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Webinar: Reducing Production Risks through Organic Soil Health Practices for the South

November 20, 2020 – Organic producers in the South face tremendous challenges from weeds, pests, diseases, increasing weather extremes, and rising production costs. This webinar explores the potential of soil restoration and improvement to reduce these risks, stabilize yields, and build resilience. We will focus on three key soil health issues: cover cropping for plant-available nutrients and moisture, reducing tillage intensity, and frugal use of nutrient-bearing amendments. The webinar will be presented by Mark Schonbeck, and Emily Oakley of Three Springs Farm in Oklahoma will be online to answer questions.

January 13th, 11AM PST
Free and open to the public. Advance registration required.

Register here

Mark Schonbeck is a Research Associate at OFRF. He has worked for 31 years as a researcher, consultant, and educator in sustainable and organic agriculture. He has participated in on-farm research into mulching, cover crops, minimum tillage, and nutrient management for organic vegetables. For many years, he has written for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming newsletter and served as their policy liaison to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. He has also participated in research projects to analyze, evaluate, and improve federally funded organic and sustainable agriculture programs. In addition, Mark offers individual consulting in soil test interpretation, soil quality and nutrient management, crop rotation, cover cropping, and weed management.

Emily Oakley co-owns and operates Three Springs Farm, a diversified, certified-organic vegetable farm in eastern Oklahoma. With her partner Mike, she cultivates over forty different crops and more than 150 individual varieties on three acres of land. Their goal is to maintain a two-person operation that demonstrates the economic viability of small-scale farming.

 

By |2020-11-20T20:20:38+00:00November 20th, 2020|News, Press Release|

The election is over, but the work starts now

November 17, 2020 – With a new administration moving into the White House, it is more important than ever to make organic voices heard. OFRF has delivered a transition letter to the Biden-Harris Administration with a list of action steps they can take immediately to increase support of organic agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). We have developed a set of concrete policy recommendations for Congress and are meeting with USDA to ensure our research recommendations are prioritized.

The election is over, but the work starts now.

Organic agriculture must be part of the climate solution.

Through regenerative organic practices that build soil health, farmers can more easily weather the storms and extreme temperatures that have become our new normal. Together, practices such as cover cropping, crop rotations, and conservation tillage work with nature to build healthy soil and help mitigate climate change by capturing and storing more carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is critical for federal policies to support producers adopting these practices and promote the expansion of organic acres.

What we are doing

OFRF has spent the last five months working closely with partner organizations to align on key priorities and strategies, writing public comments and extensive blog posts, strengthening our coalitions, and developing research and policy recommendations in preparation for the first 100 days of the next Administration, future climate bills, and the 2023 Farm Bill.

We are investing more resources into funding on-farm research to foster climate mitigation and adaptation, developing grower education resources to support the adoption of best soil health practices, and advancing our four-part policy platform to ensure that any federal level climate policy includes support for organic farmers and ranchers as critical partners in our climate change mitigation efforts.

To enhance regenerative organic agriculture’s potential to address the climate crisis, Congress needs to:

  • Increase investments in organic agriculture research.

  • Remove barriers and strengthen support for organic systems.

  • Promote the widespread adoption of organic agriculture through technical assistance and financial incentives.

  • Expand research to advance our understanding of organic farming practices that sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build resilience, as well as identifying barriers to adoption.

OFRF encourages the Administration and legislators to ensure sustainable and organic farmers and ranchers have a seat at the table as climate policy discussions continue to develop. We encourage Congress to use the Agriculture Resilience Act (HR 5861) as a roadmap for comprehensive policy proposals that expand and improve existing USDA programs so agriculture can fulfill its climate mitigating potential and be part of the solution.

What YOU can do

  • Buy organic! The best way to build momentum and show policy makers that organic farming matters is by building demand.

  • Now is the time to learn more about these issues by reading the latest blog posts and exploring our climate advocacy toolkit.

  • We hope with your newfound knowledge you will share this information with your community on social media and around the dinner table.

  • Learn more about how your Members of Congress normally vote on issues of climate change and agriculture. Find out who represents you in Congress by searching a database by your zip code or state. OFRF will share opportunities to get engaged with policy makers and make your voice heard.
  • Donate to OFRF and other organizations who are working tirelessly on these efforts. We can’t do this work without your support so we encourage you to give what you can today to ensure 2021 is the year we begin to curb climate change and better support organic farmers.
By |2020-11-17T18:15:14+00:00November 17th, 2020|News, Press Release|

Managing Organic Fertility on Diversified Organic Farms

Farmer Spotlight #1, on the benefits of cover cropping, held in Woodland, CA with organic farmer Jim Durst and researcher Eric Brennan

November 10, 2020 – Building healthy soils is the foundation of successful farm management. However, efficiently managing soil fertility remains a challenge for organic farmers. Determining how much organic fertilizer to apply—and when—is a complicated process: too much can pollute the air and water, and too little limits crop productivity. In Yolo County, CA some organic farmers are reducing their reliance on organic fertilizer inputs by implementing diversification practices such as cover cropping, crop rotations, and intercropping to increase soil health and fertility.

 

These diversification practices add nitrogen to the soil in the form of organic nitrogen, which can then contribute to building soil organic matter. Organic nitrogen sources and soil organic matter must first be broken down by microbes living in the soil for nitrogen to become accessible to plants, in contrast to synthetic fertilizers or certain OMRI fertilizers like guano, which are already mainly available to plants as ammonium or nitrate. At present, it is difficult to quantify the rate at which nitrogen becomes available through the breakdown of organic nitrogen sources and soil organic matter. Most traditional soil tests were developed for conventional systems and measure only the amount of ammonium or nitrate sitting around in soil; they do not capture the dynamic flows of nitrogen released by microbes. As a result, it remains difficult for most organic farmers to determine when and how much nitrogen is available to their crops, especially if they are mainly relying on diversification practices to improve soil health and supply nitrogen.

To address this challenge, OFRF funded a project led by Assistant Professor Tim Bowles and Ansel Klein at the University of California, Berkeley to quantify the flow of nitrogen from soil organic matter to plants on working organic farms. The project team combined experiential knowledge of organic farmers with technical measurements of nitrogen flows in their soils to understand how varying levels of diversification affected the availability of nitrogen. In addition to assessing the extent to which organic farmers in this region rely on organic fertilizers, the researchers wanted to investigate how well traditional soil tests reflect the actual flow of nitrogen on diversified farms. They also aimed to facilitate farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing of diversification practices that promote healthy soils.

By interviewing organic farmers who had already implemented a range of diversification practices, the project team developed a system to rank on-farm diversification for the 13 organic farms that participated in the study. Farmers who participated in this project incorporated varying levels of crop diversification in their fields. Not surprisingly, the level of plant-available nitrogen ranged greatly from farm to farm.

Due to a number of unforeseen challenges associated with the COVID pandemic and wildfires in California, the research team is still in the process of analyzing the nitrogen flow data. The researchers completed preliminary analyses that confirm their methodology works and they plan to use this approach to describe how diversification practices may be linked to how nitrogen moves through organic farms.

So far, the researchers were able to measure plant-available nitrogen directly and preliminary results indicate that some organic farms have low levels of plant-available nitrogen, despite having high levels of crop diversity. One explanation could be that much of the nitrogen in the system is tied up in soil organic matter and therefore is not detectable by traditional soil testing approaches. As the researchers continue to complete nitrogen flow lab analyses, they hope to shed more light on this finding.

In addition to lab research, Bowles & Klein also collaborated with organic farmers to create a farmer spotlight series where growers shared their insights into how to successfully implement cover crops and the importance of soil microbes for soil health. They are also finishing two podcasts in collaboration with The Farmers Beet, an agricultural podcast hosted by the Community Alliance for Family Farmers. Once data analysis is complete, production will begin on a short, informational video highlighting the outcomes of this project.

Results from the final report can be accessed here.

This article was written by Lauren Snyder, PhD, Education & Research Program Manager, OFRF

 

 

By |2020-11-11T20:17:52+00:00November 10th, 2020|News, Press Release|

Organic Crop & Seed Breeding for Adapting to Climate Change

October 20, 2020 – Most modern crop cultivars have been bred and selected to perform well in conventional farming systems over wide geographic ranges. As a result, organic farmers have relatively few options for purchasing regionally adapted cultivars suited to organic production. When OFRF conducted a national survey of organic producers for their 2016 National Organic Research Agenda, respondents commonly stated the need for increased on-farm plant breeding and variety improvement for organic seeds. In response, OFRF has awarded four new grants to support researcher/farmer collaborations in the areas of crop breeding and organic seed development.

The first grant to Sarah Hargreaves at the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario supports three breeding projects focused on providing best practices for adapting to climate change with vegetable varieties that are locally adapted to low-input organic systems for southern Ontario and the Northeast U.S. By supporting farmer-led breeding efforts for organic production, this project contributes to an emerging but critically under-researched area of vegetable farming. Ultimately, the research team hopes to release three varieties of early ripening, blocky, and flavorful bell peppers: a mass-selected population of red peppers, and uniform populations of red and yellow peppers using progeny lines. They also aim to breed an open pollinated broccoli variety that is heat tolerant and adapted to organic systems, as well as an open pollinated seedless English cucumber with excellent flavor and good yield that is adapted to organic greenhouse conditions.

The second grant to Helen Jensen at Seed Change supports the evaluation of selection methods and efficacy in on-farm breeding of organic wheat and oat varieties. Participatory plant breeding (PPB) is internationally recognized as a methodology that works collaboratively with organic farmers to minimize environmental impacts and adapt to climate change. This project will document how farmer-selectors have contributed to genetic improvement for organic production of wheat and oats and share that information with existing and prospective PPB participants across the country. The researchers hope to improve knowledge of selection practices for all of the stakeholders in the program, as well as improve methodologies and increased adoption of PPB by a broader range of organic farmers.

The third grant was awarded to Carol Deppe at Fertile Valley Seeds to breed disease-resistant heirloom-quality tomatoes, especially those resistant to late blight and a number of other diseases. The project aims to enable the wide distribution of seeds that allow organic farmers and gardeners to easily develop their own heirloom-quality tomato varieties with resistance to common diseases.

The fourth grant to Lee-Ann Hill at Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance will look beyond the marketability of heritage grains to explore their impact on soil health, climate adaptivity, weed pressure, and insect pressure through farmer-driven, participatory research. Research data collected from this project will be published in the Heritage Grain Trials Handbook, freely distributed online, and disseminated to grain trialists and interested growers to increase and enhance knowledge about these unique varieties. With this project, the research team expects to increase the availability of 20 unique heritage grain seed varieties.

These grants are four of 13 OFRF is awarding this year to help address the top challenges facing organic farmers and ranchers. As a result of OFRF’s research, education, and outreach efforts, thousands of farmers have received pertinent research and training information. Results from all OFRF-funded projects are available to access for free in our online database.


 

By |2020-11-04T17:47:10+00:00November 4th, 2020|News, Press Release|

Research Addresses Structural Barriers to Building Soil Health

Aysha Peterson in field

Aysha Peterson in field

November 3, 2020 – Organic farming systems are knowledge-intensive and require farmers to understand a wide range of agroecological practices to build soil health, the foundation of a successful farming system. Yet, the current structure of U.S. agriculture makes it difficult for racial minority farmers to access educational resources and technical assistance programs. These challenges are exacerbated for Latinx farmers who may not speak English as a first language. In the U.S., the number of Latinx farmers continues to increase, even as the total number of farmers decreases. Therefore, providing resources for this farming community is critical to creating a more equitable food system and for ushering in a new generation of diverse farmers.

In 2019, OFRF awarded a research grant to Aysha Peterson at the University of California, Santa Cruz to understand this issue in California’s Salinas Valley. In this region, rural Latinx communities contend with water resources contaminated with excess nitrogen. The lack of access to clean water supplies impedes this farming community’s ability to build healthy soils as too much nitrogen contributes to poor nutrient management practices on their fruit and vegetable farms.

Peterson collaborated with The Agriculture and Land-based Training Association(ALBA)—a local farmer training facility that supports socially disadvantaged, limited resource, and beginning organic farmers—to interview Latinx farmers about their knowledge and use of nutrient management practices, the barriers they face, and their strategies for overcoming these challenges. The goal of the project was to produce a case study highlighting the barriers to implementing plant-based nutrient management practices that could be used to improve regional farmer assistance services across the country.

Data from focus groups (small group discussions) and field observations revealed farmers have extensive knowledge of organic soil health practices such as cover cropping, but there are a number of challenges that hamper the widespread adoption of this practice. For instance, farmers in the Salinas Valley indicated a need for more information on which cover crops or combination of cover crops they should grow. They also shared concerns about the best time to plant cover crops to maximize their benefits, without taking the field out of production for too long. In addition, farmers explained that soil tests can be difficult to interpret and integrating the outcomes of these tests into a plant-based nutrient management plan is not straightforward.

The farmer participants also identified a number of structural challenges to implementing organic soil health practices. For many farmers in this region, financial capital is limited, making it difficult or impossible to take a field out of production for a few months to plant cover crops, which are not marketable. In addition, many of the farmers who participated in this study rent land for relatively short periods of times, which limits their ability to invest in long-term soil health strategies such as cover cropping. Language barriers also impede the implementation of best organic soil health practices; organic product labels, soil test results, and website and workshop content on organic agriculture are typically delivered in English. As a result, Spanish-speaking farmers are excluded from spaces where they could learn more about organic nutrient management practices.

The outcomes of this study can affect change at multiple scales. Regionally, the results can guide education and outreach programs supported by local organizations. The economic, educational, and infrastructural challenges identified through this project justify national programs and policies to increase access to financial assistance, bilingual sources of information, culturally appropriate modes of knowledge sharing, and access to land. Addressing these structural barriers is critical to creating a more equitable agricultural system.

The full report can be found here.

This article was written by Lauren Snyder, PhD, Education & Research Program Manager, OFRF

By |2020-11-11T20:18:49+00:00November 3rd, 2020|News|

The Climate is Changing and We Need to Act Now

October 26, 2020 – This year we’ve seen devastating wildfires across the West, hurricanes in the South, and a derecho in the Midwest destroy farmland and severely impact farmers. And we know these weather-related events are not random.

Organic agriculture provides a climate solution. Through regenerative organic practices that build soil health, farmers can more easily weather the storms to come. Practices such as cover cropping and minimal tillage work with nature to build healthy soil and help mitigate climate change by capturing and storing more carbon in the soil and reducing the release of greenhouse gases. This is why it is critical to support organic farmers and others using sustainable practices with the most up-to-date research, science-based educational materials, and federal policies that incentivize the adoption of organic agriculture and support the success of existing organic farmers.

Are you with us? Together we can create the change we want to see. But we can’t do it alone. 

We have a big year planned. OFRF is working with policy-makers and the USDA to educate and advocate for more climate-friendly agriculture with specific policy and research recommendations. We will add to our suite of free educational materials that emphasize underserved areas such as the Southeast region. With partner organizations, we are conducting virtual focus groups across the country to hear directly from organic and transitioning farmers about their challenges, and so much more. We’re in a pivotal moment and we are looking to you, our community, to be part of the solution and support the next phase of our work.

For some in our community, these are very tough times. If you are able to contribute, we encourage you to donate what you can now. Please consider setting up a sustaining or legacy donation that supports our work long-term, and share what we do with your friends and family. Every donation helps.

It’s time to stand up for our farmers and farmworkers, our food system, and our environment. Please be part of the solution.

Consider donating today to ensure 2021 is the year we do more to curb climate change and bring significantly more acres into organic production.

All the best,

 

 

 

 

 

 

The OFRF team

By |2020-11-04T20:51:14+00:00November 3rd, 2020|News|

Did you know there are many ways to support organic farmers?

October 14, 2020 – Each day our small and mighty team works tirelessly to fund innovative organic research, provide the most up-to-date, science-based, farmer-led resources to farmers, advocate for organic farming as a climate solution in Washington, DC, and educate consumers about best organic farming practices.

Over our 30 year history, we have been inspired and motivated by the ongoing support of our community and the many ways they contribute to our work. Long-term support such as sustaining gifts, bequests, and donating stocks, not only supports us today—it enables us to plan and allocate resources for the work ahead of us. For that, we are truly grateful.

We are extremely proud to do this work, but we can’t do it without your support. We don’t charge membership dues or collect association fees. We fundraise for every dollar, and we make sure those dollars go directly to on-farm research, educational programs, and advocacy on behalf of organic farmers and ranchers. When you give to OFRF, we provide organic farmers the information and resources they need to be successful. For free. 

So, let’s explore the many ways you can contribute to OFRF. While most people give through our online donation page, there are other options that provide even greater stability to our work. No matter how you give, we are so honored to be part of your giving story. Your gift ensures that organic farmers are supported with unbiased research, up-to-date free educational materials, and federal advocacy that fights for their needs.

Sustaining Donation – By setting up a sustaining gift, we can better plan for future work since we have a clear idea of our financial stability. Whether it be weekly, monthly, or quarterly, our online donation page allows you to ensure you can give on a regular basis.

Bequests – There’s no better way to show your support of organic farmers and the fight to curb climate change than naming OFRF in your will. Bequests offer a huge tax benefit as they are fully deductible from your estate. You can add the bequest when updating your will or when writing a new will. If you have chosen to leave a bequest to OFRF, please let us know so we can plan ahead. We look forward to honoring your commitment to our work. 

Donor Advised Funds (DAFS) – Donor Advised Funds are like your own individual philanthropic fund that handles the administration of charitable contributions, all while receiving an immediate tax deduction. OFRF can receive DAF funds through electronic transfer or check. 

Stocks – Giving stocks allows you to give more than you might normally in cash. It’s easy to do using our simple form or if you have a Donor Advised Fund. Stock donations also allow you to avoid capital gains tax. 

Retirement funds – If you are 70 years or older, you can transfer Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) directly from your IRA account to OFRF. QCDs are excluded from the taxable income from your retirement account. The process varies depending on the retirement fund you hold, so we suggest researching or discussing with your tax professional. 

Vehicles – Do you have an old car or vehicle that you are itching to get rid of? You can donate it to OFRF using Car Easy. They handle all of the paperwork, pick-up your vehicle and provide OFRF with the donated value.

Now that you’ve learned about all the ways you can give, what are you waiting for?! We are in a pivotal moment, where together we can advance best organic practices that build soil health and curb climate change. Organic agricultural practices are a climate change solution, so we hope you can donate today to help us bring more acres into organic!

If you have any questions or want to discuss these options, please send Haley Baron, our Partnership and Development Manager an email at give@ofrf.org. Thank you!

 

By |2020-10-15T16:14:09+00:00October 15th, 2020|News|

Creating Climate Resilient Organic Crop Production Systems

October 8, 2020 – The rising temperatures and changing rain patterns associated with climate change have created an urgent need to increase resiliency in our crop production systems. OFRF provided a research grant to Dr. Erin Silva in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison (UW-Madison) to examine the ability of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (AMF) to enhance soil moisture retention and increase access to nutrients.

An important aim of organic production is to improve overall soil health. AMF form symbiotic relationships with the roots of host plants through which plants receive nutrients. AMF also indirectly promote plant health through their contribution to soil building. Thriving AMF communities increase the water-holding capacity of soils through the deposition of proteins. This project sought to determine whether the genetic variances between popular cultivars of carrot would promote the growth of different AMF communities over the growing season and alter the quantity of AMF-associated proteins in soils.

The researchers evaluated the role of carrot cultivar on AMF-related proteins, an important factor influencing soil health improvements related to AMF communities. The project was done in collaboration with six organic farmer members of the Fairshare Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Coalition in Wisconsin during the 2017 and 2018 field seasons.

Silva’s recently submitted final report shows that while there were no obvious trends toward increases in AMF-associated soil proteins that correlated to any cultivar of carrot, most sites had moderate changes in protein quantities from spring to fall (with no clear pattern). One site had consistently increased fall quantities of AMF-associated proteins compared to spring quantities for all cultivars for both years (2017 and 2018). The research team also observed more intensive weed management at this site. Storm-related flooding impacted some farms during the project, causing considerable losses at multiple sites.

According to the research team, the project provided important preliminary data in two areas that warrant further research. First, particularly among open-pollinated cultivars, it would be beneficial to screen diverse genotypes for enhanced AMF colonization, to be used either directly by farmers or included in breeding programs. Second, preliminary data shows some interesting interactions in the role of AMF in increasing soil proteins, with their role in enhanced soil aggregation in highly disturbed environments. The team suggests it be valuable to further investigate the role of cultivar selection and AMF inoculation on soil aggregation in heavily tilled/cultivated phases of the organic crop rotation, and in intensive vegetable production.

Outreach included reports to the farmer cooperators, as well as presentations at organic vegetable field days. As a follow up to this work, the researchers aim to use sequencing technology to identify the AMF community constituents present in samples obtained during this project. This data may be used to correlate species or genus abundance with soil protein quantities to identify whether specific communities contribute to greater protein deposits in agricultural soils.

Read the final report here.

By |2020-10-08T21:33:53+00:00October 8th, 2020|News|

Climate and Agriculture Legislation Roundup

October 8, 2020 – Editor’s Note: The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) created a blog series on Rep. Chellie Pingree’s Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA), the first comprehensive piece of legislation introduced in the House of Representatives addressing climate change and agriculture. Blogs one through seven focus on specific provisions within the ARA; whereas this eighth and final blog in the series summarizes current climate and agriculture legislation. This final blog was co-authored by Billy Hackett, Policy Fellow at NSAC, and Cristel Zoebisch, Climate Policy Associate at NSAC in partnership with the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Learn more about the ARA by reading blogs one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven here.

As severe weather events and wildfires have ravaged the country during the last few months and the presidential election nears, the climate crisis continues to be a major topic of discussion on Capitol Hill. Against the backdrop of negotiations to avoid a government shutdown on September 30 and additional pandemic relief, legislators in the House of Representatives passed the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act(H.R. 4447), a broad, clean energy package that would invest billions of dollars to promote research and development for technologies to address climate change. The bill is primarily focused on the transition to clean energy production and is viewed as a down payment in the fight against the climate crisis. There were a few amendments introduced and accepted as part of the bill that focus on agriculture, including Amendment #68, introduced by Rep. Pingree (D-ME-1) and Rep. Spanberger (D-VA-7). Their amendment calls for inclusion of agricultural and grazing practices and forest management and afforestation as additional priorities in the Department of Energy carbon removal program established in the bill.

The Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act will establish a research, development, and demonstration program to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere on a large scale, prioritizing technologies and strategies that have the potential to meet emissions reduction goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. The Pingree-Spanberger amendment now widens the bill’s focus beyond high tech carbon capture to include agriculture and forestry practices. While this particular bill includes only minor agriculture provisions, there are many more bills that have been introduced in both chambers of Congress that address agriculture and climate change more directly and comprehensively that could also be incorporated into future climate legislation.

In this blog post, we summarize key bills that center on agriculture and its role in addressing the climate crisis. We begin with bills that have been introduced in both chambers, followed by those introduced only in the House of Representatives, those only introduced in the Senate, and finally we present resolutions and other proposals. While this is not a comprehensive list of all climate and agriculture bills, this list reflects key pieces of legislation to track as policy proposals around climate change continue to evolve on Capitol Hill.

Bicameral

Climate Stewardship Act of 2019 (H.R.4269 / S.2452)

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM-1) introduced the Climate Stewardship Act of 2019 to provide incentives for agricultural producers to carry out climate stewardship practices. While much of the bill is focused on forestry and wetlands, here we summarize the agricultural land conservation provisions in the legislation. Most notably, the bill would authorize increased funding for several federal conservation programs. Mandatory funding for both the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) would increase from approximately $1 and $2 billion per year, respectively, to $7 billion per year for each program, with all additional funds dedicated to financing new climate stewardship practices. The legislation would also increase funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) from $300 million annually to $1 billion by 2028 and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) from $450 million to $900 million per year, as well as finance 13 million additional acres as part of the Conservation Reserve Program(CRP). Funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) would increase from $50 million annually to $3 billion by 2024. The legislation would also increase funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) by a factor of 10 to $500 million, in addition to investing $25 million per year in urban farms and community gardens in low-income areas.

Food Date Labeling Act of 2019 (H.R.3981 / S.2337)

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Food Date Labeling Act of 2019to reduce unnecessary waste by standardizing the date labels on food which cause a great deal of consumer confusion. In the absence of federal regulations related to date labels on food products, inconsistent and ambiguous “Best If Used By” and “Use By” labels have become common. These labels contribute to the estimated 90 percent of Americans who prematurely throw away food that is perfectly safe to consume. This bill lays out clear guidelines by which food manufacturers may define and use the aforementioned labels, with the former a “quality date” which denotes the food’s optimal consumption period has passed and the latter a “discard date” which means the food is no longer safe to be consumed. Establishing this common standard is expected to decrease instances of premature food waste. Between 2010 and 2016, food loss and waste accounted for 8 to 10 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions globally (IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land). The Food Date Labeling Act of 2019would help decrease food waste by ensuring clear labels help consumers minimize food waste at home.

Farmer Driven Conservation Outcomes Act of 2020 (H.R. 6182 / S.3429)

Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) and Reps. Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11) and Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA-15) introduced the Farmer Driven Conservation Outcomes Act of 2020 to establish a clear process for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to measure, evaluate, and report on federal conservation program outcomes. The authorized system would quantify the environmental benefits of conservation activities, establishing a clear empirical foundation upon which farmers, researchers, and policymakers may understand which climate stewardship practices are most effective by region and which practices to implement to improve soil health, air and water quality, water conservation, and wildlife habitat. Ultimately, this bipartisan bill will inform how climate change adaptation and mitigation may be maximized through farmer conversation efforts.

National Climate Bank Act (H.R.5416 / S.2057)

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced the National Climate Bank Act in 2019, which would establish a National Climate Bank to publicly finance projects designed to advance renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With $35 billion in federal funding and mechanisms to attract private investments, bank investments would be made to local, regional, and state green banks or directly to eligible projects. The direct funding mechanism would be coupled with provisions for technical assistance and reduce traditional barriers to access for members of low-income and socially disadvantaged communities. Agricultural projects are listed in this bill as one of ten project types eligible for investment, which positions farmers and ranchers as key actors in our efforts to mobilize around the climate crisis.

Growing Climate Solutions Act of 2020 (H.R.7393 / S.3894)

Sens. Mike Braun (R-IN) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-7) and Don Bacon (R-NE-2) introduced the Growing Climate Solutions Act of 2020to authorize the USDA to certify private carbon markets, technical assistance providers, and market verifiers. This bill aims to facilitate farmer and rancher participation in private carbon markets by creating a self-certifying process for technical assistance providers and carbon market verifiers to register and be listed on a USDA website. In its current form, the legislation does not include an accreditation process, opting instead for self-certification, and does not require USDA to establish a conflict of interest policy. Hence, verifiers could be in the employ of businesses and organizations running the carbon market. Nonetheless, the goal of the legislation is to bring transparency and build trust among farmers and ranchers seeking to participate in private carbon markets.

House of Representatives

Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA; H.R. 5861)

The Agriculture Resilience Act is the most comprehensive climate and agriculture legislation introduced in this Congress and has been covered extensively in this blog series. We have covered the goals section of the ARA for agriculture to reach net zero emissions by 2040, provisions on ecosystem services and carbon markets, a new program to support climate-friendly manure management, expansions and improvements to federal working lands conservation programs, provisions to promote climate and agriculture research at USDA, a new block grant program to support state and Tribal soil health programs, and ways federal programs can further incentivize adoption of advanced grazing management.

An overall summary of the bill is available here.

Cultivating Organic Matter through the Promotion of Sustainable Techniques (COMPOST) Act (H.R. 6023)

Reps. Julia Brownley (D-CA-26) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) introduced the Cultivating Organic Matter through the Promotion of Sustainable Techniques (COMPOST) Actin 2020 to define composting as a conservation practice in the Food Security Act of 1985. This amendment would enable farmers to receive conservation program payments for composting through USDA conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program(EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program(CSP). Compost is among the most environmentally friendly means to dispose of food waste and other organic wastes, given its abilities to minimize pollution of water sources and greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously enhancing soil health and fertility that help build agricultural resilience to the impacts of climate change. The provisions within the COMPOST Act are included in the ARA.

Healthy Soil, Resilient Farmers Act (H.R. 8057)

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-7) introduced the Healthy Soil, Resilient Farmers Act earlier this year to create a “Soil Health Transition Loan Program” at USDA under the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Conservation Loan Program to support farmers and ranchers hoping to start or improve their conservation efforts. USDA would distribute these loans and help crop and livestock producers enhance their soil health and increase their soil carbon levels. Farmers and ranchers looking to adopt best soil health practices will have additional flexibility, including a three-year deferment on the loan’s interest and payments on loan principle as they adopt practices such as cover-cropping, resource-conserving crop rotations, advanced grazing management, and organic production. The bill strengthens successful, voluntary conservation practices that work in concert with the environment, enhance our soils’ carbon sequestration potential, and provide long-term economic benefits for farmers and ranchers.

School Food Recovery Act of 2020 (H.R. 5607)

Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1), Dan Newhouse (R-WA-4), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1) introduced the School Food Recovery Act of 2020to establish a grant program for schools to implement food waste reduction programs. Schools selected through an application process will lead on food recovery and ensure that students have sufficient nutrition by establishing a food waste measurement, prevention, and reduction project. In addition, the competitive program will prioritize funding for schools collaborating with community partners and incorporate a number of experiential education activities for students to internalize the value of proper food use. Food waste emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and represents misuse of water, labor, and other resources that went into producing and transporting those products. This bill would enable schools to be part of the climate solution through food waste mitigation. Many of the provisions in this bill were incorporated into the ARA.

Food Recovery Act of 2020 (H.R. 5841)

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) introduced the Food Recovery Act of 2020to decrease the incidence of food waste through the implementation of numerous initiatives, several of which are comparable to provisions included in bills covered thus far. This bill establishes a common standard for date labeling, calls for studies to analyze barriers which prevent the donation of surplus food, creates a grant program to help schools reduce food waste, and increases support for food waste-to-energy and composting projects at the farm, municipal, county, and state levels.

This is not Rep. Pingree’s first time introducing a version of the Food Recovery Act as a longtime vocal champion of sustainable food and farming issues. Without these or comparable actions, an estimated 40 percent of food produced in the United States will continue to be wasted and methane—which is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide —will continue to be emitted at unsustainable rates. Many of the provisions from this bill were also incorporated into the ARA.

Senate

America’s Clean Future Fund Act (S. 4484)

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the America’s Clean Future Fund Actwhich would establish a number of programs and incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, chief among them the establishment of an incremental carbon fee no later than 2023. The bill would also create an independent federal agency, the Climate Change Finance Corporation (C2FC), to invest in clean energy job creation and broader climate resilience. These aims would be achieved through grant programs for states and local governments to ease the transition for carbon-intensive industries and employees, as well as rebates and refunds to individuals and facilities who capture, store, and/or utilize carbon. To this end, the bill includes an agricultural payments section that would establish a new program to pay farmers and ranchers for implementing practices that sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This bill includes both the revenue-generating mechanism and a plan for how to utilize the revenue from the carbon fee to incentivize transition to sustainable and climate-friendly industries and practices.

21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act (S.4434)

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act to revive the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to the tune of $9 billion for fiscal year 2020 to remain available until 2022. The original CCC was established in the midst of the Great Depression by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to employ hundreds of thousands of young, out-of-work Americans, who engaged in job training and conservation projects across the country. In terms of agriculture, this bill’s reimagining of the popular national service program includes a provision for new, supplemental funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to support eligible climate stewardship practices, including cover crops, conservation crop rotation, rotational grazing, and silvopasture. Existing CSP programs and funding would not be changed by this legislation. The bill would create a set aside to make payments to be used exclusively to enroll in CSP contracts comprised predominantly of the climate stewardship practices listed in the legislation, protecting existing CSP funding but adding funding and incentivizing farmers to implement climate stewardship practices.

This is not the only climate-focused CCC bill that has been introduced recently, but we highlight it in this blog post due to its emphasis on CSP. Other comparable efforts to revive the CCC include the 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act (H.R. 7264)introduced by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO-2), which calls for an additional $5.5 billion in funding to remain available until 2023 for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This additional funding would be specifically for alternative funding arrangements. These two versions of CCC legislation place a greater emphasis on agricultural conservation practices than many others, hence their inclusion in this blog post. NSAC will continue to monitor CCC proposals as they are released, particularly those that include substantial agricultural sections.

Other Proposals

Green New Deal (H. Res 109/S. Res 59)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY-14) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a resolution in 2019, the Green New Deal, as a broad framework for the United States to create a sustainable 21st century economy with millions of high-wage jobs in new green industries and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is an aspirational declaration to guide our country’s vision, though it is not a bill with concrete provisions. The resolution includes benchmark guiding principles to reimagine nearly every sector of the economy, including manufacturing, energy, waste management, transportation, infrastructure, and agriculture, with the intent to build out specifics policies and programs through legislation over time. Support for family farming, expanding land use practices that increase soil health and carbon storage, and establishing universal access to healthy food are explicitly included as priorities in the agriculture sector.

Rural Green Partnership Framework

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) introduced the Rural Green Partnership in 2019 to the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis as a broad framework of principles for rural communities to play a key role in combating climate change. The proposal outlines a variety of ideas for the agriculture sector to lead this charge. These include increased funding for existing or perhaps new conservation programs to incentivize the wider adoption of precision agriculture and conservation management farming practices to maximize soil carbon sequestration, reduce runoff, and optimize fertilizer inputs. There are similar calls for integrated crop and livestock operations to receive incentives to maximize the soil carbon sequestered in their cropland. The framework also calls for expanding the number and capacity of conservation technical experts capable of offering one-on-one advice to agricultural producers would make these programs more accessible. Finally, in addition to new investments in research and development, the framework calls for expanding grants and loans for farm and ranch operations which improve overall energy efficiency and generation.

What Comes Next?

While none of these bills will become law this year as there are very few days left in the 116thCongress, now is the time to further develop the narrative around the key components of these bills and how they can be incorporated into comprehensive federal legislation for consideration in the 117th Congress (2021-22). It is possible that the 117th Congress could take up long overdue, comprehensive federal legislation to address the global climate crisis. While transportation, energy, and economic development will likely continue to receive the most attention in climate legislative discussions, food and agriculture systems have a critical role to play in addressing the climate crisis, as NSAC has stated in our Climate and Agriculture position paper, our farmer climate sign-on letter, and in this blog series on the ARA.

OFRF and NSAC encourage legislators to ensure sustainable agriculture producers have a seat at the table as climate policy discussions continue, and we encourage Congress to use the ARA as a roadmap for comprehensive policy proposals to expand and improve existing USDA programs for agriculture to fulfill its climate mitigating potential and be part of the solution. Legislators must ensure farmers and ranchers have the tools, resources, and incentives they need to transition to climate-friendly production systems that improve soil health, enhance carbon sequestration, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, reduce runoff and soil erosion, and protect water and air quality.

Read our blog summarizing the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis report here, in addition to the agriculture chapter fact sheet and the full report. You can also read the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis report here and NSAC’s recommendations to the Special Committee here.

By |2020-10-08T15:39:45+00:00October 8th, 2020|News|

Navigate the Complex World of Soil Health

October 7, 2020 – Are you trying to navigate the complex world of soil health management?

OFRF has the resources you need!

Our free series of guidebooks and webinars on soil health provide up-to-date, science-based information to help guide you in your efforts to build and sustain the health of our most valuable resource, soil.

Topics include:

Building Organic Matter for Healthy Soils: An Overview 
Weed Management: An Ecological Approach 
Practical Conservation Tillage 
Cover Crops: Selection and Management 
Plant Genetics: Plant Breeding and Variety Selection 
Water Management and Water Quality 
Nutrient Management for Crops, Soil, and the Environment 
Organic Practices for Climate Mitigation, Adaptation, and Carbon Sequestration 
Understanding and Optimizing the Community of Soil Life 

Thousands of farmers have already benefited from these webinars and here’s what they have to say!

“New to farming, I have struggled to grasp some of the concepts of building and maintaining good soil. The ‘light’ went on while watching this webinar.”

“Keep doing webinars, they are very helpful, organized, and well delivered. I have gotten a lot out of this particular series.”

View the guidebooks, webinars, and other educational resources here.

About the author and presenter:
Mark Schonbeck has worked for over three decades as a researcher, consultant, and educator in sustainable and organic agriculture. He has participated in on-farm research into mulching, cover crops, minimum tillage, and nutrient management for organic vegetables. For many years, he has written for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming newsletter and served as their policy liaison to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

    

For 30 years, OFRF has played a critical role in providing organic and transitioning farmers and ranchers with the resources they need to be successful. OFRF puts farmers first. We do not charge a membership fee and ALL of our resources are available for free.

View and share our climate toolkit.

By |2020-10-07T21:27:19+00:00October 7th, 2020|News|
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