The USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) held a listening session on Nov 2, 2022. This session’s goal was to collect feedback from stakeholders on the challenges, needed breakthroughs, and research priorities to inform NIFA’s role in the priority setting process of the Research, Extension and Education (REE) programs of the USDA. OFRF was honored to join the diverse array of stakeholders that offered insights and feedback on how NIFA can continue to deliver high quality, crucial resources and expertise to the agricultural community.  

Both Gordon N. Merrick, Policy & Programs Manager, and Mark Schonbeck, Research Program Associate, highlighted the importance of NIFA’s competitive grant programs for organic agriculture, like the Organic Research & Extension Initiative (OREI) and Organic Transition Program (ORG). They both highlighted the importance of organic agricultural management in the response to our changing climate. Gordon reinforced the fact that “we now know, with scientific certainty thanks to publicly-funded basic research, that organic management leads to a more-resilient landscape in the face of the ongoing climate crisis.”  Mark later added that “in long term farming systems trials, organic systems that maintain healthy soil show greater resilience to drought, excessive rainfall, and nutrient limitations than their conventional counterparts.”  

Mark continued on to discuss some of the valuable research being done by these programs, like cultivar development networks that work directly with farmers, regionally appropriate nutrient management and cycling techniques, and organic’s ability to support a vibrant, biodiverse soil microbial community, which supports both soil and plant health.

Gordon was also sure to highlight that organic agricultural research should not be limited to these organic-specific programs.  “Research into organic management techniques has resulted in economical and ecologically-sound management systems for all producers, we at OFRF think this reality should be reflected in how NIFA prioritizes research topics across all competitive research grant programs.”  He continued, “the importance of organic-specific programs cannot be overstated, it has resulted in high-value research applicable to all producers, but a significant gap still exists between current research funding levels and the amount spent on organic production when considering organic’s 6% market share.”

Importantly, Gordon highlighted that the need for this research will only be increasing given the USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative (OTI), a historic $300 million investment in supporting producers to transition to organic production. According to our National Organic Research Agenda, some of the highest impact research areas are continuing to develop regionally adapted and appropriate cultivars, pest and disease management, and nutrient management techniques.