organic research

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.

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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 |2021-02-17T22:05:41+00:00February 17th, 2021|News, Press Release|

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 |2021-02-12T18:59:58+00:00February 12th, 2021|News, Press Release|

Research Advances Cucumber Lines Resistant to Bacterial Wilt and Downy Mildew

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Edmund Frost, John Kimes and Dr. Sanjun Gu at the North Carolina A&T Trial

January 14, 2021—In 2018, OFRF provided a grant to Edmund Frost of Common Wealth Seed Growers to assess resistance to both bacterial wilt and cucurbit downy mildew among selected cucumber and muskmelon seedstocks. Frost’s cucumber breeding lines showed good potential for resistance or tolerance to both diseases during these trials, and OFRF provided a second grant in 2019 to continue this promising research.

Cucurbit downy mildew and bacterial wilt not only limit organic cucumber production in the Eastern U.S., but also seriously impact conventional growers. Downy mildew is caused by a fungus-like organism called an oomycete that overwinters in tropical and subtropical areas. The spores blow north on the wind each year, causing serious damage to cucumber and other cucurbit family foliage. Bacterial wilt (BW) is a disease that is transmitted by cucumber beetles, an insect native to North America. The disease starts at the leaves and travels through vines, eventually destroying plants.

Frost has found that the levels of resistance vary significantly between varieties of cucumber. Selecting and screening for resistance has become an important element of his cucumber breeding work. The project included a bacterial wilt trial, late-planted downy mildew-focused breeding trials for both pickler and slicer lines, and collaboration with both university and farmer researchers on downy mildew-focused variety trials.

Overall, the feedback from farmers participating in the 2019 trials was positive. Results are included in Frost’s final report, which is now available to view here.

Outreach is an important component of Frost’s research. He uses field days and speaking engagements to share project results with vegetable farmers. You can learn more about his research and varieties at Common Wealth Seed Growers.

Since its founding in 1990, OFRF has awarded 355 grants to organic researchers and farmers, investing over $3M. All OFRF-funded research must involve farmers or ranchers in project design and implementation, take place on certified organic land, and include strong education and outreach components. All research results are freely available in our online database.

 

By |2021-01-15T18:08:07+00:00January 15th, 2021|News, Press Release|

New OFRF Grant Explores Best Practices for Virtual Peer-to-Peer Farmer Learning

December 17, 2020—In our national surveys of organic producers, we often hear from farmers that they consider peers to be the best source of information and guidance. In-person events such as farmer conferences also rate high on the learning scale. Unfortunately, the challenges of this year have severely restricted these opportunities. And, even in active organic communities, some farmers lack access to these networks due to cultural, language, and other differences. Virtual peer learning programs can offer a solution by providing networking opportunities among farmers, both during the immediate crisis and on an ongoing basis.

To increase understanding of how virtual peer-to-peer learning can help more farmers increase their knowledge and improve their practices, OFRF has awarded a grant to Sarah Brown at Oregon Tilth. Unlike traditional distance learning such as online courses and instructional webinars, these programs are explicitly designed to use web technology for the reciprocal sharing of knowledge, ideas, and experience among practitioners. The research team is focused on improving the design and delivery of virtual peer learning programs that support organic farmers to strengthen their economic viability and ecological sustainability—with the ultimate goal of helping more farmers start and succeed in organic farming.

Visit our research grant database for more information on this project. All results will be shared freely upon submission of Brown’s final report.

This announcement marks the last of 13 grants OFRF awarded this year to help address the top challenges facing organic farmers and ranchers. View a summary of our grant announcements here.

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.

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. 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.

 

By |2020-12-17T20:44:56+00:00December 17th, 2020|News, Press Release|

OFRF and FFAR Fund Research on Enhancing Nutrition of Organic Potatoes While Building Healthy Soils

November 30, 2020 – Weed management, soil health, and the nutritional quality of foods grown organically continue to be high priority research topics for organic producers. The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR)  awarded a grant to Dr. Inna Popova at the University of Idaho to examine effective weed management strategies that promote healthy soils and nutritious potatoes.

Mustard seed meal, a byproduct resulting from crushing mustard seeds to provide oil, is an effective tool for controlling more than a dozen problematic weeds that damage crops by consuming necessary nutrients. Utilization of mustard seed meal on-farm has been challenging due to the high quantities needed to be effective as a biopesticide, resulting in excessive nitrogen levels. Too much nitrogen deters the growth and water efficiency of crops.

University of Idaho researchers developed an extract from white mustard seal meal that contains high concentrations of the biopesticide compound, allowing for reduced application rates and avoiding nitrogen overload. Dr. Popova and her team are evaluating the efficacy of mustard seed meal extract (MSME) on inhibiting weed seed germination (pre-emergent) and killing aboveground weed growth (post-emergent) while also determining the influence of MSME application on the soil microbiome in the field. Additional objectives include evaluating the influence of MSME on the nutritional quality of potatoes and assessing the efficacy of MSME to act as a pre-emergent and post-emergent herbicide against common annual broadleaf and grass weed species under greenhouse conditions.

These objectives will be tested through field experiments on certified organic farms and in greenhouse experiments. Laboratory analyses will be conducted to assess soil properties, microbiological function, and nutritional quality. The expected outcomes of the research include increased knowledge of the efficacy of MSME as a bioherbicide; adoption of MSME by organic and non-organic farmers as a weed management strategy; and positive environmental, economic, health, and social impacts to farmers and surrounding communities.

“Weed management is one of the biggest soil health challenges for organic farmers, especially in annual crops,” explained Brise Tencer, Executive Director at OFRF. “This research will add to the body of sound, science-based information on weed management strategies that do not undermine efforts to optimize soil health and fertility.”

“At FFAR, we are committed to funding bold science that has big impact. We are proud to fund this research that has the potential to improve the nutritional quality of potatoes while promoting healthy soil practices,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “This research supports thriving farms while building sound soil health practices from the ground-up.”

This grant 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 in our online database.

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. 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.

Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment. Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

By |2020-12-01T21:12:50+00:00December 1st, 2020|News, Press Release|

Webinar: Reducing Production Risks through Organic Soil Health Practices for the South

November 20, 2020 – Organic producers in the South face tremendous challenges from weeds, pests, diseases, increasing weather extremes, and rising production costs. This webinar explores the potential of soil restoration and improvement to reduce these risks, stabilize yields, and build resilience. We will focus on three key soil health issues: cover cropping for plant-available nutrients and moisture, reducing tillage intensity, and frugal use of nutrient-bearing amendments. The webinar will be presented by Mark Schonbeck, and Emily Oakley of Three Springs Farm in Oklahoma will be online to answer questions.

January 13th, 11AM PST
Free and open to the public. Advance registration required.

Register here

Mark Schonbeck is a Research Associate at OFRF. He has worked for 31 years as a researcher, consultant, and educator in sustainable and organic agriculture. He has participated in on-farm research into mulching, cover crops, minimum tillage, and nutrient management for organic vegetables. For many years, he has written for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming newsletter and served as their policy liaison to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. He has also participated in research projects to analyze, evaluate, and improve federally funded organic and sustainable agriculture programs. In addition, Mark offers individual consulting in soil test interpretation, soil quality and nutrient management, crop rotation, cover cropping, and weed management.

Emily Oakley co-owns and operates Three Springs Farm, a diversified, certified-organic vegetable farm in eastern Oklahoma. With her partner Mike, she cultivates over forty different crops and more than 150 individual varieties on three acres of land. Their goal is to maintain a two-person operation that demonstrates the economic viability of small-scale farming.

 

By |2020-12-01T21:18:07+00:00November 20th, 2020|News, 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|