 2024

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat well,

Gordon

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

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

Farmers across the U.S. are eligible for significant technical and financial assistance from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

Farmers and technical service providers know first hand that the most significant barriers to developing sustainable infrastructure and production practices are due to time and resource scarcity. NRCS’ EQIP program offers financial assistance and technical support to implement new conservation practices on your farm, with additional support for historically underserved applicants including socially disadvantaged, beginning, veteran, and limited-resource farmers and ranchers. In this blog post, we’ll provide an overview of what EQIP has to offer, and the steps to utilizing this program.

Note: all of this information is summarized in printable, downloadable PDFs, available in English and Spanish, at the bottom of this blogpost.

Nota: toda esta información se resume en archivos PDF imprimibles y descargables, disponibles en inglés y español, al final de esta publicación de blog.

Obtain additional translated materials, or schedule interpretation services for phone calls or in-person visits, https://www.farmers.gov/translations, or request personalized Spanish language support for any USDA resource, https://www.farmers.gov/translations#spanish-request.

Important Points:

  • EQIP is a reimbursement program, most operations will have to pay for improvements up-front and get funding to cover those costs.
  • Do not begin reimbursable conservation activities & projects prior to completion of your application process and contract with NRCS.
  • Contacting your local NRCS office is a key step in determining your eligibility and beginning your application process.
  • Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, and will be reviewed on the next ranking date for your state. Begin your application process as soon as possible to ensure completion by the next deadline! Applications are prioritized by local resource concerns and the applicant’s level of need.
  • You will need to create a free online account at Farmers.gov and ensure that it is up to date.
  • If you do not own your land, you will need to submit written permission from the owner with your application.

Step 1. Research Your Options. EQIP offers support for a broad scope of conservation activities & projects to producers including both financial and technical support. EQIP provides funds to reimburse costs associated with specific practices or infrastructure projects on a farm. EQIP’s most popular sub-programs include the High Tunnel Initiative, which covers the cost of high tunnel installation for production farms, the On Farm Energy Initiative, which covers the cost of energy-saving equipment and infrastructure improvements such as refrigeration units or greenhouse improvements, and the Organic Initiative, which provides up to $140k to certified organic or transitioning farms to implement conservation practices such as design and installation of efficient irrigation systems, nutrient & pest management strategies, or developing a grazing plan.

Step 2. Connect with USDA. Create or update your account at Farmers.gov, and contact your local NRCS office to get started. Your conservation specialist will confirm your eligibility and help you identify which projects & practices best suit your operation. 

Guiding questions for initial contact with NRCS:

  • “I’m interested in applying for EQIP’s  _initiative(s) of interest_ for my farm to help finance _conservation project of interest_. What do you need from me to get started on my application?”
  • “What additional funding opportunities are available to my farm?”
  • “How soon can a conservationist help me set up a conservation plan (AD 1026)?”
  • “When is the deadline for the next EQIP ranking period?”
  • “I am eligible for the increased and advanced payment option for Historically Underserved farmers. How will this change my application process?”
  • “I _(own/rent)_ my land. What documents will you need for completion of my EQIP application by the deadline?”
  • “My farm is _certified/transitioning_ to organic. What additional will you need for completion of my conservation plan and application by the deadline?”

Step 3. Schedule your conservation plan development. Your NRCS conservation specialist will work with you to develop a conservation plan for your operation and complete the AD 1026 form.

Step 4. Gather your application documents. You’ll need your: 

  • Official tax ID (Social Security Number or Employer Identification Number)
  • Adjusted gross income certification (Form CCC-941), which requires your Taxpayer ID Number and AGI from the previous 3 tax years.
  • Deed, or property lease agreement and written authorization from the landowner to install structural or vegetative practices.
  • Farm tract number (obtained from Farmers.gov or FSA membership).
  • Documentation of organic certification (if applicable).
  • Documentation of your land’s irrigation history (if applicable to project).

Step 5. Complete your application & submit! Your NRCS conservation specialist will complete & submit your application form (CPA 1200) with you using your established conservation plan and the above documents. 

Step 6. Implement your plan. If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done. You’ll be provided with guidelines and a timeframe for implementing your plan. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work.

Apply for EQIP now, and reap the benefits of a more affordable path to sustainable agriculture. Your farm deserves the support it needs.

All of this information is summarized in a printable, downloadable PDF below, available in English and Spanish.

By |2023-12-20T23:07:11+00:00December 20th, 2023|News, TOPP West|

Organic Agriculture Shines in the Face of 2023’s Challenges

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

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

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

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

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

Eat well,

Gordon

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

Reflections on the 2023 Latino Farmer Conference

Kelsey Grimsley, OFRF’s Office and Administrative Manage (left) and Jose Perez, OFRF’s Research and Education Engagement Coordinator (right) at the Latino Farmer Conference.

By Jose Perez, OFRF’s Research and Education Engagement Coordinator 

Lea la versión en español abajo.

I recently had the fortune to take part in the 9th Latino Farmer Conference, November 1st and 2nd, organized by ATTRA/NCAT and NRCS in Stockton, California, the ancestral lands of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, Miwok and Yokuts nations. Along with my OFRF colleague Kelsey Grimsley, I enjoyed making connections with Latinx farmers and introducing our new online Soil Health Course in Spanish, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo. As a native Guatemalan, it was exciting for me to connect with other farmers in my native language. At least two hundred farmers and farmer stakeholders were present. 

Latinx farmworkers have provided the great majority of labor that make farming possible in US agricultural fields for many decades. But Latinx farmers represent only 3.3% of all US farm owners, according to the 2017 USDA census of Agriculture. In this blog I want to share two themes that resonated throughout this event.

Perseverance and faith

On the first day of the conference, we heard the testimony of various Latinx farmers. Farmer Noel Ledesma, a farmworker turned farmer, shared his farming experiences with brutal honesty, recalling failed crops and ventures in farming that made his family lose everything they had worked for. Instead of giving up, he persisted. Eventually, he found niche markets that were profitable, but then again, the market changed when big operations got in the game. Yet, he persisted, and he learned. Step by step, using trial and error, he and his family found a way to create a successful farming operation.

Participants at the Latino Farmer Conference on a field walk.

Todo es posible cuando hay perseverancia, cuando hay fe

Everything is possible when there is perseverance, when there is faith

– Farmer Noel Ledesma

 

Farming is a continuous process of experimentation and adaptation to change. The market and the weather rarely forgive a lack of innovation. Farmer Noel Ledesma’s testimony showed how constant dedication and a strong belief that you can make it are critical ingredients in the journey from farmworker to successful farm owner. Now he is passing his wisdom to other Latinx farmers.

Making connections

Jose Perez introducing OFRF’s new online Soil Health Course in Spanish, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo.

The importance of connections and relationships was apparent in the conference. Farming can be isolating, and there is much value in having a network of peers and service providers that can provide more ideas and resources. Latinx farmers often struggle to get support from farming programs due to additional language, education and immigration status barriers. Not all USDA offices or farming organizations have a Latinx or Spanish-speaking staff member who can connect with the culture, concerns and language of these farmers. The conference was the place to make these connections and facilitate access to farming support programs. Given that this event is the only farming conference conducted in Spanish for Latinx farmers in the country, it is essential for this farming community.

At the end of the day, the health of our farmers and our agricultural sector will be reflected in the health of our society. More effort and investment is needed to support Latinx farmers and farmworkers.

To access and learn more about OFRS’s Soil Health Course in Spanish, visit our website https://ofrf.org/online-courses/los-fundamentos-de-la-salud-del-suelo/

References: 

Starkweather, K., et al. (2011). Improving the use of USDA programs among Hispanic and Latino farmers and ranchers. Center for Rural Affairs and Cambio Center.  201204USDAHispanicFarmersRanchers.pdf

Reflexiones de la Conferencia de Agricultores Latinos 2023

Por Jose Perez, Coordinador de Educación e Investigación de OFRF.

Kelsey Grimsley, Oficina y Gestión Administrativa de la OFRF (izquierda) y José Pérez, Coordinador de Participación en Investigación y Educación de la OFRF (derecha) en la Conferencia de Agricultores Latinos.

 

Este pasado Noviembre 1 y 2, tuve la fortuna de participar en la Novena Conferencia de Agricultores Latinos organizada por ATTRA/NCAT y el Servicio de Conservación de Recursos Naturales (NRCS) en Stockton, California, que son tierras ancestrales de las naciones Villas Confederadas de Lisjan, Miwok y Yokuts. Mi colega Kelsey Grimsley y yo disfrutamos conectando con agricultoras y agricultores latinos. Además, tuvimos la oportunidad de presentar un nuevo curso gratuito en línea llamado Los Fundamentos del Suelo, que es un curso totalmente en español. Al menos doscientas personas participaron en este evento. 

Trabajadores agrícolas Latinos han proveído la mano de obra necesaria para que la agricultura funcione en Estados Unidos por muchas décadas. Por otro lado, solo el 3.3% de productoras y productores agrícolas de todo el país son latinos, de acuerdo al censo de agricultura del USDA del 2017. En este artículo quiero compartir dos temas que resonaron en este importante evento. 

Perseverancia y fe

En el primer día de la conferencia, escuchamos testimonios de varios productores latinos. Entre ellos estaba el productor Noel Ledesma, que comenzó en la agricultura como trabajador agrícola y ahora es un productor. Noel compartió sus experiencias con una honestidad rotunda, pues contaba sobre cultivos y cosechas perdidas, proyectos agrícolas que no fueron exitosos, que hicieron que su familia perdiera todo lo que habían conseguido hasta entonces. Pero en lugar de rendirse, él perseveró. Eventualmente, encontró un buen mercado produciendo cultivos para minorías étnicas. Cuando este mercado creció y otras empresas más grandes entraron a competir, las cosas se complicaron otra vez. Aun así, él perseveró y aprendió de estas experiencias. Paso a paso, probando varias cosas y aprendiendo de los errores, él y su familia encontraron una forma de crear una operación agrícola exitosa. 

Participantes de la Conferencia de Agricultores Latinos en una caminata por el campo.

Todo es posible cuando hay perseverancia, cuando hay fe

– Farmer Noel Ledesma

La producción agrícola es un proceso de experimentación y adaptación al cambio. El mercado y el clima casi nunca perdonan cuando hay falta de innovación. El testimonio del agricultor Noel Ledesma muestra que una dedicación constante y una fe sólida son ingredientes esenciales para convertirse de trabajador agrícola a productor agrícola exitoso. Ahora Noel comparte su sabiduría con otros productores latinos.

Creando conexiones

José Pérez presenta el nuevo curso en línea sobre salud del suelo de la OFRF en español, Los Fundamentos de la Salud del Suelo.

La importancia de crear y mantener buenas conexiones y relaciones con otros productores y organizaciones que asisten en la agricultura fue muy aparente en este evento. Los productores agrícolas pueden sentirse muy solos a veces, y es claro que tener una red de apoyo donde encontrar recursos e ideas puede ser de mucho valor. Para los productores latinos es muchas veces difícil

acceder a programas de asistencia agrícola, ya que enfrentan barreras adicionales de lenguaje, educación y estatus legal. No todas las oficinas de USDA y de otras organizaciones de apoyo al campo tienen algún personal latino o que pueda comunicarse en español, para poder conectar con el lenguaje, cultura e intereses de estos productores. Esta conferencia fue el lugar para hacer esas conexiones y facilitar el acceso a financiamiento y apoyo técnico. Dado que esta es la única conferencia agrícola llevada a cabo en español en todo el país, es de suma importancia para esta comunidad.

La salud de nuestras granjas y del sector agrícola tiende a ser reflejado en la salud de la sociedad. Más esfuerzo e inversión son necesarios para apoyar a productores y trabajadores agrícolas latinos.

Para acceder al nuevo curso de Salud del Suelo en Español, visite nuestro sitio web: https://ofrf.org/online-courses/los-fundamentos-de-la-salud-del-suelo/

Referencias: 

Starkweather, K., et al. (2011). Improving the use of USDA programs among Hispanic and Latino farmers and ranchers. Center for Rural Affairs and Cambio Center.  201204USDAHispanicFarmersRanchers.pdf

By |2023-12-11T00:49:02+00:00December 8th, 2023|News|

Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP)

Farmers across the U.S. may now receive up to $750 per scope for organic certification costs

As a farmer or a technical service provider to farms, you understand the importance of organic certification. It not only adds value to your products but also opens doors to a growing market of health-conscious consumers. However, the process of obtaining and maintaining organic certification can be costly. The good news is that financial assistance is available through the Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) to help ease this burden. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the basic steps to access up to $750 in financial assistance for each organic certification scope, covering expenses paid between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023.

Note: all of this information is summarized in printable, downloadable PDF’s, available in English and Spanish, at the bottom of this blogpost.

Nota: toda esta información se resume en archivos PDF imprimibles y descargables, disponibles en inglés y español, al final de esta publicación de blog.

1. Start with Research

Before diving into the application process, it’s wise to build up some knowledge of the program and who you will apply to. The OCCSP is administered by the USDA, and their website provides a wealth of general information. Additionally, some states have their own supplements to the program. If you’re in Arizona, California, or Texas, consider checking your state’s agriculture agency website for state-specific resources.

Below are factsheets from the USDA about the OCCSP, one in English and one in Spanish.

2. Finding the Right Application 

Certified organic operations can apply for OCCSP assistance through their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office or, in some cases, through a participating State Agency. Here’s how to proceed:

Through FSA: If you choose to apply through the FSA, you’ll need to use their specific OCCSP application form and follow the instructions provided. This ensures that your application is processed smoothly and efficiently.

Through a State Agency: If your state participates in the OCCSP, you likely have the option to apply through your state agency. In this case, use the application form provided by your state’s program. States like Arizona and California have their own forms, while Texas offers an online application platform along with a Request for Assistance (RFA) providing information.

3. Gathering Financial Information

To access government payments through OCCSP, you’ll need to provide certain financial information. The information must be provided in the correct format, depending on how you are applying. Here’s a brief explanation of the options in the Southwest: 

FSA: If you’re applying through the FSA, they typically require an IRS W-9 form as part of your application.

California: In California, you’ll need to complete a Payee Data Record Form as part of your application.

Arizona: In Arizona, they require an AZ W-9 form to be submitted along with your application.

Texas: If you’re applying through Texas’ online platform, you’ll need to provide a Tax ID to operate on their system, obtain one here.

4. Compiling Required Documents

Alongside your application and financial information, you’ll also need to include certain documents:

  • A copy of your organic certification.
  • Proof of payment for your certification fees.
  • Itemized receipts for any other covered expenses related to organic certification that you’re seeking reimbursement for.

Covered expenses under the OCCSP include application fees, inspection costs, fees related to equivalency agreement/arrangement requirements, travel/per diem for inspectors, user fees, sales assessments, and postage. However, covered expenses do not include equipment, materials, supplies, transitional certification fees, late fees, and inspections necessary to address National Organic Program regulatory violations.

5. Submission

Once you’ve gathered all the required information and documents, it’s time to submit your OCCSP application. Double-check your application to ensure everything is complete and accurate. Ensure you send this information to the appropriate state or federal agency office based on your chosen application method.

The OCCSP can be a valuable resource for farmers and technical service providers seeking financial assistance for their organic certifications. By following these steps and meeting the program’s requirements, you can access up to $750 to support your commitment to organic farming practices.

For more detailed information and access to specific application forms, be sure to visit the OCCSP USDA website or consult your state’s agriculture agency website if they operate their own OCCSP program (Arizona, California, Texas). Your organic journey just got a little more affordable.

Apply for OCCSP assistance now, and reap the benefits of a more affordable path to organic certification. Your commitment to organic farming deserves the support it needs.

All of this information is summarized in a printable, downloadable PDF below, available in English and Spanish.

By |2023-12-20T23:15:27+00:00December 1st, 2023|News, TOPP West|

Organic Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Amaya Atucha

Federal support is bringing new production systems and researchers to organic agriculture in the upper Midwest

Written by Brian Geier

Dr. Amaya Atucha is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), specializing in crop ecophysiology and production of small fruit and cold climate viticulture. Until recently she had not worked with organic production systems. “One of the reasons why I was not working on organic production,” she explains, “is because of the difficulty of being able to produce organic fruit in climates like the upper midwest.”

While strawberries represent the third largest fruit crop in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin ranks in the top 10 states for organic production in the United States, organic strawberry production is negligible in the region. This is despite what preliminary research shows: that there is an interest among growers in organic strawberry production, there is an excess demand from consumers in the region, and premium prices are being fetched for organic strawberries at local markets.

Dr. Atucha’s current research project, Transitioning to organic day-neutral strawberry production in the upper midwest – A systems approach, funded by USDA/NIFA’s Organic Transitions Program (ORG), has provided opportunities for her to expand her research into organic production and is providing growers with research-based information on the profitability of new production systems for organic strawberries.

 “Something that I would share with other researchers like me who were not doing any research on organic production is that if you want to expand on organic production and you might not feel that you are an expert, the ORG is a wonderful opportunity to get your foot into doing organic research. It will allow you to become an expert and become familiar with organic practices, and then to expand into these great production systems that can have fantastic benefits for our stakeholders.”  -Dr. Amaya Atucha

To help increase organic production of strawberries, the project is taking a systems approach. The production system currently used in the region is a perennial matted row system that increases weed, insect, and disease pressure over multiple seasons that are challenging to control with organic practices. Her project proposes a shift from a perennial to an annual production system, and is evaluating yields, pest pressure, fruit quality, and profitability of day-neutral strawberries grown on four different mulches.

To keep up to date on this research project, visit UW’s Fruit Program website. See an excerpt from OFRF’s conversation with Dr. Amaya Atucha about the importance of the ORG program for her research and farmers in her region here:

This research is funded by the USDA/NIFA’s Organic Transitions Program. To learn more about OFRF’s advocacy work to protect and increase this type of funding, and how you can help become an advocate for organic farming with us, see our Advocacy page.

By |2023-12-06T20:47:16+00:00November 28th, 2023|Education, News|
Go to Top