Why Organic News

OFRF Leads Organic Soil Heath Workshop at TOFGA

L-R: Diana Jerkins, Scott Snodgrass, Justin Duncan, Tommy Garcia-Prats

January 28, 2020 – OFRF was a sponsor of the Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners ( TOFGA) annual conference held in Temple, Texas conference from January 16-18. OFRF and TOFGA and OFRF jointly held a panel workshop on soil health, as well as a farmer listening session. Diana Jerkins, OFRF Senior Scientist, led both sessions with 60 participants for the workshop and over 40 for the listening session. Dr. Jerkins is a co-author of OFRF’s educational series on Soil Health and Organic Farming, which includes nine guidebooks and webinars, all of which are available to download/view for free.

TOFGA is a statewide non-profit organization focused on education and advocacy for Texas farmers, ranchers, and gardeners who practice organic and sustainable methods. Attendees came from across Texas for three days of in-depth workshops and learning sessions, plus multiple off-site intensives and farm tours.

Dr. Jerkins provided information on OFRF research and educational projects addressing soil health and moderated a panel on small- and large-scale farmer solutions to improving soil health with examples from research and on-farm sites. Tommy Garcia-Prats, founder and general manager of Small Places LLC of the Finca Tres Robles, an urban farm in downtown Houston discussed integrating soil health-building practices such as making and applying mulch and compost on vegetables, fruit, and herbs. Tommy is “always looking to expand his edges and those of his community through agriculture.” Scott Snodgrass, a fourth-generation Texan and founding partner of The Edible Group, spoke on larger scale production systems, including regenerative practices for vegetable production at scale. Justin Duncan, a researcher and Sustainable Agriculture Specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology, gave an overview on the use and selection of cover crops for soil improvement. Attendees especially liked the real farm examples, like building compost and adding biomass to the soil, and the use of specific cover crops for Texas conditions.

The listening session provided an opportunity for organic farmers and ranchers to discuss their production concerns, successes, and priorities for future research investments. Participants expressed concerns over the future of “small” farms and the preservation of farmland due to aging farmer populations and fewer new farmers entering the field. Participants expressed a desire for more funding for organic research, both federal and community grants, with a focus on regionally specific information. Other topics included cover crops; starting winter crops in greenhouses; tools for tracking soil carbon to a create carbon-farm plan; appropriate soil testing for organic production; use of seasonal IPM bug calendars; resource information for current research; on-farm research as “centers for university research;” urban community assessments related to agriculture use; how to connect farmers with researchers; physical and mental impacts of farmworkers; building, training, and maintaining labor force; policy and legislative issues – soil health, water catchment, suburban growth impact on farmland; planning/development land use.

Dr. Jerkins’ presentation is available to view here.

All of OFRF’s research results and educational resources are available to download for free.

Learn more about OFRF’s National Organic Survey here.



By |2020-03-13T19:49:13+00:00January 9th, 2020|News|

OFRF Researcher Reports on Grant to Study Biosolarization

January 7, 2020 – Soil solarization is an organic method that has been shown to control weeds, pathogens, and nematodes in areas with hot summer temperatures. Biosolarization, a relatively new technique, combines the use of soil solarization and organic soil amendments to enhance the results of solarization. While biosolarization has proven effective in a number of studies, its efficacy varies across study regions, cropping systems, and pathogen communities. In 2018, OFRF provided a grant to Dr. Ashraf Tubeileh at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo to study the effect of biosolarization and cover crops on weeds and soil-borne pathogens.

Results from this research demonstrated that solarization effectively reduced weed biomass; it also reduced Verticillium dahliae (a fungal plant pathogen) populations by 80.7%, reduced crop mortality by 54.9%, and roughly tripled yields compared to non-solarized fields. Cover cropped plots tended to perform better than non-cover cropped plots, with cover crop mulch providing the best weed control and healthiest strawberries.

The study concluded that there is potential for success using biosolarization in organic strawberry production on the central coast of California, although this method may provide better results with crops that have growing seasons that are less than three months.

A detailed account of the project is available to read here.

Dr. Tubeileh’s work is also featured in OFRF’s free online training program for organic specialty crop farmers in California. This open educational resource is a joint effort between OFRF, the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), and California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service through grant AM170100XXXXG011.

Designed especially for beginning farmers and farmers transitioning to organic production, this self-paced program combines descriptive essays, video lectures from university faculty, and virtual field trips to demonstrate organic principles and practices.

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



By |2020-01-31T20:04:47+00:00January 7th, 2020|News|

Soil Health Workshop at Organic Growers Summit

workshop attendees listening to speakers and viewing slidesDecember 9, 2019 – When over 100 people arrived at our workshop on reducing risk through organic soil health practices at this year’s Organic Growers Summit in Monterey, CA, I knew it would be an impactful morning. 

First, we heard from Phil Foster of Pinnacle Organically Grown, a well-known and well-respected farmer who works hard to improve the health of his soil. Phil shared strategies he uses such as cover cropping and producing his own compost as a means of reducing on-farm risk. After Phil, Jozsef Racsko of Mycorrhizal Applications carefully described the science behind fungal inoculants and the symbiotic relationships between plants and fungi. Lastly, Jared Zystro of the Organic Seed Alliance spoke about the importance of organically bred seed varieties, and ways the appropriate varieties can help protect our soils and our crops.

In the second half of the workshop, we broke into groups to discuss our research needs and priorities on a variety of topics (see photos below). As I looked around the room, farmers, researchers, non-profit staff, and agriculture service providers buzzed with energy as they discussed their research priorities. Whether they were sharing challenges with a specific pest, or the type of extension resources they needed to combat soil degradation, they all thoughtfully described their needs. 

And the buzz didn’t stop when the workshop ended. Attendees stayed to chat with old friends and make new connections. It was a moment for hard-working people to gather and reflect on the past season and learn new strategies to reduce risk in the seasons to come. 

Submitted by Haley Baron, Education and Research Program Associate, OFRF


By |2020-01-08T18:12:20+00:00December 10th, 2019|News|

Patagonia Doubles Donations to OFRF

December 4, 2019 – Now through December 31st, all donations made to OFRF will be matched dollar-for-dollar by Patgonia Works!

This match will double your support!

For the last three decades, OFRF has responded directly to the critical needs of organic farmers and ranchers through targeted scientific research, free educational resources, and advocacy on both the local and federal level.

Don’t miss this opportunity to double your impact.

Thank you for helping us ensure organic farmers and ranchers have the information and resources they need to be successful!

Click here to make your donation.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00December 4th, 2019|News|

New Report Highlights Role of Agriculture in Climate Change Mitigation

November 14, 2019 – OFRF has been using research-based analysis to inform public policy for nearly three decades. Recently, we contributed to a new report from the National Sustainable Organic Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) titled Moving American Agriculture to “Net Zero”.

One of the principal authors of that report, Dr. Mark Schonbeck, OFRF Research Associate, is the lead author of our wildly popular educational series on organic farming and soil health, which includes nine guidebooks and webinars covering topics ranging from cover cropping and nutrient management to weed and pest management. These free educational resources help farmers select the best organic practices for their circumstances while leading the way to more sustainable agricultural systems.

Schonbeck’s examination of research related to the capacity of sustainable organic systems to sequester soil carbon and minimize nitrous oxide and methane emissions was published in OFRF’s Organic Practices for Climate Mitigation, Adaptation, and Carbon SequestrationWe believe the science in both this guidebook and the NSAC paper are critical to developing policy recommendations that optimize the net climate impact of agriculture, and we will continue to partner on a national level to both develop and put forth those recommendations.

It is urgent that we address climate change.  We know organic practices can play a key role and OFRF is committed to supporting and furthering the exciting potential of organic practices to offset greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00November 14th, 2019|News|

Note from an Organic Farmer

November 8, 2019 – Eleven years ago, I started my farm from scratch.

I had recently graduated with an MBA in entrepreneurship and was working as a civil engineer in the Midwest when I learned that 24 acres near Ridgefield, Washington had come up for sale. They say the right people fall into your life at the right time—in my case, it was the right land.

I grew up down the road from those 24 acres above the Columbia River Slough and no matter the season, there was always something to learn, barns and fields to explore, and farm chores to be done. The previous owners, Pete and Annie, were mainly homesteading, self-reliant fishermen and foragers, but they also raised Red Angus for meat and milk, and they had a huge garden, eating pretty much only what they grew.

So, when I decided to become a farmer, I guess you could say I did it out of absolute necessity. There was simply no way I could let the land go. But then I faced the monumental challenge of making the farm a viable and stable source of income.

From the outset, I knew two truths: organic certification was my path to financial survival, and healthy soil was my most precious asset.

The diversified, organic farming practices I still use today are crucial to the feasibility of my operation, and although soil quality may not have a specified line-item on my balance sheet, it is absolutely the foundation of my work. I have learned how to assess the biological health of my soil, manage nutrient loads, and reduce my dependence on off-farm inputs—all while continuing to reduce the carbon footprint of my operation.

As an organic farmer, I depend on the income of every acre I plant. I do not have the resources to implement expensive trials, which is why OFRF’s work is so valuable.

OFRF has been both a trusted advisor and an independent source of research-based knowledge that is crucial to advocating for and supporting organic farming practices. OFRF works every day to support thousands of diversified farmers like me.

As farmers, we are in many ways invisible, and yet the health and well-being of our lands prove to be one of the most visible elements of the health and well-being of our communities. Consequently, I urge you to join me in supporting OFRF.

OFRF research grants, free educational resources, and advocacy for programs and policies that support organic farmers are directly funded by individual donations from supporters like you.

Today, my farm is my livelihood; it is my only source of income. My husband Brad and I provide healthy, certified organic food to over sixty families in Clark County through our CSA, as well as local restaurants.

Succeeding as an organic farmer is the most challenging work I’ve ever known, and let me tell you, it isn’t getting any easier.

Farmers like me care deeply about land stewardship and it is your financial gift to organizations like OFRF that help us move our work forward in innovative and sustainable ways—ways that ultimately create healthy communities both below and above ground.

Donate today!

Join me in supporting OFRF and their critical mission to improve and advance the adoption of organic farming practices through research, education, and farmer advocacy. Please make a contribution today.

Sincerely yours,

April Thatcher

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00November 8th, 2019|News|

New Varieties Show Promise

October 25, 2019 – 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. The project is aimed at helping organic farmers throughout the Eastern U.S., where those diseases pose a particular challenge.

In his recently submitted final project report, Frost says the four trials he completed yielded useful and actionable results. The trials were done on certified organic land at Twin Oaks Farm in Virginia. Read all about the methods, data, and conclusions for each element of the project. View the grant.

OFRF provided a second grant to Frost in 2019 to continue the project. This year, Frost is focused on evaluating and advancing cucumber seedstock lines that performed well in his 2018 trials, working with farms and research sites throughout the Southeast and beyond to more broadly assess the selected lines. If the 2019 trial results show these lines have good resistance, they plan on releasing varieties from the project in late 2020.

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 on the Common Wealth Seed Growers website.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00October 25th, 2019|News|

Tips to Enhance Carbon Sequestration

October 23, 2019 – Research shows that building soil health through sustainable organic management practices can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and lessen the impacts of climate change on production. OFRF’s series of guidebooks and webinars for building soil health help farmers and ranchers select the best management practices for their particular circumstances, while leading the way to more sustainable agricultural systems.

In the guidebook titled, “Organic Practices for Climate Mitigation, Adaptation, and Carbon Sequestration,” lead author Mark Schonbeck offers ten tips to enhance carbon sequestration.

  1. Implement conservation practices such as diversified crop rotations and reduced tillage.
  2. Consider regenerative cropping systems that integrate multiple conservation practices with judicious use of compost or other organic amendments.
  3. Incorporate agroforestry practices such as silvopasture, alley cropping, and hedgerows.
  4. Implement management-intensive rotational grazing systems.
  5. Plant marginal cropland to perennial sod or trees.
  6. Plant deep-rooted cover crops, such as forage radish or cereal rye, to enhance root biomass.
  7. Diversify crop rotations by adding deep-rooted and perennial crops.
  8. Use diverse organic inputs that vary in their C:N ratio.
  9. Combine the use of compost and cover crops.
  10. Divert food and yard waste from landfills to amend cropland.

The entire Soil Health and Organic Farming series is available to download for free at ofrf.org. Printed copies are available upon request for a suggested donation.

Links to the free on-demand webinar series.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00October 23rd, 2019|News|

NIFA and ERS Relocation Delaying Farm Bill Implementation

October 18, 2019 – The House Agriculture Committee’s Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Subcommittee held a hearing on October 17th to review the implementation of USDA Farm Bill research programs. The hearing centered on discussion of the agency’s move to Kansas City and the deep loss of expertise and experience that is resulting from the relocation.

For organizations like OFRF, a 2019 recipient of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grants awarded through NIFA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative, a particular concern is the reimbursement process for work already completed. OFRF has developed the survey for its project titled A National Agenda for Organic and Transitioning Research and is in the process of testing it with a select group of farmers before launching nationally. When Congressman Panetta presented the issue, Deputy Secretary Hutchins committed to following-up on the implementation of the grants.

House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Chair Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands addressed the issue head-on in her opening comments. “At a time of continued farm stress, it should be USDA’s top priority to support research efforts that directly benefit farmers.

“. . . Unfortunately, I believe my fears are becoming true. This week, I received updates on staffing levels and the status of Fiscal Year 2019 funding. ERS has appropriated funding to support 329 employees, but currently, a total of 214 positions are vacant – a vacancy rate of 65%. To put it bluntly, NIFA is in even worse shape. Out of 344 appropriated positions, 264 are currently vacant – a vacancy rate over 76%.  I was told these extreme staff shortages mean some grant recipients will not receive their funds until March 2020.

“These gaps in service reinforce the notion that this relocation was hurried, misguided, and mismanaged. ERS and NIFA have been undermined at the very time these agencies require knowledgeable staff to implement Farm Bill changes, administer grants, and complete critical economic reports. Our farmers and ranchers deserve better, and so do the valued career public servants who have left their positions within ERS and NIFA for other opportunities.”


By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00October 18th, 2019|News|

OFRF is Turning 30! Save the Date!

October 9, 2019 – We’re celebrating a very significant milestone at our annual benefit luncheon at Expo West and we want you to join us! This must-attend event for organic industry leaders, market innovators, and brand-conscious consumers is the ideal place to network before the big show, and the all-organic lunch is always amazing!

Sponsorships are available now.

Individual tickets go on sale December 1, 2019.

By |2020-01-08T18:12:21+00:00October 9th, 2019|News|
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