Press Release

New Training Program Offers Organic Basics for Beginning Farmers

August 13, 2019 – OFRF is excited to introduce the first learning module, Organic Soil Health Management, in its free online training program for beginning farmers, existing organic farmers, and farmers in transition to organic production. The content throughout the training program focuses on organic specialty crop production in California.

“Healthy soils are the foundation of a successful organic farm, but determining which soil building practices will work best in a particular farming system can be challenging,” explains OFRF’s Education and Research Program Manager, Lauren Snyder. “The goal of this training program is to provide reliable information in one place and to highlight resources that help farmers assess which practices make the most sense for their system.”

This open educational resource is a joint effort between OFRF, the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), and California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. The self-paced program combines descriptive essays, video lectures from university faculty, and virtual field trips to demonstrate organic principles and practices.

“We wanted to be sure that students of the course could benefit from the latest scientific knowledge relevant to organic farming, so we include resources from researchers around California. Also, the content of every module is closely reviewed by a team of scientists and extension experts from across the state,” says Sonja Brodt, who oversees the course’s content creation at UC SAREP.

In total, the online training program will contain six learning modules: 1) soil health, 2) weed management, 3) irrigation and water management, 4) insect and mite management, 5) disease management, and 6) business management and marketing. The soil health module is now live and the five remaining modules will be introduced as they are completed, with the entire program available in spring 2020.

“We view this training program as a living resource and encourage users to provide their feedback by completing the voluntary surveys in the learning modules,” adds Snyder. “This information will increase the utility of the program and ensure we are meeting the needs of organic specialty crop farmers in California.”

View/take the first learning module, Organic Soil Health Management.

Funding for this project was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM170100XXXXG011. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.

 

By |2020-01-08T18:13:19+00:00August 13th, 2019|Press Release|

OFRF and FFAR Award Two New Grants that Tackle Soil Health Challenges

SANTA CRUZ AND WASHINGTON D.C. (August 1, 2019) – Soil health is a critical component of organic farm management. The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) are funding two soil health research projects that examine how diversification practices control weeds and increase yields. OFRF and FFAR funded these two projects as part of a larger initiative to support soil health research and promote environmental sustainability. A grant to Dr. Jed Eberly at Montana State University was announced earlier this year.

Implementing diversification practices, such as crop rotations and cover cropping, is one way organic farmers build soil health. Efficient use of organic fertilizers in combination with these practices can enhance soil fertility, but determining how much organic fertilizer to apply is a key challenge; too much fertilizer wastes money and pollutes the environment, while too little can impede crop growth. However, there is still much to learn about how diversification practices affect the availability of nutrients in the soil. Addressing this question would help farmers reduce added costs and environmental impacts associated with nutrient losses from organic fertilizers.

At UC Berkeley, a team led by Timothy Bowles, Assistant Professor of Agroecology, is working to help solve this problem. This research will help farmers make more informed decisions about nutrient management, in particular, which type of organic fertilizer to use and how to time fertility applications on diversified organic farms.

The second project focuses on the southern region of the U.S., an area where weed, insect, and fertility management challenges have made it hard to meet the steady demand for organic sweet potatoes. Currently, many organic sweet potato farmers depend on repeated cultivation to manage weeds, a process that is energy and labor intensive, and damaging to soil health. Their crops are also regularly damaged by invasive pests. For example, the wireworm can damage up to 40 percent of the sweet potato crop in North Carolina, negatively impacting farmers’ profitability. Led by Alex Woodley, an Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University, this project assesses the viability of annual winter cover crop systems as an effective tool for weed and insect control. The project also evaluates the effects of increasing rates of organic nitrogen fertilizer in each cover crop treatment. This systems-level approach has the potential to provide innovative management techniques to sweet potato farmers in North Carolina that protect soil health.

“We are pleased to partner with FFAR to fund this innovative research,” said Brise Tencer, OFRF’s Executive Director. “The goal is to help organic producers and others interested in building soil health make more informed decisions about managing fertility on their farms and ranches.”

“Soil health plays a critical role in supporting productive, sustainable agriculture from the ground-up,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “Investing in innovative soil health management techniques benefits the environment, enhances crop productivity and supports farmer profitability.

Overall, OFRF grant funding has advanced scientific knowledge and improved the practices, ecological sustainability, and economic prosperity of organic farming. These successes support their goal of researchers and farmers working collaboratively to support the improvement and widespread adoption of organic agriculture. Project results are shared freely at ofrf.org. OFRF also provides free access to all of its educational materials and resources.

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization established by bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

(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.

By |2020-01-08T18:13:19+00:00August 1st, 2019|Press Release|

OFRF Executive Director Testifies in DC

June 12, 2019, Washington, DC – This spring, flooding left farm fields across the Midwest under water. Meanwhile, growers across the Southeast are continuing the hard work to recover from devastating hurricanes and tropical storms. In California, farmers and ranchers are still dealing with the aftermath of last year’s record-breaking wildfires intensified by increasingly warm and dry weather.

Today, OFRF’s Executive Director, Brise Tencer, had the honor of appearing before the Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research of the House Committee on Agriculture to discuss issues of resiliency and risk in agriculture. Tencer spoke about the need for integrated research, education, and outreach to provide farmers with the tools, technology, and support they need to build healthy resilient farming systems that can withstand climate change and steward the land for future generations.

Sustainable organic systems that maintain higher soil organic matter and biological activity, improve moisture infiltration and storage, and foster efficient nutrient cycling result in greater yield stability in the face of weather extremes and other stresses. Healthy soils have good structure (tilth), which allows them to absorb and hold moisture, drain well, maintain adequate aeration, and foster deep, healthy crop root systems. Such soils sustain crops through dry spells, require less irrigation water, and undergo less ponding, runoff, and erosion during heavy rains.

These are challenging times for the people who grow our food. We urge Congress and USDA to ensure federal programs that include research, education, extension, and program implementation support organic producers and other farmers and ranchers that seek to integrate organic practices into their operations.

By |2020-01-08T18:13:40+00:00June 12th, 2019|Press Release|

OFRF Grantee to Examine Barriers to Adoption

OFRF Grantee to Examine Barriers to Adoption

Photo of a grain of wheat in a wheat fieldMay 21, 2019 – OFRF has awarded a grant to Aysha Peterson at UC Santa Cruz to examine barriers to adoption of plant-based nutrient management strategies among organic, socially disadvantaged farmers in Salinas, California. Peterson hopes to bridge the gap between research and implementation by using qualitative data to answer questions about adoption and decision-making processes.

Collaborating with Nathan Harkleroad, Program Director with the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), Petersen will recruit 30 organic Latina/o farmers to participate in five in-depth, semi-structured focus groups at ALBA’s Rural Development Center to examine (1) farmers’ current knowledge and utilization of plant-based nutrient management practices, (2) field-level challenges to implementation and strategies for overcoming these challenges, and (3) economic, educational, and infrastructure barriers to implementation.

The transcripts will be qualitatively analyzed to examine emergent themes and explore how responses vary as a function of farmers’ structural arrangements and social stratication. The findings will directly inform educational programming via ALBA’s Farmer Education Course and will be incorporated into economic and infrastructure assistance available through ALBA’s Organic Farm Incubator. Empirically based conclusions will provide for comparative analysis with other agricultural regions of the U.S. and will allow for the widespread improvement of organic farmer assistance services.

“This project is exciting because we are sorely in need of more social-science research aimed at alleviating socio-economic and cultural barriers to organic production,” said Brise Tencer, OFRF’s Executive Director. “The outcomes of this project have the potential to influence education and outreach programs for socially-disadvantaged farmers across the U.S.”

Overall, OFRF grant funding has advanced scientific knowledge and improved the practices, ecological sustainability, and economic prosperity of organic farming. These successes support their goal of researchers and farmers working collaboratively to support the improvement and widespread adoption of organic agriculture. Project results are shared freely at ofrf.org. OFRF also provides free access to all of its educational materials and resources.

Thank you to our Research Program Partners:

Graphic of OFRF partners grant on barriers to adoption of plant-based nutrient management strategies

(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.

By |2020-01-08T18:13:40+00:00May 21st, 2019|Press Release|

OFRF Awards First Soil Health Research Grant of 2019

OFRF Awards First Soil Health Research Grant of 2019

April 16, 2019 – OFRF announced the first of five grants the organization will award this year focused on the most pressing challenges facing organic farmers and ranchers today. The grant is funded in part by a match from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) aimed at funding research related to improving soil health and reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture.

Montana State University Researchers to Trial Lentil Varieties
Lentils are an important crop for diversifying wheat-based cropping systems and are one of several pulse crops (legumes such as dried beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas harvested solely for dry seed) used by farmers in the Northern Great Plains (NGP) to promote biodiversity, improve soil health, and generate income.

Little is known about the optimum seeding and appropriate inoculation rates needed to improve crop growth, nutrient acquisition, weed management, and yield potential. OFRF’s grant of $20,000 to a team of researchers at Montana State University led by Dr. Jed Eberly was made in response to this challenge. The main goal of the project is to evaluate the effects of seeding rates on lentil yields and competition.

Because lentil growing areas in Montana vary greatly in terms of soil types, growing degree days, and annual precipitation levels, Dr. Eberly is collaborating with organic farmers from three different locations. Through a series of multi-site replicated trials, the researchers will select the optimum varieties to improve lentil yields, nutritional quality, and economic returns. It is believed that incorporating lentils into organic cropping systems will also enhance soil health and improve the economics of organic operations in this region.

“OFRF funds projects based on scientific merit and encourages proposals from a diverse group of applicants,” explained OFRF’s Executive Director, Brise Tencer. “This was an opportunity to invest in a strong project in an underserved region where organic farming can benefit from greater investment.”

Overall, OFRF grant funding has advanced scientific knowledge and improved the practices, ecological sustainability, and economic prosperity of organic farming. These successes support their goal of researchers and farmers working collaboratively to support the improvement and widespread adoption of organic agriculture. Project results are shared freely at ofrf.org. OFRF also provides free access to all of its educational materials and resources.

Graphic of OFRF research partner logos

FFAR was established with bipartisan support in the 2014 Farm Bill to build unique partnerships to support innovative science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. FFAR matches every federal dollar with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment.

By |2020-01-08T18:13:41+00:00April 16th, 2019|Press Release|

More than 1,100 Scientists Oppose USDA Agency Moves

October 1, 2018 – More than 1,100 scientists and economists from across the country sent a letter to congressional leaders today, opposing the Trump administration’s proposal to reorganize and relocate key research branches at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The proposed changes threaten scientific integrity at the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and could further marginalize their critical research from policymaking, according to the letter. If Secretary Perdue’s plans are realized, the ERS and NIFA will be relocated from their current offices in Washington, DC, and the ERS will be transferred to the aegis of the Office of the Chief Economist, which reports to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

The outcry from scientists comes on the heels of a letter last week from Secretary Perdue defending the plan to a bipartisan pair of Senate leaders who have also questioned it. Responding to Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Perdue claimed—without providing evidence—that relocating researchers outside of Washington, DC, would attract highly qualified staff and foster closer collaboration between researchers and stakeholders. More likely is that the move would have the opposite effect. Many NIFA and ERS staff are drawn to the national capital region, where they can work alongside legislators and other federal agencies, and more seamlessly integrate agriculture research with the greater national science community.

“As a former national program leader at NIFA and a farmer, I have firsthand experience of how the USDA serves customers,” said Diana Jerkins, research director at the Organic Farming Research Foundation. “Stakeholders travel to DC to meet with NIFA, ERS and other government officials including members of Congress, all in a single trip. If NIFA and ERS are moved, it will make interaction with these agencies more challenging. Additionally, the ability of these research agencies to work on joint programs, collaborate with other researchers and government officials and serve the customers of USDA—it would be greatly diminished.”

The signers also worry that moving ERS from the Research, Education and Economics (REE) mission area will undermine the agency’s work to objectively collect and analyze data on issues ranging from agriculture and conservation to food and rural development.

“The mission of ERS is to generate research free from the ideological positions of a particular administration,” said Ricardo Salvador, senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Placing ERS in the Secretary’s office means that ‘inconvenient’ data can be more readily suppressed or manipulated.”

Recent nonpartisan ERS analyses have undercut Trump administration messaging on issues including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, trade agreements, climate change, the Clean Water Act and crop insurance.

“ERS produces valuable analysis to inform policy decisions with real impacts on farmers, consumers, rural communities and the natural resources we all depend upon,” said Carol Adaire Jones, a former associate director of the agency’s Resource and Rural Economics Division and now a visiting scholar at the Environmental Law Institute. “Congress should act to preserve its mandate and protect its integrity.”

The scientists’ letter calls for congressional committees with jurisdiction over the USDA and its budget to delay the reorganization until agency employees, federal researchers, Congress and other stakeholders have been given the opportunity for input into the process. Other recommendations include keeping the ERS within the REE branch of the USDA, and ensuring that the agency continues to have access to data and statistical resources.

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe and sustainable future. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.

The Organic Farming Research Foundation delivers valuable tools and resources that help farmers improve agricultural practices, ecological sustainability, and economic prosperity. Through research, education, and advocacy we are creating resilient and sustainable agriculture systems that support vibrant communities and a healthy planet.

By |2020-01-08T18:14:16+00:00October 1st, 2018|Press Release|

Farm Bill Draft Includes Much Needed Investment in Organic Research and Education

June 8, 2018 – We are extremely excited to share the news that the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill draft, released today, includes a much needed increased investment in organic research and education. The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), which was funded at $20 million annually in the last Farm Bill, has been increased to $40 million annually for the next two years and ramps up to $50 million annually by 2022.

Since its inception, OREI has developed a substantial body of research-based information to address the challenges faced by organic farmers and help all farmers be more sustainable. OFRF advocated for the creation of this incredibly successful programming 20 years ago, and has been diligently working for increased funding in the Farm Bill.

With increased funding, OREI can continue to lead the way in cutting-edge research, education, and extension for American farmers. Our report, “Taking Stock: Analyzing and Reporting Organic Research Investments, 2002-2014,” provides an in-depth assessment of its progress and recommendations for the future.

We applaud the hard work of Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the champions pushing for an increase for organic research; Senator Tammy Baldwin, who championed organic enforcement, and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and their staff, for working to ensure organic farmers and ranchers will have the research, tools, and programs necessary for success.

Some context
Over the last decade federal funding for organic agriculture research has remained roughly level, and not kept pace with the growth and opportunity that the organic sector has demonstrated. “With double digit growth in the demand for organic products, there is a need for scientific research, education programs, and extension resources to address the unique challenges of American farmers and ranchers looking to take advantage of the opportunities in organic agriculture” says Brise Tencer, Executive Director of OFRF. “We applaud the Senate Agriculture Committee for moving this historic investment in organic research forward.”

OFRF has also been working hard to advocate for other key programs that support the needs of organic agriculture. The Senate draft included a wide array of provisions for the organic sector. This includes robust enforcement and trade oversight in the Farm Bill draft, along with $11.5 million in annual funding for the organic certification cost share programs, $5 million for the organic data initiative, increased authorizations for the National Organic Program (NOP), and makes only a minor change to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), maintaining its integrity.

However, this is just the beginning…
It will be a long road from this initial text of the bill to passage of the Farm Bill.  The Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the Farm Bill Wednesday, June 13th.  If passed out of committee, the bill will go to the floor of the Senate for discussion and a vote. With the House of Representatives failing to pass their draft of the Farm Bill, which included support for organic enforcement and data collection, a modest increase for organic research and no funding for organic certification cost share, we are hopeful that the Farm Bill can pass the Senate.

If the House and Senate both pass different versions of the Farm Bill, the differences will be parsed out in a conference committee, and if approved by both the House and the Senate, will go to the President to be signed into law.

We strongly encourage the members of the Congress to work toward a bipartisan solution that supports America’s farmers, consumers, communities.  As the process continues OFRF will keep advocating to ensure the voices and needs of organic farmers are heard, and that programs that support the success of the organics are included in the Farm Bill.

Thanks to all the organic champions in the Senate for their hard work, the organic farmers and ranchers who spoke up about the need to support organic agriculture in the Farm Bill, and the businesses and organizations that worked hard to cultivate support for organic agriculture.

Organic Farming Research Foundation (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.

By |2020-01-08T18:14:33+00:00June 8th, 2018|Press Release|

OFRF Board Approves New President

February 22, 2018—Today, longtime board member and organic farmer Jeremy Barker Plotkin, was approved by unanimous vote to serve as OFRF’s Board President.

Jeremy has been a vegetable farmer for 19 years. After earning his M.S. in Plant and Soil Sciences from the University of Maine, he founded Simple Gifts Farm at the New England Small Farm Institute in Belchertown in 1999. Over the next seven years, he grew the farm tenfold, from a half-acre to five. In 2006 he moved his operation to the 37.8-acre North Amherst Community Farm and brought Dave Tepfer in to join him.

The farm provides organic produce from community-preserved land to 250 shareholders. They have also started a new year-round farm store, open seven days a week. Beef cattle, pigs and laying hens take a prominent role on the farm in helping to cycle nutrients, as well as providing additional farm products.

Jeremy has won several USDA SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) grants for on-farm research projects. He works devotedly to manage the farm as an ecological system and still feels excited to witness how much his CSA members enjoy the farm’s wide variety of quality, organic produce.

“We feel very fortunate that Jeremy has taken on this commitment to OFRF,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director of OFRF. “As both an organic farmer and researcher, Jeremy is well-poised to help lead our mission to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems.”

“I’m proud to be a part of OFRF’s long history of pushing the ball forward on organic farming systems,” said Barker Plotkin. “Organic farming is the future of agriculture and OFRF has a strong role in promoting that advancement.”

Tencer added, “I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank our outgoing Chair, Mary Fund of Amerugi Farm in Nemaha County, Kansas, and welcome our new Chair, Katrina Heinze. We are truly grateful for the commitment of all our board members—most of whom are organic farmers—and the vast knowledge and experience they bring to OFRF.”

Organic Farming Research Foundation (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.

By |2020-01-08T18:14:34+00:00February 22nd, 2018|Press Release|
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