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|

New Grants Examine Organic Weed and Pest Management Strategies

October 1, 2020 – As part of its mission to provide organic farmers with sound, science-based information on weed and pest management strategies, OFRF has awarded grants to farmer/researcher collaborations at the Georgia Organic Peanut Association and the University of Idaho.

The first grant was awarded to Donn Cooper, an agricultural outreach and education specialist at Cooper Agricultural Services working in collaboration with the Georgia Organic Peanut Association. Cooper and his team will examine the effectiveness of an integrated weed control system in organic peanut production utilizing regular mechanical cultivation and Eugenol, a broad-spectrum herbicide derived from cloves and approved for certified organic production in the commercial formulation known as Weed Slayer. The project will be conducted with four certified organic farmers in Southwest Georgia.

While Georgia is the largest peanut-growing state, producing approximately three billion pounds annually, certified organic production has been impeded by the lack of a comprehensive approach to controlling weeds as well as certified organic processing facilities. The goal of the project is to address the first challenge by creating a weed management system specific to certified organic peanut production that can be replicated by farmers—fostering the expansion of certified organic peanut acres in the Southeast, while developing a value-added revenue stream for new, beginning, and socially disadvantaged producers operating small farms.

The second grant was awarded to Professor Arash Rashed, leader of the Idaho IPM Laboratory at the University of Idaho, to evaluate the efficacy of two biological control agents of wireworms—entomopathogenic nematodes and fungi—in organic production. The research team aims to identify the most effective entomopathogenic treatment against wireworms and successfully establish the biocontrol agent in organic farm soil.

Managing wireworms is a challenge facing organic producers in the Pacific Northwest due to their long-life cycle, subterranean living habitat, and ability to use a wide range of host plants. Although there are a few insecticides available for conventional farming, there is no effective control measure against wireworms in organic production. Focusing on one of the most damaging species in the Pacific Northwest, the sugar beet wireworm, this project will evaluate and compare the efficacy of entomopathogenic nematode and fungi treatments against wireworms in organic vegetable production. Three certified organic farmers are participating in the project. Findings will be communicated through field days and workshops.

These grants are two 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 at ofrf.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2020-10-07T21:28:27+00:00October 1st, 2020|News, Press Release|

Carolyn Dimitri Appointed to NOSB Board

September 30, 2020–OFRF is pleased to share the news that our board member, Dr. Carolyn Dimitri, an Associate Professor of Food Studies at New York University, has been appointed to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB is made up of 15 volunteer members representing the organic community. Carolyn and the four other new members will serve five-year terms beginning in January 2021. Read the USDA’s announcement to learn more.

As an OFRF board member since 2015, Dr. Dimitri has made significant contributions to the organization. She currently serves on the Research Grant Committee as well as the Policy and Programs Committee.

Prior to joining the NYU faculty, Dr. Dimitri worked as a research economist at the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture. Dr. Dimitri has published extensively on the distribution, processing, retailing, and consumption of organic food. She earned a PhD in Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a BA in Economics from SUNY Buffalo.

Congratulations to all the new members!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2020-10-06T17:05:26+00:00September 30th, 2020|News, Press Release|

New Grant to Evaluate Use of Approved Fertilizers in Organic Tomato Crops

September 10, 2020–Organic tomato growers use cover crops and compost to build fertility; however, these practices don’t always provide sufficient soil nutrient availability during the period of rapid plant growth, which can limit tomato nutrient uptake, yields, and fruit quality. While fertilizer products approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), which meet the National Organic Program compliance criteria, provide a viable option for improving nutrient uptake, organic tomato growers have expressed a need for research to evaluate the profitability and effects on soil health resulting from the use of these products.

To support decision-making, OFRF has awarded a grant to Kate Scow, Director of the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility at the University of California Davis to evaluate the costs and benefits of using organic-approved liquid injectable fertilizers to improve nutrient uptake and yields in tomato crops. The research team will use organically managed plots at the Russell Ranch facility to compare nitrogen (N) uptake, fruit yields, and the profitability of three representative types of organic liquid fertilizers (fish emulsion, compost tea, and microbial/amino acid injectables) via fertigation in organic tomatoes.

Scott Park, owner/operator of Park Farm, will advise on product comparisons and review economic analysis results to ensure wide applicability to tomato growers. Although Park has built his soil’s organic matter levels and microbial activity considerably by cover cropping with winter legumes and composting, he still experiences tomato N deficiencies and lower yields in his organic tomatoes compared to conventional. As a result, he is considering the use of new soluble organic fertilizer products.

Mr. Park has been farming organically for over 25 years. He collaborated on an OFRF-funded grant to Amelie Gaudin in 2016 focused on developing integrated management strategies to improve water and nutrient use efficiency of organic processing tomatoes in California. The results of this project provide a viable strategy to help organic tomato growers dynamically cope with irrigation water shortages without hampering the quality of their harvested product.

The grant awarded to Professor Scow is one 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2020-10-07T21:26:19+00:00September 10th, 2020|News, Press Release|

Focus Group Hosts Needed for National Survey

organic farm standAugust 4, 2020 – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) are conducting a USDA-funded national survey of certified organic producers and producers transitioning to organic production to identify their top challenges and research/Extension needs. As part of this project, we are seeking applications from organizations that support certified organic and transitioning agricultural producers to facilitate and coordinate a virtual focus group. Focus group data will be used to inform the 2021 National Organic Research Agenda (NORA) and State of Organic Seed (SOS) reports, and OFRF will provide organizations a $1,000 stipend for their help coordinating and facilitating one virtual focus group.

The goal of the focus groups is to hear directly from farmers and ranchers what issues or challenges they face on a number of important topics, such as organic production practices, economic and social barriers to organic production, and information and resources that would support their success as an organic producer. The information gathered from these discussions will be used to build a comprehensive roadmap for future research investments to advance organic agriculture across the United States.

If your organization is interested in supporting this important work, please visit our Request for Applications for more information about this opportunity and how to apply.

Applications must be submitted by September 15th by 5pm PST.

Applicants will be notified of selection by October 1, 2020.

View the current NORA and SOS reports.

By |2020-08-04T19:20:14+00:00August 4th, 2020|News, Press Release|

Regional and Long-Term Agricultural Research Build Climate Resilience

July 30, 2020 – Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) website on July 16, 2020. OFRF is cross-posting relevant blog posts from this series covering provisions of the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) that impact or highlight organic agriculture’s role in addressing climate change. The ARA represents the first comprehensive piece of legislation introduced in the House of Representatives addressing climate change and agriculture. Read blogs one, two, three, and four here.

This fifth blog focuses on regional and long term climate research, and it was co-authored by Mark Schonbeck, Research Associate for the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), and Cristel Zoebisch, Climate Policy Associate at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in partnership with OFRF.

Food and agriculture research is critical to improving farm and rural viability, public health, food security, and agriculture’s potential to address the climate crisis. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) investment in research has stagnated for decades. In response, the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) recognizes the importance of public research in enhancing agriculture’s potential to sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and build local and regional resilience to extreme weather events and other stresses. The legislation seeks to triple federal investment in public food and agriculture research by 2030 and quadruple it by 2040.

The ARA adds a tenth purpose to current statutory purposes for federal agricultural research, extension, and education, “to accelerate the ability of agriculture and the food system to first achieve net zero carbon emissions and then go further to be carbon positive by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

The bill aims to achieve this by establishing climate adaptation and mitigation as statutory priorities for the Agriculture Food and Research Initiative (AFRI), Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI), Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), and the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA).

The climate crisis requires long term (decades), nationwide research and outreach endeavors that address region-specific impacts of climate change, and deliver new and emerging solutions to producers. To address this, the ARA would increase funding for two important existing USDA programs: Climate Hubs, run by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the ARS Long-Term Agroecological Research (LTAR) Network. We focus here on the ARA provisions for these two programs, which were also included in the recently published House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis report.

Establishing a National Network of Regional Climate Hubs

The ARA provides a first-ever legislative authorization for the USDA Climate Hubs at $50 million per year, a nearly six-fold increase over current funding. The bill codifies the national networkof regional hubs to support climate risk mitigation and adaptation established during the Obama presidency. These hubs deliver science-based, region-specific, cost-effective, and practical tools and technical support to help producers and landowners make effective conservation and business planning decisions in response to a changing climate.

Consistent with current practice, the ARA tasks ARS and USFS to partner with other federal agencies, Extension, colleges and universities, agricultural experiment stations, state and local governments, tribes, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to deliver Climate Hub services. In addition, the ARA directs each regional hub to solicit stakeholder input on regional priorities and collaborate with farmers and NGOs in conducting research and outreach on priority topics including:

  • GHG mitigation benefits of agroforestry, advanced grazing systems, crop-livestock integration
  • Improved measurement of soil carbon, GHGs, and soil health
  • Biological nutrient cycling and plant-microbe partnerships

Finally, the ARA directs Climate Hubs to work with the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) to better account for climate risk and risk mitigation through soil health management in RMA actuarial tables and provide recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture.

The USDA launched the ten Climate Hubs in 2013 to deliver science-based, practical information and tools to help farmers and land-owners sustain agricultural productivity, natural resources, and rural economies under increasing climate variability. Each Climate Hub works with farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders within its service area to address the region’s specific climate risks and develop regionally-relevant adaptive strategies.

The USDA Climate Hubs have already provided a wide diversity of practical tools, including up to date reports on current drought conditions and other climate stresses, new adaptive strategies, workshops and educational programs, and case studies of farms that have utilized a five-step Adaptation Workbook to develop site-specific climate response plans. Some examples include:

Check out the Climate Hubs website to access more information, including upcoming workshops, events, and educational opportunities.

The ARA would expand the reach and impact of Climate Hubs by authorizing them and increasing their funding to $50 million per year. For some perspective, for just 25 cents per taxpayer, this vital network could empower our farmers and ranchers to become active leaders in our efforts to turn the climate crisis around.

Promoting Long Term Agroecological Research

The ARA also provides a first-ever legislative authorization for the ARS Long Term Agroecological Research (LTAR) Network at $50 million per year. Currently, all 18 LTAR sites rely on $20 million in annual appropriations, which leaves some sites unfunded and all sites underfunded.

In addition, the ARA would:

  • Establish climate change adaptation and mitigation as major statutory purposes of the LTAR Network
  • Integrate measurements and data collection across LTAR sites to enhance understanding of agroecosystem function in all major U.S. agricultural regions and production systems
  • Make data collected through the network openly available to researchers and the public

The USDA established its first Long Term Farming Systems Trials site at Beltsville, MD in 1910 and has since established long term trials at over a dozen other sites across the U.S. Current research priorities include comparisons of soil health, nutrient cycling, water efficiency, carbon sequestration, and net GHG emissions in contrasting cropping and grazing systems.

For more information on the research conducted at each LTAR site, click here.

In 2011, Drs. Mark Walbridge and Steven Shafer of USDA proposed establishing a network of ARS Long Term Agroecological Research sites. They did this to address the mounting challenges facing U.S. agriculture in feeding a growing population in a time of climate change and diminishing quantity and quality of soil and other natural resources. Recognizing the need for a coordinated nationwide response to these challenges, they recommended that sites share and coordinate research questions, protocols, data collection and analysis, and interpretation. The LTAR Network that emerged from this recommendation established the following priorities:

  • Improve agroecosystem production and function
  • Address climate variability and change
  • Conserve natural resources and protect the environment
  • Promote rural opportunity and prosperity

Understanding the impacts of climate change on U.S. agriculture and vice versa, and optimizing agricultural practices for climate mitigation and resilience will require a long term commitment and close collaboration among research endeavors representing all major agro-ecoregions and production systems. The LTAR Network tackled this challenge on a shoestring budget of $20 million per year ($1.1 million per site) with no guarantee of future funding. By establishing a legislative authority for $50 million a year and affirming climate mitigation and resilience as top priorities, the ARA would substantially strengthen the capacity of the LTAR Network to help producers meet the challenges of climate change, water shortages, and soil and other resource degradation, and strengthen our food system.

For more information, see the AgCROS (Agricultural Collaborative Research Outcomes System) website for the LTAR Network.

What Comes Next?

The ARA recognizes that agriculture has enormous potential to sequester carbon and reduce GHG emissions and that further research is needed to realize this potential. As farmers and ranchers continue to adapt and innovate, long-term research will help empower them to address the climate crisis.

Both the ARA and the House Select Committee’s report on the climate crisis include important provisions that should become part of any comprehensive climate legislation and the 2023 Farm Bill. OFRF and NSAC will continue to work to gain broad, bipartisan recognition and support of agricultural research as a vital part of the climate solution.

 

 

 

 

By |2020-08-11T19:29:19+00:00July 30th, 2020|News, Press Release|

Combating the Climate Crisis Through Conservation

July 16, 2020 – Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s (NSAC) website on July 10, 2020. OFRF is cross-posting relevant blog posts from this series covering provisions of the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA) that impact or highlight organic agriculture’s role in addressing climate change. The ARA is the first comprehensive piece of legislation introduced in this Congress addressing climate change and agriculture.

Last week, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released its highly anticipated report, outlining policy recommendations for Congress to implement for the U.S. to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The report included a chapter on agriculture, recognizing its critical role in our efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change. Many of the provisions from the Agriculture Resilience Act (ARA), the most comprehensive piece of legislation addressing agriculture and climate change introduced in Congress, were included in the Select Committee’s report.

The ARA is made up of six building blocks that align well with the agriculture components highlighted in the Select Committee’s report: agricultural research, pasture-based livestock, soil health, farmland preservation, renewable energy, and food waste.

In this blog, we dig into the soil health provisions in the ARA, emphasizing the proposed changes to the country’s primary working lands conservation programs: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Both the ARA and the Select Committee’s report call for increased funding and expansion of CSP and EQIP to increase climate mitigation and resilience in agriculture.

A major increase in support for working lands conservation programs is critical if the agriculture sector is to reach the goal of net zero by 2040 as outlined in the ARA. Federal policy and resources need to support the transition of agriculture from current production systems to more climate-friendly and resilient ways of farming, which requires a significant investment in existing conservation programs like CSP and EQIP.

Without increased investment and commitment to conservation agriculture by the federal government, farmers and ranchers will not have the tools and resources they need to meaningfully participate and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. The ARA outlines the changes and increased support conservation programs need for agriculture to fulfill its potential to mitigate climate change.

Climate-Focused Working Lands Conservation Programs

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

EQIP offers farmers and ranchers financial cost-share and technical assistance to implement conservation practices on working agricultural land. Farmers and ranchers participating in EQIP can install or implement structural, vegetative, and management practices – like improving irrigation efficiency, restoring pasture, or improving nutrient management.

The ARA would enhance EQIP’s ability to address climate change by adding greenhouse gas emissions reduction and carbon sequestration to the program’s purpose and listing both greenhouse gas emissions reduction and carbon sequestration in the top ten practices that can receive higher payment rates.

EQIP assistance is available through a general funding pool and also through special initiatives with separate funding that highlight specific practices or natural resources, such as the Organic Initiative (OI). Organic agriculture builds soil health and does not rely on energy-intensive chemical inputs, resulting in increased carbon storage and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing incentives for organic production and for transition to organic are critical investments needed for agriculture to fulfill its potential to mitigate climate change and to build more resilient farming systems.

For years, EQIP-OI has had a separate, lower payment limit than general EQIP, which has discouraged many organic producers and those wishing to transition to organic production from applying to the program. The ARA would eliminate the discriminatory lower organic payment limit, taking an important step to improving the program’s outcomes on soil health and resilience.  

Within EQIP, 50 percent of national funding is set aside for livestock operations. The ARA would target at least two thirds of that 50 percent to advanced grazing management, including management-intensive rotational grazing which has a huge positive benefit for carbon sequestration in agricultural soils. The ARA would also limit EQIP funding available for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) and their massive environmental and greenhouse gas footprint by mandating that any CAFO receiving EQIP funding must develop and implement a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan.

Finally, the ARA would add greenhouse gas emissions reduction to the purposes of the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) focused on air quality and increase funding for air quality grants from the current $37.5 million to $50 million for each fiscal year starting in fiscal year 2021. The bill would also increase funding for CIG On-Farm Conservation Innovation Trials from the current $25 million to $50 million per year from fiscal year 2021 to 2023 and bump funding even more to $100 million starting in fiscal year 2024. If the ARA becomes law, overall EQIP funding would increase from a little over $2 billion in fiscal year 2023 to $3 billion in fiscal year 2024 and beyond. This increased investment would result in more farmers and ranchers being equipped to adapt to and mitigate climate change on their farms and ranches.

Conservation Stewardship Program

CSP recognizes and rewards farmers and ranchers for the critical role they play as managers of our shared air, water, and soil resources. Through CSP, farmers can earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding comprehensive conservation activities on their land. As the largest working lands conservation program in the country, CSP can play a vital role in enhancing agriculture’s potential to sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build resilience.

The ARA would add soil health enhancement and greenhouse gas emissions reduction to the ranking criteria for applicants hoping to participate in the program. CSP already supports both of those goals, but it is not explicitly recognized in the program’s purposes. The bill would also add climate adaptation and mitigation as a resource concern that farmers may address through their participation in the program, and it would close loopholes that have allowed large landowners to receive higher payments than the law permits. Additionally, the ARA would restore automatic renewals under CSP to allow for continual improvement in soil health and carbon sequestration and incorporate more farmers and more acres in this urgent mission.

The ARA would also create a new CSP On-Farm Conservation Stewardship Innovation Grant program. The CSP On-Farm Innovation Grants would support on-farm research and development and pilot testing of innovative conservation systems and enhancements to further the program’s climate mitigation and adaptation potential. The legislation would increase total CSP funding from $725 million in fiscal year 2020 to $2 billion in fiscal year 2021 and gradually increase funding up to $4 billion in fiscal year 2024 and beyond.  

The funding cuts that were made to CSP in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills mean that farmers are increasingly struggling to obtain conservation assistance, signaling a weakening in our national commitment to conservation agriculture. Congress must bolster its commitment and investment to conservation agriculture, especially as the climate crisis continues to have devastating impacts on farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. We must support farmers as they adapt to climate change, and we must provide the tools and resources farmers need to be active leaders in our climate mitigation efforts.

Enhancing Program Implementation

The ARA makes several changes to enhance the way conservation programs are implemented, making it easier to engage farmers in good, climate-focused conservation practices. Among these enhancements are a set aside of one percent of total farm bill conservation program annual mandatory funding for a major, new conservation technical assistance initiative. This initiative, delivered by both the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and by third parties, would assist producers in mitigating and adapting to climate change by providing farmers with an expert in the field from plan to planting.

The Select Committee’s report includes this provision from the ARA calling for increased support for the NRCS Conservation Technical Assistance program and increased technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as research and deployment of agricultural climate solutions. For a more complete summary of the Select Committee’s support for the ARA, see our blog on the report.

Finally, the ARA would also direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to adjust payment rates as necessary to accelerate progress toward the legislation’s bold goal of getting the United States agriculture sector to net-zero emissions by 2040.

Intersection Between Racial Equity and Climate Change Legislation

The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the vulnerabilities of our food and farming systems and the disproportionate impact that environmental and economic shocks have on communities of color. Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to be affected by extreme weather events, like flooding, due to the legacy of many public policies that have clustered vulnerable communities in damage-prone areas, such as floodplains.

The ARA takes an initial step to address inequities that farmers of color and beginning farmers face regarding climate change and agriculture. The bill would increase the set-aside for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in both EQIP and CSP from a combined 10 percent of funding to a combined 30 percent of funding. While this is a small measure, it is a necessary one to ensure that farmers of color and beginning farmers, who often have the fewest resources and minimal capital, can access the tools they need to adapt to and to mitigate climate change on their farms.

The bill would also authorize USDA to provide incentives to help a new generation of farmers and ranchers to start using the full array of climate-friendly practices from the outset of their farming careers. Farmers and ranchers that start their farms centered around climate-focused practices will not only help us reach the goal of net-zero agriculture by 2040 but maintain that benchmark for decades afterward.

What Comes Next

The ARA and the Select Committee’s recent report provide a roadmap for legislative efforts to address the climate crisis. A major investment and commitment to working lands conservation programs is necessary for agriculture to fulfill its potential to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis.

Now that the Select Committee has released its report, containing many of the ARA provisions, NSAC and OFRF encourage everyone to reach out to their Representative to co-sponsor and support Congresswoman Pingree’s Agriculture Resilience Act. The bill provides the necessary resources to support agricultural solutions that reduce emissions and create resilient food and farming systems.

NSAC and OFRF encourage Congress to use the ARA and the Select Committee’s report to think differently about federal farm programs and reconsider how they can better support climate-resilient conservation farming. Their action now is vital to begin the pivot from our current federal policy which fosters and subsidizes overproduction, specialization, and consolidation that inevitably lead to greater climate disruption. Instead, legislators should build a new agricultural policy that ensures farmers have a central role to play in climate mitigation and adaptation. Farmers want to be better stewards and the public supports them, so Congress should do what is right and give farmers the policies, tools, and resources that they need to address the climate crisis.

You can read the full text of the Agriculture Resilience Act here and the Select Committee Report here.

Photo credit: Katherine Belk, Wild Hope Farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2020-07-16T18:59:04+00:00July 16th, 2020|News, Press Release|

OFRF & FFAR Announce Grants to Advance Soil Health Research

July 15, 2020 – The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) are pleased to award three grants to researchers in California, Pennsylvania, and Texas to bolster soil health by developing innovative organic strategies for controlling weeds, pests, and disease. OFRF and FFAR formed a partnership in 2019 to increase funding for research that improves soil health and reduces environmental impacts.

“Developing bold strategies to mitigate pest, weed, and pathogen damage is critical to improving environmental health,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “FFAR is proud to partner with OFRF to fund innovative soil health management techniques that enhance crop productivity and support thriving farms.”

Martin Guerena with the National Center for Appropriate Technology was awarded $17,337 to measure the efficacy of biosolarization—a new innovation in the realm of weed control that combines soil solarization (trapping solar radiation under a plastic tarp) with biofumigation (using biologically-active plant substances to suppress soil-borne pests and pathogens). Biosolarization includes the incorporation of organic amendments such as compost, cover crops, and green manure under solarization plastic. The carbon from these organic materials produces chemicals with bio-pesticidal activity, which acts as a fumigant when heated by the sun to eliminate weeds, and soil-borne pests and diseases. The research team aims to show that biosolarization can achieve equal or better weed control in less time compared to solarization alone. The research is taking place on three organic farms in the Sacramento Valley in northern California.

The semi-arid, subtropical climate in Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley leads to year-round weed and pest pressure, which poses significant challenges for farmers. Historically, organic farmers in this region have relied on intensive tillage as a primary weed management strategy; yet tillage is detrimental to soil health and costly for farmers. At the University of Texas Rio Grande, Pushpa Soti received $19,620 to address weed and pest management in this region. Soti is evaluating whether cover crops can restore soil health, suppress weeds, and reduce pest populations. This research will provide farmers with information on cover crop selection and management that improves the long-term sustainability of organic agriculture systems.

Mary Barbercheck at Pennsylvania State University received $19,468 to provide farmers and agricultural professionals with information on using beneficial soil organisms to manage plant health and pests. The team is examining how to promote and conserve the beneficial soil fungus, Metarhizium robertsii. This fungus can increase plant growth and tolerance to environmental stresses, which are predicted to increase with climate change.

“Organic systems that emphasize soil health help farmers and ranchers increase their resilience to the impacts of climate change,” said Brise Tencer, Executive Director at OFRF. “These grants directly address the need for more research on organic practices that optimize soil biological activity, biodiversity, and function in different soils and climates.”

The partnership also funded research at Montana State University to study the optimum amount of lentil seeds that should be planted on each acre to improve soil health and yields when the legume is used as part of crop rotation on organic farms. Based on the promise shown in the first year, the Montana State University team received a second grant to continue studying the benefits of incorporating lentils into organic cropping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By |2020-07-15T17:29:40+00:00July 15th, 2020|News, Press Release|
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