News

The Agriculture Resilience Act – Good for the Climate, Good for Organic

By Ferd Hoefner, OFRF’s policy advisor

By improving soil health and increasing soil organic matter, farmers and ranchers draw down atmospheric carbon levels while simultaneously making their farms more resilient to climatic and other future shocks. Farmers and scientists throughout the world recognize agriculture as a critical partner in mobilizing around climate change, and organic agriculture, with its central focus on improving the soil, can help lead the way! 

That is the premise of a bill recently re-introduced in Congress to serve as a blueprint for the needed policy changes to help U.S. agriculture reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. The Organic Farming Research Foundation was one of scores of groups endorsing the introduction of the Agriculture Resilience Act of 2021 (ARA) when the bill was introduced in April by Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), herself an organic farmer, and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM).  

The House bill (H.R. 2803) currently has 20 sponsors, including Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), the chair of the Conservation Subcommittee of the House Agriculture Committee, while the Senate bill (S. 1337) currently has 4 sponsors, including former presidential primary contenders Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

OFRF not only contributed to the ARA, but also recently submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture making recommendations for steps the Administration can and should also take on its own, without requiring further action from Congress. These efforts will assist farmers and ranchers to meet the challenge represented by climate change, focusing on the policy needs of organic farmers.

The ARA

The ARA is a farmer-focused, research-driven path to net zero agriculture. The legislation establishes ambitious yet achievable goals for the agriculture sector to reach net zero by 2040. The bill improves and expands upon many existing programs while creating a few new grant programs to support its six programmatic building blocks: 

  • Increasing investments in agricultural research
  • Improving soil health
  • Supporting the transition to pasture-based livestock
  • Ensuring farmland preservation and viability
  • Promoting on-farm renewable energy 
  • Reducing food waste

Congress will soon be considering and voting on a massive infrastructure, climate, and jobs bill based on the American Jobs Plan proposed by President Biden. The ARA sponsors are proposing that key elements from their bill form the backbone of the agricultural portion of the several trillion-dollar bill that will cover energy, transportation, housing, agriculture and other climate-related sectors of the government and economy.

OFRF readers and supporters can help push for a central role for agriculture, including organics, in the upcoming debate over the infrastructure and climate package by encouraging their Senators and their Member of Congress to become an ARA co-sponsor. The more co-sponsors, the more attention the bill will receive as Congress begins to act on the President’s proposal!

Organic-specific Parts of ARA

The ARA includes several organic-specific provisions, such as an expanded Organic Initiative within the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and a retooling of the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, as well as a wide variety of programs and initiatives that will aid organic farmers. Here is a partial rundown.

Farm Conservation Expansion – The bill would create new conservation initiatives, such as a block grant program to aid state soil health programs and a long-term working grasslands/managed grazing program within the Conservation Reserve Program. It would also greatly increase funding for the Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.  

Within CSP, it would build on the organic farming provisions added by the 2018 farm bill by requiring payments for conservation enhancements specific to organic farming and organic transition. Within EQIP, it would eliminate the lower payment cap currently in place for organic farms versus conventional operations. It would also double the funding available for on-farm soil health trials and demonstrations.  

Across all conservation programs, it would increase funding for conservation technical assistance, increase set-asides for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and mandate a review of payment schedules to accelerate progress on reaching net zero goals by 2040.

Organic Certification Cost Share – The ARA proposes to lift the maximum cost-share amount per scope from $750 to $1,000 a year. It would also make the program an entitlement, meaning that the program would meet 100 percent of demand each year, rather than being capped by a specific dollar amount. The current cap forced USDA last year to reduce maximum payments to $500 per scope due to farmer demand outstripping available funding.

Pastured Livestock and Poultry – The legislation encourages sustainable, grazing based livestock production through designated funding for grazing land management, a new animal raising claims regime at USDA, to establish strong enforceable standards. It would also establish a small processor grant program to enable the growth of small and very small slaughter and processing facilities to better service organic, grassfed, pasture-raised and other alternative agricultural farming and ranching operations. 

Agricultural Research – In addition to the specific organic research programs at USDA, a variety of other programs also help service the organic sector. The ARA would provide a major boost in funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), enabling SARE to begin an agriculture and food system resilience grant program. It would also provide a major boost to the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Long-term Agroecological Research (LTAR) Network, which currently includes long-term comparative organic farming trials, trials that could then be expanded to all regions of the country. The bill would also require both NIFA and ARS to fund at least $50 million worth of public breeding research each year, with a focus on delivery of resource-efficient, stress-tolerant, regionally adapted livestock breeds and crop cultivars, including organic varieties, that help build resilience to climate change and support carbon sequestration.

Those are just a few of the advances included in the ARA. For more information, see Rep. Pingree’s net zero agriculture website and this section by section summary of the bill. To see what you can do to help, visit this action page by our partners, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).

By |2021-06-14T20:10:57+00:00May 10th, 2021|News|

OFRF Co-sponsors NOC’s Pre NOSB Meeting

May 7, 2021—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 |2021-06-14T20:11:03+00:00May 7th, 2021|News|

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 |2021-06-03T21:52:13+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 |2021-05-18T20:02:32+00:00April 7th, 2021|News|

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 |2021-06-17T18:37:26+00:00March 30th, 2021|News|

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 |2021-05-18T20:05:21+00:00February 17th, 2021|News|

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 |2021-05-18T20:06:06+00:00February 12th, 2021|News|
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