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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