Organic Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Ajay Nair

Integrating poultry, cover crops & vegetable production can reduce purchased inputs while increasing yields

Written by Brian Geier

Dr. Ajay Nair, Department of Horticulture Chair, Iowa State University

Organic farmers with successful Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems (ICLS) report benefits ranging from increased farm productivity and reduced inputs to improvements in soil fertility and increased nutrient density in food products. Additionally, organic farmers report site-specific benefits, for instance livestock grazing that provides unique options for crop pest control or decreases the need for mechanical cultivation (learn more about these specific benefits to organic farmers in OFRF’s Crop-Livestock Integration resources). 

While these benefits are becoming better understood, researchers at Iowa State University, led by Dr. Ajay Nair, wanted to look more closely at a specific crop-livestock integration scenario: poultry and diversified organic vegetable production systems. “Commonly researched and implemented methods of crop-livestock integration in the United States,” they write, “include grazing livestock on cover crops, rotational grazing of permanent pasture, and grazing livestock on crop residues such as corn or wheat. Several reviews on crop-livestock integration discuss its benefits, such as increased soil organic carbon, aggregate stability, enhanced nutrient cycling, and increased soil nitrogen (N). There is, however, limited research on the integration of animals in vegetable production.” Now, with funding from USDA’s Organic Agriculture Research & Education Initiative (OREI), Dr. Nair and a team of researchers across the country are evaluating poultry, cover crop and vegetable integration.  

Pastured Poultry: a unique fit for diversified vegetable production

Organic vegetable production systems are often highly diversified, requiring intensive management techniques and quick turnaround times between crops. Poultry, which require less space and are easier to move than other livestock could prove to be a unique fit for organic vegetable farmers. Add to that the relatively low capital investment and many growers and researchers wonder if integrating poultry with vegetables could be profitable while still meeting food safety and National Organic Program requirements. “‘How will I integrate poultry? Where? When?’ That was the number one question our growers had,” explains project lead, Dr. Nair.

Above, left: the three rotations in the study are: 1) vegetable > vegetable > cover crop (V-CC), 2) vegetable > cover crop > poultry (V-CC-P), and 3) vegetable > poultry > cover crop (V-P-CC). Above, right: a floorless coop moves around a cover crop in a plot where treatment 2 (V-CC-P) is being evaluated.

The research evaluates the effects of pasturing poultry in movable, floorless coops through vegetable and cover crop rotations. The multi-state project, which involves research in Iowa, Kentucky and California won’t conclude until August of 2024, but it already has several key findings:

  1. Poultry and cover crops can successfully be integrated with vegetable production systems.
  2. Where poultry are integrated with vegetable production systems, nitrogen inputs can be reduced while vegetable yields are increased.
  3. In field tests at Iowa State University, over time, more weeds accumulated in systems where poultry were integrated with vegetables than in systems without poultry.  
  4. Birds in this study are more efficient at converting food to meat. The Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) of birds in this study is almost double that of conventionally raised broilers. 

The impact of USDA funding for organic research & farmers

Dr. Nair, a professor at the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Science who in July of this year became the Department Chair, credits the USDA/NIFA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative for making projects like his possible all over the country.

“OREI is the foundation for several of the organic projects that happen across the country, and we are very thankful for NIFA for having such a dedicated program for organic growers. It serves as a good platform for us to reach out to organic growers and for organic growers to reach out to us.” -Dr. Ajay Nair

You can learn more about this project and the importance of OREI in this video excerpt from OFRF’s interview with Dr. Nair in early 2024:

This research is funded by the USDA/NIFA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative. 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 |2024-07-23T18:21:33+00:00July 17th, 2024|News|

Farmer Led Trials Program Spotlight: Verdant Phoenix Farm

Written by Jose Perez, OFRF’s Research & Education Engagement Coordinator

Rhianna Simes, M.S.Ed. owns and operates Verdant Phoenix Farm, a 10 acre urban farm and education center located in Jackson County, Oregon. The farm is managed as a no-till production system and is certified organic. Rhianna operates the farm as a research and education hub, hosting educational workshops, hands-on demonstrations and farm tours. She sells nursery stock, seeds, basketry willow, plant starts, and other products through the farm stand and on their website. Additionally, Rhianna has been breeding fava bean, and popcorn (working towards a ‘Phoenix Blackberry’) for years. Rhianna’s farm vision is inspired by the work of Masanobu Fukuoka, Rowen White and Dr. Elaine Ingham, to create thriving agroecosystems.

Image at right: A close up of the soil after tarps were removed.

Occultation tarping

Rhianna has been using occultation tarping to terminate cover crops and manage weeds while protecting soil health for years. In two different locations, she converted 10 acre hay fields into no-till,  row cropping systems using only occultation tarping. To do this, in 4-6 week increments, she places a vinyl tarp on top of the soil to act as a ‘smother’ which encourages the biological activity of the soil to eat the organic matter on the soil (and under the tarp). In the past, farmers employed solarization, but this method allows sunlight to heat the soil, but does not encourage the biological activity which happens only in the darkness (occult = dark). By not allowing any light through, occultation tarping supports the soil food web, and can help suppress weeds, terminate cover crops and protect the soil from erosion. This practice has a lot of potential to help small scale organic farms, especially in no-till systems. Occultation removes the need for tilling to terminate weeds and crops. Rhianna is passionate about sharing the multiple benefits of using occultation tarping in small farms, but she has often found a lack of trusted information and research demonstrating the usefulness of this practice. 

The farm trial

With technical support from OFRF, Rhianna decided to create a farm trial that would compare the use of occultation tarping in no-till and tilled conditions. This means that she is investigating two different practices in the same trial: tarping and tilling. Soil sampling will be the primary way to measure differences in these practices, and will evaluate soil parameters such as soil organic matter, carbon mineralization potential and aggregate stability. Yield of planted crops will also be compared among treatments. 

Rhianna began the farm trial in a non-cultivated field in mid-April. Before placing the tarps, she took a baseline soil sample and sent it to Oregon State University Soil Lab for analysis. As planned in her research design, she laid tarps on the no-till fields for 6 weeks, and in late June she removed the tarps and direct seeded the field with a reliable polyculture that includes popcorn, bush beans, radish, basil, beets and fava beans. Rhianna and the OFRF team are excited for the yield and soil sample data that will be taken after harvest this fall. 

Rhianna is invested in this farm trial in the long term, as she has been awarded additional funds from Western SARE Farmer / Rancher grant  to continue this research for 3 years. At OFRF we are excited to be part of Rhianna’s effort to investigate the potential of these practices for small scale organic farmers in the region and beyond.

Below images: On the left – A view of the tarping and tilling trial. On the right  – another view of the farm trial showing tarping and non tarping areas.

“The OFRF Farmer Led Trial program offers an incredible opportunity for farmers to explore innovations we have developed. OFRF provides financial assistance to offset expenses of the project, and access to technical assistance from their trained professionals. This program has given me the courage and support I needed to pursue my research in no-till farming through occultation tarping, and to share the impacts so that others benefit. I feel honored to be part of this effort.” – Rhianna Simes, M.S.Ed., Verdant Phoenix Farm, owner/ farmer/ organic soil nerd

“The OFRF Farmer Led Trial program removes barriers for organic farmers to conduct research on strategies that can and will revolutionize farming. We are innovators in our fields, and the solutions we create today are the answers to tomorrow’s challenges. This program helps to legitimize the research, and trial and error experimenting that, as farmers, we do everyday.” – Rhianna Simes 

To learn more about the work Rhianna does, check out the Verdant Phoenix Farm website

This story is part of a series profiling farmers who are taking part in OFRF’s Farmer Led Trials (FLT) program. Farmers receive technical support from OFRF to address their challenges through structured on-farm trials. To learn more about OFRF Farmer Led Trials Program, visit our website page at

By |2024-07-15T16:15:40+00:00July 15th, 2024|Farmer Stories, News|

From Global Insights to Local Impact, an intern perspective

Cultivating Knowledge and Confidence During my Internship with OFRF

By Marina Vergara. Marina joined OFRF as the Research & Education Intern for Winter & Spring of 2024. We are grateful for her contributions to our work and wish her all the best in her next chapter. 

I came into my internship at OFRF with one primary goal: to learn as much as I could about the organic farming sector in the United States. After working internationally and studying an international field in graduate school, I decided that I wanted to transition my work to be closer to home. I thought this role was the perfect opportunity to begin this transition. After completing two 10-week internship periods with OFRF’s Research & Education team, I feel more knowledgeable about organic farming in the U.S., and more confident in my professional self and abilities. This role has prepared me for my next step: working at Waltham Fields Community Farm in Waltham, Massachusetts, as their Community Outreach Farmer.

I focused my internship on supporting the development of OFRF’s upcoming Research Hub, a project developed in direct response to 2022’s NORA Report findings, where survey respondents shared a need for a centralized, all-encompassing organic farming research hub. It was a great opportunity to be a part of such a meaningful project: a project that is directly responding to the needs of the organic community, and a project that will be used by the organic community at large.

Throughout my internship, I’ve been able to take the time to explore the research being done in organic farming in the U.S. One of my first tasks was to edit and confirm an outreach list for the upcoming Research Hub, which allowed me to delve into the individual work being done by organic farming researchers and professionals. I took this opportunity to read through the work and familiarize myself with the breadth and depth of organic research and initiatives taking place in the United States. From soil science studies to organizations supporting youth involvement in organic agriculture, I learned a lot about the sector as a whole.

I have also had the opportunity to sit-in on meetings between the Research & Education team and farmers who are part of the first cohort of the Farmer-Led Trials program. These meetings have given me some insight into what it can be like to support an organic farmer in conducting their own research, which is something I think I could be interested in pursuing in the future. Through attending these meetings, I saw firsthand some ways to work with farmers in developing and refining their research questions, and creating a research design and plan. I also learned ways to work with farmers collaboratively, making sure to put their interests first, and working together to design their research plan to fit the scientific method’s parameters.

In addition to my knowledge, my professional confidence has also grown during my time with OFRF. I was encouraged by the members of the Research & Education team to share my opinions during meetings and give feedback like any other member of the team. I worked closely with my supervisor, bouncing ideas back and forth to build the user experience for the Research Hub. I also had the opportunity to take ownership of my projects. While updating the Research Hub outreach list, I wanted to increase the number of contacts we had from 1890 and 1994 Land Grant Institutions. When I brought this idea up to my supervisor, I was encouraged to take it on, and was supported in my work.

 Next, I will begin my role as Waltham Fields Community Farm’s Community Outreach Farmer. In this role, I will be working on an eleven-acre organic vegetable farm, which will allow me to put the organic farming knowledge I’ve gained during my internship into practice. I will also be managing three of their community outreach programs, bringing the farm’s produce to areas of the community that typically lack access to fresh, organically grown produce. This feels like my natural next step into the organic farming space.

 I am leaving OFRF a more knowledgeable and confident professional version of myself. I am excited to take these skills to my next position as a Community Outreach Farmer. Thank you to all of OFRF’s staff who have supported me during my time here. I learned so much from everyone, and am grateful that I was able to spend time working with such a dynamic team over the past couple of months.

By |2024-07-11T18:31:36+00:00July 10th, 2024|News|

The Importance of Community and Collaboration in Organic Agriculture Research

Community is one of the most potent tools organic agriculture both relies on and fosters. The challenges we all face—from climate change to food security—are far-reaching and intimately connected, requiring collective action and shared knowledge. An intentional effort to build community among research and extension officials that farmers rely on is a necessity for fostering innovation, resilience, and sustainability.

At OFRF, we are acting on that intention. We don’t just believe collaboration is the cornerstone of progress; we are actively building the foundation for it. By creating structured space and time for researchers and extension professionals within an ecoregion, we can enhance the impact of our own work and that of those researchers and extension officials. We are proud to be involved in the Transition to Organic Partnership Program for the Western and Southwestern States (TOPP-W/SW). Through this involvement, we have embarked on an initiative that brings these intentions to fruition.

Through TOPP-W/SW, we have launched a regional Research/Extension Affinity Group. This is a dedicated effort to foster connections between researchers studying problems and extension agents who are often the first to hear of an issue or challenge farmers are facing. This group is more than a network; it aims to be a vibrant community of professionals committed to collaboration and mutual support. Ultimately, this group has been designed to:

  1. Foster Collaboration: By bringing together researchers and extension agents from across the W/SW states, we create a platform for sharing knowledge, resources, and best practices. This collaboration is crucial for tackling complex issues in organic agriculture and developing innovative solutions that benefit all.
  2. Provide Resources and Learning Opportunities: Access to grant funding and other resources is a common challenge. Our affinity group facilitates learning from each other’s experiences, offers guidance on navigating funding opportunities, and provides tools to help researchers and extension agents more effectively support the farmers they work with.
  3. Enhance Enjoyment and Fulfillment: The work we do in organic agriculture is challenging but incredibly rewarding. By building a community where members can share their successes, challenges, and experiences, we create an environment that nurtures personal and professional growth, making the journey more enjoyable and fulfilling.

The importance of community to organic production cannot be overstated. When we come together, we amplify our collective strengths, remedy our weaknesses, and ultimately create a powerful force for improving systems. Community fosters a sense of belonging and purpose, which encourages the exchange of ideas and knowledge, building a foundation of support and collective action that is essential for overcoming the challenges of our time and achieving our goals of a just and sustainable society.

As we continue in this effort, we hope you will join us! Whether you are a researcher, extension agent, farmer, or advocate, your participation is what differentiates success from failure. Together, we can break down the silos that separate us and foster a thriving community that advances the organic movement towards a sustainable future.

Let’s continue to build bridges, share knowledge, and support each other in our common goal of widespread adoption and simultaneous improvement of organic agriculture. The Research/Extension Affinity Group for the W/SW is just the beginning. With your involvement and energy, we can expand this collaborative effort and make a lasting impact on the organic farming community.

If you’re interested in hearing more about this group, especially if you live in one of the W/SW states (AZ, CA, HI, NM, TX, UT), reach out to Gordon at today! Together, we can and will make a difference.

Eat well,


By |2024-07-11T18:31:43+00:00July 3rd, 2024|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

The Song of One Thrush: Why We Need Each Other to Build a Healthier Food System

Written by April Jones Thatcher, founder and farmer of April Joy Farm and president of OFRF’s Board of Directors

view from below several mushrooms with trees in the background

Photo by Lauren Ruhe

I faintly heard a single Russet-backed thrush in the ravine behind the farmhouse this week. Late at dusk and then again this morning. In June, her melodious spiraling melody is one more sign of hope and promise for the growing season before us.

This is my sixteenth year of farming. I have always seen my role as less of a ‘producer’ and more about removing barriers to ensure energy—life—could flow and nourish these 24 acres I’ve loved since I was four years old. Early in my journey, my perseverance was rooted in the belief that things would get easier. Over time, I thought as I developed processes, scraped together increasingly more robust infrastructure, fence post by fence post, seed by seed, experience by experience, “things”—i.e., farming—would get easier.  

I believed my work as a farmer would eventually be to get out of the way. But I quickly learned, as Frank Edwin Egler so aptly wrote, “Nature is not more complicated than you think, it is more complicated than you can think.” 

I look back now and feel grateful for all that heady naivety that fueled my days and made me dig deep and keep going. So much has transpired between those early days and now, things I could have never imagined…

A multi-day 116-degree (F) heat dome.

Wild weather swings, including a late-May hard frost

Forest fires with smoke so thick I couldn’t see to the end of my crop fields

Oh yeah, and that little thing called a global pandemic.  

Reality check: It’s not getting easier.

Recounting the difficult times is an easy recipe for discouragement, but that’s not where I want to dwell. One thing that hasn’t changed in the last sixteen years is my belief that the only way we’ll make things work is together. You don’t have to be a farmer to help. In fact, there is so much you can do to make our food system more resilient and healthier that we farmers can’t do. 

I am one of the 17,445 organic farmers in the United States making change happen in and for my community. From an economic standpoint, every dollar spent on local food generates twice as much economic activity within the community compared to dollars spent at national grocery chains. The economic multiplier effect for local food systems has been estimated to be between 1.4 and 2.6, meaning that for every dollar earned by local organic farmers, an additional $0.40 to $1.60 is generated in the local economy. From an environmental perspective, by avoiding synthetic pesticides, organic farming protects the health of farmworkers and nearby communities. Additionally, organic farms are often more resilient to climate change and extreme weather events due to their diverse cropping systems and soil health practices, supporting community food security in the face of climate challenges. Organic farming practices use 45% less energy than conventional farming practices. This translates to significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a more sustainable food system.

How many of those 17,445 organic farmers do you know?

Years ago, there was a thick flock of Russet-backed thrushes that spent their summers at my farm. Now I close my eyes and listen to hear as hard as I can the distance song of just a single one. I feel this loss deeply, but that beautiful song reminds me why I continue to persevere despite the challenges. It’s why I continue to plant pollinator hedgerows, tend my field borders of Nootka Rose, Pacific Ninebark, Red Twig Dogwood, and Mock Orange, and spend each winter planting hundreds of conifer trees in the forest behind the farmhouse each year. Organic farmers like me across the country are re-wilding low swales with native willows that filter water, planting cover crops to feed their soil, and working hard to keep growing nutrient-dense food and meaningful direct relationships with the families that eat it.

The value of organic farms and the farmers who tend them are not rooted solely in the crops that go to market. It’s in the care, the love, and the tending—often without reward in this lifetime—of the hedgerows, the habitat, the soil, and the integrity of the communities they serve and to which they dedicate their lives to enriching.  

Organic farmers cross between the world of humans and the world of humus. We are ambassadors working to grow agricultural literacy, understanding, and, at the very heart of things, compassion and care.  The value of organic farmers is in the systems they nurture and the ways they pay attention, deep attention, to what matters.  

What is your song of determination? Who are you listening for?  

What we pay attention to matters. 

Your Role in The Food System

The average American family spends just over 11% of their income on food—a significant portion of our budget. But, just because you do not farm does not mean you are not part of a food system. All of us have a role to play. In fact, all of us are already playing a role in the food system. The question is, do you know what role you are playing? Is it the role you want to play?

I’m sometimes asked how I started farming. I was privileged to have a place to farm and a community eager to support me. You can be part of a community to make sure an organic farmer in your area—just like me—survives the daunting challenges of climate change.

Farmers are notorious for saying, ”Well, there’s always next year,” to cope with losses and disappointment. I am not sure I believe this. All we have is now. All we are and all we represent is rooted in this very breath, in action or inaction. There is no hope for next year, next week, or tomorrow unless we care for this day together.  

Cultivating A Shared Future 

Of all the things that have changed over the last decade and a half of my farming life, one thing hasn’t—the joy of being present to the miracle of food. These weeks, we’re harvesting heirloom lettuces, scallions, Annie’s old-fashioned rhubarb, radishes, epazote, bok choi, sugar snap peas, cilantro, parsley, broccoli, and more. We’re mulching tomatoes, cutting hay, rotationally grazing our livestock, collecting eggs, and thinning table grapes. We’re washing, bunching, and carrying a bounty of good food—grown with love—to families in our community who are as hungry as we are for a healthier, more just food system.  

When I hear the song of the thrush, I remember there’s no other choice. I let go of the idea that it will get easier—easier to engage, to make the right choice, to forge relationships across chasms of difference. The farm has taught me that success is in the bravery of honesty, diligent intention, and work. It’s the result of showing up, day after day, to do the small things.  I hold fast to the idea that I am not responsible for fixing the problems of our times, but just as surely, it is my responsibility not to turn away.

It takes a community to nurture systemic change. Nurturing our individual relationships one by one is where we start. That’s how this works. Connection is the foundation of resilience.   

Sixteen years later, growing food has not gotten easier, but thanks to the deep roots and wide-outstretched arms of my plant, soil, animal, and human community, this work and my farming life are getting richer.   

So, with determination to keep showing up regardless of the outcome, let’s take a collective deep breath, exhale all the gratitude we can muster, and get curious about the food stewards working all across the country to nourish our world. 

Let’s start paying attention to the most minor details and the tiniest moments embedded in our food system. 

Let’s strive to make our connections as rich, beautiful, and full of love as possible.

Let’s lean in and listen hard so we can hear the faint song of others who are doing the same.

There is immense satisfaction in taking direct, intentional action to build a community on a foundation of compassionate connection. That’s why every day, I put on my boots and go out into our world to sow new possibilities and nurture resilience. Regardless of how green your thumb is, you can too.  

Won’t you join us?

Ways to Support Your Local Organic Farm System

Ready to take action and support the health of your community, your environment, and yourself? Don’t wait! Here’s how to get started:

  • Find your local organic farms. Use online resources like Local Harvest or visit your nearest farmer’s market to connect with organic farmers near you.
  • Join a CSA or farm share program. This is a great way to get a regular supply of fresh, organic produce while directly supporting a local farm.
  • Volunteer your time. Many organic farms welcome volunteers. This is a rewarding way to learn more about organic agriculture and connect with the farmers who grow your food while using your expertise to support the viability of their work.
  • Research organic farmers and/or organic farm advocacy groups in your community. Knowledge is power! Learn more about the organic farming scene in your area and the challenges they face.
  • Check out OFRF’s NORA (National Organic Research Agenda) report. Dive deeper! Focus on non-production challenges for farmers in your region. Understanding these issues can help you identify areas where you can be most helpful. What do you feel most compelled and interested in?
  • Intentionally choose how you will support organic farming broadly and deeply. There are two sides to it: local action and national advocacy. Consider how you want to contribute on both levels.
    • Go broad by donating to organizations positioned to make systemic change on a national scale, such as OFRF.
    • Go deep by building just one single relationship with an organic farmer or organic agriculture advocate in your community (like your local and state representatives) and see where that leads.

Remember, every action—big or small—makes a difference. By taking these steps, you’ll be a champion for organic farming in your community!

By |2024-06-28T18:16:45+00:00June 28th, 2024|Farmer Stories, News|

OFRF and 90 Partners Issue Urgent Call for More Organic Research Funding in Farm Bill


OFRF leads coalition of 90 partners advocating for increased investment in organic research to promote a sustainable and thriving agricultural sector.

WASHINGTON, June 26, 2024 — The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), joined by a coalition of 90 farms, businesses, organizations, and academic institutions, is urging Congress to significantly increase funding for organic agriculture research in the upcoming Farm Bill.

A letter has been sent to key House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders, emphasizing organic research’s critical role in promoting a sustainable, resilient, and economically thriving agricultural sector.

“Organic agriculture offers a multitude of benefits, from improved soil health and reduced environmental impact to stronger rural economies and increased consumer demand,” said OFRF Executive Director Brise Tencer. “However, current research funding levels continue to fail to reflect the sector’s potential and growth trajectory.”

The letter emphasizes the need for increased investment in several key areas, including:

  • An annual increase of $10 million for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).
  • Congressional authorization of the Researching the Transition to Organic Program at $10 million a year, increasing to $20 million in the third year of the Farm Bill.
  • Increased funding for the Organic Markets and Data Initiative, along with a report on the economic impact of organic farming on communities and ecosystems.
  • The creation of an Organic Research Coordinator position within the Office of the Chief Scientist at the USDA.
  • Inclusion of climate change and the facilitation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge subject to Free and Prior Informed Consent from the tribal communities that possess this knowledge as legislative priorities for OREI.

“Investing in organic research is an investment in the future of American agriculture,” Tencer continued. “Providing our farmers with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed can ensure a more sustainable and prosperous food system for generations to come.”

The full letter signed by OFRF and its partners can be read on the OFRF site here.

To help secure a future for organic agriculture, urge your representatives to support increased funding for organic research in the Farm Bill. We are working with the National Organic Coalition to ensure your voice is heard by providing an easy-to-use tool to send a personalized message to your representatives today. You can access the free tool here.


About Organic Farming Research Foundation

About OFRF: The Organic Farming Research Foundation 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. For more information about OFRF, please visit our website:

Media Contact:
Ashley Dulaney, Communications Director, OFRF
ashley@ofrf.orf, ‪(518) 565-0156‬
P.O. Box 440, Santa Cruz, CA 95061

By |2024-06-26T16:18:08+00:00June 26th, 2024|News, Press Release|

Organic Farmers Lead the Way Toward Climate-Smart Agriculture

A new network in Kentucky will support organic practices and verify they are meeting definitions of climate-smart agriculture

Sam Miller, center, District Conservationist at NRCS London, KY, hands the mic to Jansen Koeberlein, Soil Conservationist at NRCS Richmond, KY, while farmer Bryce Baumann looks on during the “Reduced Tillage, Cover Crops, and Crop Rotations on an Organic Vegetable Farm” field day at Lazy Eight Stock Farm.

Written by Brian Geier

The first time Kentucky NRCS agent Sam Miller was approached by a farmer about support for organic practices was over 12 years ago. Bryce Baumann of Lazy Eight Stock Farm, who had been farming since middle school, was on a non-stop search for how to farm full-time. It was 2012, and Bryce was transitioning his family’s farm to organic and starting the farm’s first CSA season, two moves that eventually allowed him to take the plunge. It was this young farmer who first introduced Sam, a seasoned NRCS agent, to the world of organic production. “Bryce made me learn organic, really quick,” Sam said at a field day hosted at Lazy Eight and organized by the Organic Association of Kentucky (OAK). 

Since then, Lazy Eight has implemented several contracts with NRCS to support practices like cover cropping and pollinator plantings, expanding and enhancing irrigation systems, and constructing high tunnels. They now operate a thriving CSA with 250-300 members each season and recently added a flower share to diversify income and the farm. And now, under a new partnership with OAK and NRCS, some of Bryce’s organic conservation practices will get advanced levels of support.

Improving efficiency, protecting soil, and reducing plastic

One goal at Lazy Eight has been to move away from using plastic to control weeds. “I can’t tell you how awful it was to drive to the county dump with 1,000 lb of organic plastic mulch,” admits Bryce. To manage weeds without plastic but still protect soil structure, Bryce focuses on frequent, shallow cultivation, sometimes doing 3-4 passes before a crop is a few inches tall, but never going more than an inch or two deep into the soil. “The key (with shallow cultivation) is frequency. Frequency and timing,” he said slowly and matter-of-factly at the field day, pointing out that weeds in their early stages are much easier to kill. The farm utilizes a fleet of used cultivation tractors, purchased for “scrap metal prices” and outfitted with new weeding tools stacked in custom arrangements. Check out the photos from the field day below to see some of the specific arrangements of cultivators. For even more details, see the field day summary and resource document from OAK.

(Article continues below image gallery.)

Moving ahead with new support networks for organic, climate-smart production

Through OAK’s Climate-Smart Project, Bryce and Lazy Eight Stock Farm will get a fresh level of support for organic practices that will be NRCS-supported, tailored specifically to their farm needs and goals, and proven to be ‘climate-smart’ via farm assessments and metric tools

OAK, a statewide organization started by farmers in 2009, supports organic agriculture through education (field days and conferences) and consultation on organic production. OAK also serves as the Kentucky lead for the Midwest Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), helping farmers pair up as mentors and mentees and transition land to certified organic production. OFRF is engaged in a variety of TOPP projects as well, both as a regional partner in the west/southwest as well as nationally with our Farmer-Led Trials, Seeds of Success, and an upcoming comprehensive organic research hub that will be searchable by region or crop. 

The OAK-led Climate-Smart Project, a novel partnership connecting farmers, USDA agencies, non-profits, and food businesses, offers direct technical assistance, educational programming, financial incentives, and market development for Kentucky farmers using climate-smart practices. Farmers are offered $500 to conduct an initial baseline assessment with OAK, then awarded $3,000 annually for implementing climate-smart practices.

Based on the initial assessment conducted in early 2024, which measured factors like soil structure, biological diversity, and water-stable soil aggregates among many other indicators, Bryce and OAK will now identify and implement NRCS-defined practices like reduced tillage, cover crops, strip-cropping, or mulching, and continue to measure the indicators. The hope is that Bryce will enhance his organic operation, NRCS conservation standards will be met, and there will be documentation for organic practices being “climate-smart.” At OFRF, we know that organic has been and will continue to be the original climate-smart agriculture, and we applaud farmers like Bryce and networks like this one leading the way.

To read more about how organic farming practices are climate-smart and access tools to be an advocate with us, check out OFRF’s Organic is Regenerative project.

Are you an farmer or researcher? We’d love to hear from you! You can share your story here. 

By |2024-07-01T16:57:19+00:00June 26th, 2024|Farmer Stories, News|

Updates and a Hard Look at Organic Agriculture Research in the 2024 Farm Bill

As active participants in the 2023-2024 (and maybe into 2025?) Farm Bill process, we work diligently to stay informed and active in developing legislative proposals that affect organic agriculture research, but also the organic ecosystem at large. Part of what we do is participate in coalition lobby days, like earlier in May where OFRF joined members of the Organic Trade Association, like Stonyfield, to make sure we are all consistently engaged with legislators and the organic sector. Two significant developments took place the past two months: Senator Stabenow unveiled the Section-by-Section (SBS) of the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act, and the House Agriculture Committee passed the Farm, Food, and National Security Act of 2024 (FFNSA). Now that the initial positions have been struck, we’re at a critical juncture in advocating for robust organic research programming.

Dana Bourne, sustainability program manager for Lactalis (Stonyfield)
and OFRF’s Executive Director, Brise Tencer at the OTA Organic Week in DC, May 2024.

Despite some significant improvements included in the Senate SBS for the organic industry at large, including the Coordinating Organic Research Initiative, this framework does not address the critical need of increased budgets for organic research programs. The FFNSA misses its mark even further, only providing flat funding for USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative. Although the safeguarding of agricultural research programs is always important, flat funding at 2018 levels is equivalent to a nearly 25% cut in the program’s effective budget in the current economy due to inflation. 

Organic farming systems are inherently designed to enhance local ecosystems through practices like cover cropping, crop-livestock integration, and the use of perennials. These methods have been scientifically proven to increase soil organic matter, improve soil structure, and foster robust microbial communities—all of which are essential for long-term fertility and productivity. Beyond ecological benefits, organic agriculture is a vital economic driver for rural economies, generating higher revenues and supporting local businesses at a rate far exceeding that of conventional farming.

Despite organic products making up 6% of the total food market and over 15% of the produce market, less than 2% of USDA-REE agencies’ budgets are allocated to organic topics. This persistent underfunding risks stifling the growth potential of the organic sector and jeopardizes the competitive edge of the United States in global organic markets.

In light of the demonstrated positive impacts and the increasing consumer demand for organic products, we have authored a letter that over 80 organizations have joined to reiterate the need for the following provisions in the upcoming Farm Bill:

  • An annual increase of $10 million for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).
  • Congressional authorization of the Researching the Transition to Organic Program, starting at $10 million a year and increasing to $20 million in the third year of the Farm Bill.
  • An increased budget for the Organic Markets and Data Initiative, along with a mandated report on the economic impact of organic farming on communities.
  • The creation of an Organic Research Coordinator position within the Office of the Chief Scientist to enhance the organization and communication of organic research at the USDA.
  • The inclusion of climate change adaptation measures and the facilitation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, ensuring the respect and consent of tribal communities, into legislative priorities for OREI.

As we navigate the legislative process, it is imperative that we, alongside our partners and policymakers, ensure organic agriculture research receives the attention and funding it critically needs. We urge all supporters of sustainable agriculture to join us in advocating for a Farm Bill that reflects the significance of organic farming in today’s food system.

We are grateful for the leadership shown by legislators like those who have cosponsored the SOAR act in the House and the OSRI Act in the Senate addressing these issues, and we look forward to seeing increased collaboration to strengthen organic agriculture research.

We invite you to join us in this critical advocacy effort. Here’s how you can get involved:

Contact your legislators: Urge them to support increased funding for organic research programs. Use this easy Action Alert from the National Organic Coalition!

Spread the word: Share this blog post and information about the Farm Bill with your networks.

Stay informed: Follow our updates on the Farm Bill process and other legislative developments affecting organic agriculture.

We are grateful for the leadership shown by legislators who have co-sponsored the SOAR Act in the House and the OSRI Act in the Senate. We look forward to increased collaboration to strengthen organic agriculture research.

Eat well and breathe deep,


By |2024-06-18T17:54:38+00:00June 10th, 2024|Gordon's Policy Corner, News|

Farmer Led Trials Program Spotlight: Bob Quinn

Written by Jose Perez, OFRF’s Research & Education Engagement Coordinator

Bob Quinn is a well-known fourth generation organic farmer growing grains in the plains of Montana. His farm grows winter wheat, alfalfa, and other grains. Bob is a long time organic farmer and advocate and is recognized as the pioneer of Kamut, a type of wheat that is now produced by more than 250 organic producers. His latest venture is the Quinn Institute, a recently launched non profit farm dedicated to conducting organic farming research. This year he is also a participating farmer in the first cohort of OFRF’s Farmer Led Trials (FLT) Program.

Image at right: A view of the research plot crop lines growing in May.

A quest for a hardy white winter wheat

Growing spring wheat in this region has become increasingly risky for farmers due to climate change challenges that include shorter rainy seasons and earlier than usual summer heat onset. Years ago Bob felt that growing a hardy and resilient white winter wheat was a good solution, but he found no locally adapted varieties available. Winter wheat varieties are planted in the fall, go dormant in the winter, and are harvested in the summer. These varieties have more time to get established and could reduce the risk of crop loss due to the climate change patterns mentioned above. Bob looked for options that would show promise in the genetic diversity stored in the USDA National Small Grain Seed Collection. When Bob heard about OFRF’s Farmer-Led Trials Program, he thought it would be a good opportunity for research collaboration.

The farm trial

Starting with 100 selections from the USDA small grains collection, Bob has now winnowed down possible wheat lines to 15 types that show promise in the field. From the baker and consumer perspectives, Bob hopes to select a nutrient-dense wheat that produces bread loaves that are not as dark as those produced with hard red winter wheat.

Harvest from each line will be tested through a bake test for loaf size, texture, taste and aroma by our bakery partner, Grist Mills, in Missoula, Montana, and compared to a complete baking test by the bread lab at Montana State University. The goal for this year’s farm trial is to select the top 5 or 6 lines to be grown again next year. The final goal of this research project is to produce a free, open mixed population of white winter wheat that can be used by organic farmers in the region that can be used by bakers to produce a highly nutritious tasty bread for their customers.

Below images: Bob, and Research Coordinator Josh, inspecting winter wheat survival in mid-April.

“Many farmers do not know where to start, how to proceed and what to do when problems arise and therefore are reluctant to convert to organic systems.  Programs such as those sponsored by OFRF help farmers overcome transition barriers and also overcome challenges along the way.  When I saw an opportunity to participate in farmer-led trials sponsored by OFRF, I was immediately interested. These are the kinds of opportunities that help farmers answer questions specific to their operation which in the end could have significant positive impacts for many others across the country and even the world.  They fill a gap between no help and the giant multiyear grants and projects, which also play an important roll, but most of which are beyond the reach or means of most farmers to apply for and to execute.  I am very thankful for the resources offered by OFRF to insure the experiments can be designed and carried out in a manner that can produce significant results.” – Bob Quinn

Trial updates

The current crop was planted in October last year, survived the winter, and is currently growing vigorously, thanks to better than expected rainy season. Harvest is fast approaching, and scheduled for late July. OFRF is excited about Bob’s trial and hopes it leads to resilient variety alternatives for organic farmers.

To learn more about USDA germplasm resources, visit the USDA Germplasm Resources Information Network  

To learn more about the Quinn Institute visit or take a peek at this recent article about their work:

This story is part of a series profiling farmers who are taking part in OFRF’s Farmer Led Trials (FLT) program. Farmers receive technical support from OFRF to address their challenges through structured on-farm trials. To learn more about OFRF Farmer Led Trials Program, visit our website page at

By |2024-06-18T17:54:50+00:00June 7th, 2024|Farmer Stories, News|

7 Ways to Build Successful Research Partnerships with Organic Farmers

Written by Ashley Dulaney, OFRF’s Communications Director

Ever wonder if your research efforts are truly hitting the mark for the people who need it most? In organic farming, ensuring research translates into real-world practices is crucial. That’s why collaboration with experienced organic farmers is essential. Their deep understanding of the land and innovative approaches are invaluable assets in developing solutions for a more sustainable future.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) recently organized a panel discussion that brought together five farmers who have collaborated with OREI- and ORG-funded researchers for on-farm research projects. This panel provided a platform for open and insightful conversations, during which the farmers shared vital perspectives on how researchers can foster mutually beneficial partnerships. Below are the key points that researchers should keep in mind when partnering with organic farmers.

1. Meet Farmers Where They Are

Before planning out a research project, connect with farmers in your area to learn more about their research needs and ideas for ongoing collaboration. Not sure where to meet farmers? Many farmers, especially those interested in research, congregate at regional grower conferences.

“Attending grower conferences and workshops allows us to connect with researchers ‘where we are,'” shared Ben McLean of McLean Family Farms. “This genuine connection helps ensure research aligns with the real issues we’re tackling on our farms.”

“It’s about having genuine conversations,” shared former OFRF Board Member Meg Stuedemann of Derrydale Farm. “We love opportunities to get together with other organic farmers. Use that motivation for discussion and idea sharing to bring us together and have a conversation about our daily realities and challenges.”

In addition to attending local farm events, consider conducting in-depth surveys or one-on-one interviews with organic farmers. You can also explore industry publications and online forums frequented by organic farmers to identify common concerns and emerging areas of interest. 

A valuable resource to guide your research is OFRF’s 2022 National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) report, informed by surveys and focus groups conducted with over 1,100 certified organic and 71 transitioning-organic farmers and ranchers across North America. Participants in this comprehensive survey detail their most pressing production and non-production challenges, technical assistance needs, and concerns related to organic agriculture. By delving into these resources, you can better understand the issues facing organic farmers today and tailor your research projects to address their specific needs, setting the stage for impactful collaboration.

2. Communication is Key

Transparency and clear expectations are crucial for a successful partnership. Co-create a research plan with the farmers outlining project goals, timelines, farmer involvement levels, and communication protocols. This plan should be a living document, reviewed and adjusted as needed throughout the research process. 

“We appreciate researchers who take a personal touch,” said Sara Pearson of Prairie Sky Farm. “A phone call to discuss the project and answer questions can go a long way compared to impersonal listserv announcements. It shows that you value our time and input.” 

Regularly scheduled meetings (in-person or virtual) ensure everyone is on the same page and address any questions or concerns that may arise.

3. Respect the Farm Flow

As you know, organic farms are busy places! As much as farmers want to engage in cutting-edge research to help shape the future of organic farming, disruptions to daily operations can be a major pain point. When designing research methods, prioritize strategies that minimize this impact and give your partner growers as much lead time as possible. 

“Knowing our farm schedule, like busy planting and harvesting seasons, helps researchers plan data collection activities that don’t disrupt our workflow,” added Ben McLean. “Offering flexible scheduling options for data collection shows they respect our time constraints.” 

Express appreciation for the farmers’ valuable time and prioritize efficient data collection techniques. Where possible, explore collaborative data collection methods to share the workload and facilitate learning for both parties.

4. Foster Mutual Benefits

Do not assume what research topics matter most to the producers in your area. Organic farmers face diverse challenges and opportunities that set them apart from conventional farmers, including obstacles unique to their growing region. Involve farmers in research design discussions from the outset. Allowing them to share their experiences and insights early on ensures the research is practical and addresses their specific needs.

Frame research questions around real-world challenges farmers face, like how to use cover crops to reduce soil compaction or which row spacing and plant densities are best for high organic matter, high fertility, and fast turnover bed systems. By ensuring the research addresses specific needs, you can provide your farmer collaborators with the most valuable knowledge for their operations. 

Offer growers opportunities to co-interpret data and co-author research publications (when appropriate). This practice fosters a sense of ownership and shared accomplishment while equipping them with valuable scientific literacy skills.

5. Transparency Breeds Trust

Develop clear data-sharing agreements with farmers outlining access and ownership rights. This strategy ensures transparency and builds trust throughout the research process. Present research findings in clear, concise language with easy-to-understand visuals and summaries as early as possible.  

“Jargon can be a barrier,” Zachary Paige of North Circle Seeds noted. “Researchers who can convey their findings in a way that resonates with farmers enable us to implement their knowledge in our practices.” 

Host workshops or field days to share findings and facilitate discussions among participating farmers. These events benefit the farmers directly involved in the research and foster knowledge sharing within the broader organic farming community.

6. Build Long-Term Partnerships

While some research may benefit from small-scale plot studies to test specific variables, farmers emphasized the importance of research that translates to real-world farm operations.

“I hear a lot that farmers want to see things done at the farm scale and on the farm,” added Meg Stuedemann. “Organic farming is across time and space. We need more long-term research programs that take this into account.” 

Building long-term partnerships with the same farms across multiple years and research projects allows for a deeper understanding of each other’s work and fosters trust. Open communication and mutual respect are essential for building rapport. Maintain communication between projects through regular updates, invitations to relevant events, and continued dialogue. This approach ensures producers feel valued as collaborators and keeps them engaged in the research process.

7. Recognize and Appreciate

Publicly acknowledge the farmers’ contributions to your research in publications, presentations, and press releases. Consider co-authorship on publications when appropriate and in accordance with academic guidelines. Explore additional ways to show appreciation, such as media exposure or recognition within the organic farming community.

“Knowing our contributions are valued motivates us to continue collaborating with researchers,” Bob Pearson of Prairie Sky Farm shared. “Being acknowledged by our peers for our role in advancing organic farming practices is also very rewarding.”

Following these tips can help researchers build strong, mutually beneficial partnerships with organic farmers. This leads to more impactful research that advances organic farming practices and strengthens the organic farming community as a whole. Researchers gain valuable insights from the farmers’ expertise, while farmers benefit from applying research findings to improve their operations and contribute to a more sustainable agricultural future.

Amplify the Impact of Your Research

Researchers, are you looking to maximize the reach and impact of your work? Learn more about OFRF’s research outreach services and how we can help translate your scientific findings into actionable knowledge for organic farmers. Plus, join us in September for an online event exploring successful farmer-researcher collaborations! Stay tuned for details by signing up for our newsletter here.

By |2024-06-18T17:55:34+00:00June 7th, 2024|News|
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