News

OFRF Co-sponsors NOC’s Pre NOSB Meeting

On April 15, OFRF co-sponsored the National Organic Coalition’s (NOC) Pre National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) Spring meeting. This half day event gathered over 200 organic advocates, farmers, researchers, and brands to discuss some of the most pressing issues in organic agriculture. The event was held virtually, allowing people from across the country to attend and participate. 

OFRF hosted Breakout Session A: Can Organic Farming Help Solve the Climate Crisis? where our renowned Research Program Associate, Mark Schonbeck and OFRF’s new Education and Research Manager, Thelma Velez, discussed the ways science demonstrates that organic farming systems can help sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build resilience to future inclement weather events. 

Along with breakout groups on a wide variety of topics, the event included detailed federal policy updates from NOC’s Steve Etka. He discussed organic cost-share, NOP rules that need to be finalized, racial equity, and potential ways that carbon markets can be used as greenwashing. We also heard from Christie Badger about the topics to be discussed at the NOSB’s meeting (held April 28-30). The event closed with a farmer panel discussion.  

If you couldn’t make it to the meeting, you can find the recording, presentation slides, and notes for all of the breakout groups, including OFRF’s in this link.

By |2021-05-07T20:06:31+00:00May 7th, 2021|News, Press Release|

Investing in the future, together

Friends,

You have likely observed the disastrous effects of climate change around you: irregular rainfall patterns, rising sea levels, disappearance of pollinators and native plant habitats, coupled with appearance of invasive species, pests and diseases. That is why in 2005, I decided to devote a significant part of my research portfolio to organic farming. We have a moral obligation and responsibility to play a role, no matter how small, in addressing the ways climate change threatens our everyday life. 

Will you join me in supporting organic farming systems by donating to OFRF? Plus, you can double your impact as your donation will be matched dollar for dollar for the next month. 

I committed myself to investing in organic and the future of agriculture to fight climate change for future generations, train the next cohorts of researchers and farmers in organic farming practices, and invest in science that will help support sustainable food systems. The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) works to ensure all farmers have the research they need and that is why I have chosen to support OFRF by serving as a board member.

As an educator, scientist, and researcher at Tuskegee University, I have dedicated my career to training students, researchers, and farmers in organic farming systems. Through my efforts and those of millions of scientists in the world, we conduct research to discover new ways to reduce or eliminate the effects of climate change. By adopting agricultural practices that sequester carbon into soil, we can lower greenhouse gas emissions.

I hope you will invest in future generations and support OFRF

Your support is crucial in addressing the climate crisis and we cannot do it alone. Your donation will have a major impact on improving production practices and supporting farmers with research, education, and advocacy. Please consider donating to OFRF to meet the challenge of our time. 

With warm regards,

Kokoasse Kpomblekou-A, PhD
Research Professor of Plant and Soil Science
Department of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences (DAES)
Tuskegee University

(Photos: Berson J. Valcin, one of Kokoasse’s student’s, takes a selfie with other students and Kokoasse while conducting field research; Kokoasse and colleagues in a sweet potato field)

By |2021-04-26T17:56:47+00:00April 22nd, 2021|News|

OFRF at Expo West – Save The Date and Register!

April 7, 2021 – OFRF will be celebrating our annual Expo West luncheon virtually this year on May 11th with New Hope Network! While we’re sad we can’t be together in person as we have for nearly 25 years for this annual event, we’re excited to “see” everyone virtually! Whether you’ve attended the luncheon every year or never been, we hope you will start your day with us at 8am PST on May 11th.

It’s free to join and all you need to do is register for the Natural Products Expo Virtual event. We will feature OFRF’s beloved luncheon head chef, Chris Blobaum and OFRF-funded researcher, Dr. Jed Eberly to explore growing and cooking lentils (yes lentils!), soil health, and climate change.

If you have already registered for Natural Products Expo Virtual, click here to RSVP for OFRF’s event on May 11th. Not yet registered for Natural Products Expo Virtual? Click here to register for our free event.

By |2021-04-22T20:39:51+00:00April 8th, 2021|News|

Check Out OFRF’s 2020 Annual Report!

OFRF 2020 Annual ReportApril 7, 2021 – Last year presented us with a host of new challenges but thanks to strong partnerships, continued support, and a team that kept our work moving forward, OFRF had a strong year with major accomplishments across research, education, and advocacy. We couldn’t have done it without you. Take a peek at our brand new 2020 annual report to learn more!

View OFRF’s 2020 annual report

 

By |2021-04-19T18:35:58+00:00April 7th, 2021|News, Press Release|

Building Soil Health in the South: OFRF’s New Guidebook Explores Latest Research

March 30, 2021 – Healthy, living soils provide the foundation for successful and profitable organic farming and ranching. In the South, organic producers face intense pressure from weeds, insect pests, parasitic nematodes, and plant-pathogens; summer heat extremes, drought, and flood; and soil types with inherent fertility limitations. In addition, long growing seasons can make it harder to rebuild soil organic matter, especially during intensive crop production.

In OFRF’s 2015 nationwide survey of organic producers, 79% of respondents from the South cited soil health as a high research priority, somewhat higher than the national average of 74% (Jerkins and Ory, 2016). Many respondents expressed a need for practical information on how to build soil health in hot climates that burn up soil organic matter (SOM) and promote aggressive weed growth. The goal of this new guidebook is to help the region’s current and aspiring organic producers develop effective, site-specific soil health management strategies that support successful, resilient enterprises.

Building Healthy Living Soils for Successful Organic Farming in the Southern Region explores how to apply organic soil health principles to the region’s soils through a series of practical steps and strategies, illustrated by innovative farmer stories and brief descriptions of underlying scientific concepts. The guidebook also includes a list of resources for additional reading, a description of the inherent properties of soil types commonly found in the South, and a summary of the latest soil health research being conducted in this region.

This latest guidebook builds on OFRF’s popular series of guidebooks and webinars focused on organic farming and soil health. The entire series is available to download for free.

 

By |2021-04-16T15:38:41+00:00March 30th, 2021|News, Press Release|

Fresh From the Fields: Farmwella

March 5, 2021 – Cornelius Adewale founded Farmwella to help reduce poverty in his native Africa by empowering and supporting the next generation of farmers. The organization is based on an investment model that matches sponsors with farmers to make sustainable farming attractive and profitable. Investors provide financing for farmers to implement sustainable agricultural practices and get profits in return. Farmers receive access to all the support services they need to implement sustainable agricultural practices.

Cornelius got the seed for the idea when he started his own small organic farm in Nigeria after receiving his undergraduate degree in Agricultural Economics at Obafemi Awolowo University. He grew vegetables that Nigerians eat every day, such as okra, amaranth, tomatoes, and peppers. Within six months he was farming about one acre, and within two years he had five acres of land. So, he knew that education made success possible and he was troubled by the fact that his neighbors were living in poverty because they did not have the same knowledge.

“I would see farmers growing the same crop over and over, things like cassava and corn that their grandparents grew,” Cornelius explains. “But that is not necessarily the most profitable crops they could be growing.” He also saw that knowledge on sustainable farming practices such as building soil health was not getting to farmers. “There is no understanding of farming as a business and it is difficult to improve what you don’t know. Farmers don’t see university research as a resource and the institutions don’t see their job as improving the life of farmers.”

That’s when he started thinking about ways to extend his knowledge to help struggling farmers become both ecologically and economically sustainable. The first step was to continue his own education. He was accepted to the masters program at Washington State University. With mentor Lynne Carpenter-Boggs and others, Cornelius developed OFoot, an Internet-based tool to help organic farmers mitigate the environmental impacts of their farms and estimate the impacts of organic farming methods on soil organic matter and greenhouse gases over time.

April Jones Thatcher of April Joy Farm jumped at the opportunity to participate in the project. Located near Ridgefield, Washington, her 24-acre diversified farm is 100% certified organic. Working with Cornelius and the team at WSU, April was able to accurately measure the carbon footprint of her farm and create a science-based plan for reducing that footprint and building soil health.

“Keeping good data is fundamental,” says April. “Research is a risk reduction strategy for farmers. I can’t possibly do all the replications on my farm or take the risk.” Armed with the information she got from OFoot, April learned how to adapt her management decisions for equipment and tillage, and leverage her limited resources to get the most bang for her buck.

Cornelius went on to earn his PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental Science at WSU. Around that time, he received a $100,000 grant from the Bullitt Foundation to start what metamorphosed into Farmwella. The program matches a farmer with a sponsor who provides the financial resources to lease land and build the farm infrastructure. Farmwella oversees the implementation, monitoring the farmer’s progress daily through the app and video conferencing. “We give farmers everything they need,” says Cornelius. “All they need to bring is their hard work and integrity.”

The concept is aimed at unleashing the value of the land so that it becomes an investable asset. “It’s an investment in people but the sponsors make back their money,” explains Cornelius. “It’s more sustainable than relying on a donation model.”

April comments on the community-building aspect of the program. “These farms create community among neighbors and provide a place to learn and share. When others can see the success, it makes the research and science tangible in ways it wasn’t before.”

“Working with Cornelius is an incredible example of how innovation supported by data-driven decision-making is a win-win,” April adds. “When farmers and researchers form strong partnerships, the impact ripples beyond a single project. All these years after that first OFoot project, we continue to support and inform each other’s work. He inspires me and I encourage him. Ours is a partnership of mutual reciprocity. It’s how we are working to move the organic farming community and widespread adoption of organic farming practices forward.”

In closing, Cornelius says it’s important to not see farming as a competition with others but rather a competition with yourself—with sustainability at the core. “You have to see it not as a destination but as a journey and how you can improve over time. I’ve never met a farmer who said I don’t want my farm to be sustainable—for our children and future generations. The question is, are we directing that energy on the right path?”

Check out April’s “5 Great Reasons to Create a Soil Health Map for Your Diversified Farm”.

By |2021-03-05T19:57:45+00:00March 5th, 2021|Farmer Stories, News|

OFRF and NRCS Partner to Provide Education and Outreach on Organic Conservation Practices

February 25, 2021 – OFRF is pleased to announce a three-year agreement with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The agreement focuses on strengthening conservation partnerships between NRCS field staff and organic producers. It will leverage OFRF’s unique expertise to expand knowledge and outreach focusing on the best science-based organic practices.

OFRF, organic producers, and NRCS conservationists share a commitment to restore and protect natural resources through agricultural conservation. The USDA National Organic Program Standards require certified organic growers to maintain and improve soil and water quality, species diversity, woodlands, wetlands, wildlife, and other resources to help in these efforts. And, organic producers and NRCS both recognize the urgent need to address the climate crisis through conservation systems that mitigate climate change and build resilience.

However, organic farmer participation in NRCS programs has been limited to date. Though historically NRCS has worked primarily with conventional producers, the agency’s conservation practices fit all kinds of production – from organic to conventional, large to small, and all regions, nationwide. Increased technical and financial assistance for organic and transitioning producers is necessary to support widespread adoption of NRCS conservation practices standards related to soil health, tillage, and nutrient, pest, and weed management.

“We applaud recent positive steps to ensure programs work effectively for the organic sector,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director at OFRF. “However, there is a continued need to build the capacity of NRCS field offices to effectively serve organic farmers. We are very excited to launch this new partnership. By creating science-based materials for NRCS staff and helping increase understanding of organic soil health practices such as practical conservation tillage and nutrient management, we are taking an active role in fighting climate change, and supporting the success of organic producers and others who want to adopt more sustainable practices.”

“The Organic Farming Research Foundation is a leader in science-based research in organic agriculture and its benefits on natural resources,” said NRCS Acting Chief Terry Cosby. “This partnership will ensure NRCS field staff better understand organic farming practices and are equipped to support more organic farmers’ conservation efforts.”

“The agreement comes at a critical time as climate change—with intensified droughts, heat waves, and storms—creates new challenges for farmers and ranchers,” Tencer said.

The partnership includes provisions for research analyses, guidebooks, webinars, and case studies—with a particular focus on sustainable growing practices that promote soil health, conserve natural resources, and prevent environmental degradation while producing a healthful, and secure food supply.

———————– 
OFRF is a non-profit foundation that works to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production. Overall, OFRF grant funding has advanced scientific knowledge and improved the practices, ecological sustainability, and economic prosperity of organic farming. All project results are shared freely. OFRF also provides free access to its educational materials and resources.

NRCS helps America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners conserve the nation’s soil, water, air, and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment. For more information on NRCS assistance for organic producers, visit nrcs.usda.gov/organic.


By |2021-02-25T18:30:27+00:00February 25th, 2021|News, Press Release|

Transforming Agriculture to Mitigate Climate Change and Support Public Health

Aspen fleabane with lots of violet flowers in June

February 17, 2021 – In the current issue of Organic Farmer magazine, OFRF colleagues Lauren Snyder and Cristel Zoebisch explore the connections between agriculture, climate change, and public health The authors point out that in order to reduce the risk of infectious disease spread, we need to address the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and the human activities that threaten natural habitats and biodiversity—identifying several recommendations for doing so, such as investing in organic research, extension and education.

“If we are to limit the likelihood of future pandemics and other catastrophic events driven by a changing climate, we must prioritize and support systems-based, ecological solutions that protect our food systems, the environment, and public health.”

Read the article.

 

By |2021-02-17T22:05:41+00:00February 17th, 2021|News, Press Release|

OFRF Grantee Releases Early-Yielding Red Pepper Variety

February 12, 2021—In 2020, OFRF provided a grant to Sarah Hargreaves at the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario to support three breeding projects being conducted in cooperation with their Farmer-Led Research Program. All three projects focus on providing best practices to adapt to climate change by breeding varieties that are locally adapted to low-input organic systems for southern Ontario and the U.S. northeast.

In the January/February issue of Organic Grower, Hargreaves celebrates the release of a new early-yielding pepper variety called Renegade. “We’re really grateful to OFRF for supporting those beginning stages. Breeding takes a long time, so it was so great to have that support across projects of different states.”

Read the article.

In addition to the peppers, Hargreaves and the team are working on an open pollinated broccoli that is heat tolerant and adapted to organic systems, and an open pollinated seedless English cucumber with excellent flavor and good yield that is adapted to organic greenhouse conditions.

By supporting farmer-led breeding efforts for organic production, this project also contributes to an emerging but critically under- researched area of vegetable farming. This grant is one of 13 OFRF awarded in 2020 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 |2021-02-12T18:59:58+00:00February 12th, 2021|News, Press Release|

Fresh From the Fields: Gray Organic Farms

January 19, 2021 – Stephen Gray and his family are the third generation to farm their land in Ashkum, Illinois, and just a couple of years away from becoming a centennial farm. Stephen recalls an idyllic time as a young child when his dad raised dairy and he could catch fish in the freshwater ditches. Things changed when they stopped raising livestock and began farming corn and soybeans fence post to fence post. “My dad was competing against farmers who were getting payments from the government and eventually he had to jump in with everybody else to make it financially,” explains Stephen. “He waited as long as he could.” Pretty soon, Roundup made its way onto the farm and the once-clear ditches became coated with green film.

When his dad passed and Stephen took over the farm he decided that he didn’t want to be constantly spraying chemicals and putting on fertilizers, and he wanted livestock on the farm again. In one year, he switched everything, beginning the transition of the 600-acre farm to certified organic production.

It was a whole different concept, not only for the farm but for Stephen’s research subsidiary, Gray Research Production, which had contracts with several large companies to research herbicide traits, test for chemical efficacy and yield, and breed corn. In fact, Stephen says working in the corn breeding nurseries was one of his favorite things before a severe pollen reaction led him to reevaluate. “I’d never had a reaction to any type of pollen before and I went out to work in the nursery and got rashes all over my arms from the pollen,” says Stephen. “There were eight different experimental traits in the corn I was working with. So, that was it. I said no more traits and chemical studies and all those contracts dried up.” It was a stressful time for the family because they were going into unchartered territory by transitioning to organic and losing the research income at the same time.

Things are going pretty well though. With one-third of the farm currently certified organic and two-thirds in T1 or T2 transition, 100% of the operation will be certified organic by 2023. They sell direct-to-consumer through another subsidiary, Harvest Table Foods, and have a loyal customer base which they’re hoping to expand.  This will be their first year selling certified organic corn and Stephen is in talks with his certifier to learn what he has to do to get his cattle and poultry operations working in sync with his organic ground. “Until now we haven’t had enough organic ground to sustain feeding my animals with all organic product. Now, for the first time, we have enough hay and grain for the poultry to do organic for everything.”

The Grays grow red clover, organic corn, organic and conventional soybeans, pasture mix for their cattle, oats for feed, and millet. They are also experimenting with growing sunflowers for feed. They raise black angus, laying hens, broiler chickens, and holiday turkeys. In addition to their CSA, they do two farmers’ markets.

Their organic ground is far surpassing their transitional ground in both gross revenue and yield, achieving about a third higher yield. Stephen attributes this to a rotation of red clover, which provides a slow release of nutrients back into the soil. The root system that develops provides better root penetration and a steady supply of nutrient value that will carry the crop through severe weather events. “We can ride the storm. It’s more than just that one year’s crop though, you have to be looking two years or so down the road at what that crop is contributing or taking out of your soil.”

Stephen also practices minimal tillage to build the soil and reduce disruption to soil life. “We only till six- to seven-inch wide strips in the fields of white clover where we plant our row crops, corn, and soybeans,” he explains. “We mow in between the rows instead of cultivating. Every time a row of white clover is cut or grazed a portion of the root system dies and releases nitrogen and stimulates more growth.”

Stephen doesn’t see any benefit in terminating perennial cover crops like clover that grow four or five years, building soil health and providing the mulch he needs around the plants to retain moisture and control weeds. “I’ll have my six-inch strips, plant my crop, and do rotary hoeing and weeding only in those six-inch strips. When the crop gets big enough to mulch I’ll set my mower so it sprays out the sides instead of the back to mulch around my plants. Once I see the white clover being overtaken by grass, I will do an inter seeding again in the early spring and let the white clover or other species that I want to incorporate take over naturally. I’m not looking to work the whole field up and start from scratch. I’d much rather keep a green field as much as I can.”

“The first year after the red clover, we grew organic seed corn and while we still had wet areas, we did not lose the crop. That was when we knew we were on to something. In some of those years we received seven or eight inches of rain during these weird weather events and we would have lakes across our fields. We found that on the organic ground we didn’t have standing water, while I was still waiting for the tiles to pull on the conventional acres. I didn’t have any replants on my organic acres; I did have replants on my conventional tile acres. I used to have heavy slabs of dark soil and it was hard for me to work that ground into a really nice seed bed. I found just the opposite with the organic acres and that is why I am so encouraged.  We also had some really good plant standability. We had good yields. I was very satisfied.”

Stephen says one of the biggest challenges of the transition to organic is the learning curve. “I come from a background of traits, chemicals, and row crops, and thinking everything is its own single year entity. Realizing that the crop you plant this year will have an impact on your following crop and so on is a big shift. It’s a lot more detailed than just deciding how many acres of corn and beans you want to plant and placing an order. And, once you’ve set your plan, it isn’t as easy to change it.” Stephen is fortunate to have a neighbor that has been farming organically for a number of years. “They gave me some really good advice and definitely saved me from making some really foolish mistakes.”

Stephen compares farming conventionally to how he does things now. “When I farmed conventionally, I would have the co-op come spray herbicide before I even planted. They’d come back and spray once or twice after the crop was out of the ground. I watched it grow and I would harvest it and they would come out and do soil testing, apply my fall fertilizer, and the next year, I’d go out and plant again. So, all of the scouting, all of the crop nutrient needs in relationship from one year to the next was done with that one year in mind. They’d spray fungicides and herbicides depending on what they saw. There was no reason for me to be in the field, everything was done. That’s not the case anymore. We monitor our own, we plant our own, we do our own weed control or hire someone to come in and burn. It’s much more hands-on individualized decision making so we know exactly what happened.”

There’s also a financial impact since there is little to no markup for transitional crops. “When we began the transition, we were in a financial crunch so I was simply doing maintenance and looking to maintain the soil fertility to where it was when I started that year. Banks that haven’t had a lot of experience with organic’s three-year transition process don’t understand that there are going to be a couple of tough years.”

Stephen is making some long-term investments that also put pressure on his bottom line. Some of the things he wants to do, like starting an apple orchard, will take five years before there is a cash payout. “It’s beyond my farming years,” he says. “I told my kids everything we start better not stop while I’m still alive. I want to see it continue through my farming years. I want this to be something they respect and keep going so it is passed on. That’s my hope.”

Why does Stephen think research is important? “It’s very important to make that bridge. I’ve been telling everybody that wants to do organic research that it doesn’t work to go to a conventional farmer and just present one side. Everything I do here on a performance level, I do on my organic ground and then I mirror that in a conventional study on someone else’s ground. We keep track of costs, inputs, everything that we have to do to make that crop happen. Then, we compare that at the end of the year so we can show the value. A lot of people think organic farmers are going backward and that they don’t use technology or science, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. If nothing else, organic farmers have to be so much more well versed in what affects their crops. You really quickly have to become an expert on pest control and everything that goes into your crops and how they interrelate. There’s a mountain of information that organic farmers have to think about that most farmers don’t have to consider.”

When asked about how organic farming can help mitigate climate change, Stephen admits it will be difficult to move things on a global scale since organic is such a small percentage of agriculture, but he says it’s important to do what you can on an individual level. “I grew up on this farm and we used to have the cleanest water. Now we have to drink bottled water. It’s only been thirty years since I went fishing in the ditches. We don’t have any of that anymore. Now we have green film, we are oxygen-deprived and have too much nitrogen in our ditches. When farmers go out and put down 250 pounds of nitrogen in one growing season per acre, that is insane. So, there are lots of things individuals can do.”

The goal for Stephen is to be as self-sustainable as possible. “We want a family-run operation that provides a living if you are willing to do the work. You have to be all in, you have to be a believer and know what you’re doing and not just be in it for the financial end of it. If there’s one thing I haven’t emphasized enough it is the support of my whole family. My wife Patricia has been so supportive even though there’s been financial stress. My four kids have worked with me in the fields since they could follow me down the rows. I’d never be able to do any of this without their help.”

By |2021-02-16T18:03:55+00:00January 19th, 2021|Farmer Stories, News|
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