Until last year, I could not imagine a career path for myself other than farming. Working in sustainable agriculture for the last 14 years has inextricably linked my profession to my identity. However, after closing my small vegetable farm business in Oregon and moving to Maryland, I realized that I didn’t have it in me to start over. I also knew I was not alone. Many of my fellow small farm owners in Portland had also left farming due to financial hardship and lack of work-life balance. The unavoidable difficulties of farming as a profession was my inspiration for pursuing a graduate degree at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where I now study the intersection of public health, policy, and occupational sustainability and health for the ag community. OFRF’s meaningful work addresses these issues and more, and, as the fall Policy & Communications intern, I’m honored to be part of the team. This month, I’m taking over Gordon’s Policy Corner to talk about a few critical ways organic agricultural research and policy impact health outcomes for farmers.
How do policy, research, organic farming, and public health intersect?
Low socioeconomic status – farm workers and farm owners both earn a lower average wage than nonagricultural workers. Unlike in other industries, individual farm business owners have limited influence over market pricing due to a variety of reasons, including consolidation in the food sector.
Organic farmers are particularly susceptible to price fluctuations due to the higher input costs and greater dependance on natural systems to produce their crops. As seen recently in the organic dairy industry, for instance, climate events can trigger price fluctuations that, when met with increased competition from factory farms, result in intensified financial hardship for smaller farms.
Increased vulnerability to climate-change and its effects on human health.
Farmers are simultaneously among the most vulnerable and most vital members of our food system. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of a food system built within our current market dynamics, there are significant barriers to these circumstances changing.
How can research guide food system policy?
The first step toward promoting a healthier, more sustainable food system is ensuring federal and state governments support farm workers and local agricultural markets. Policymakers rely on researchers to demonstrate quantifiable issues within our food system and tangible opportunities to solve them. Only with this evidence, can advocates and policymakers demonstrate a critical need and rally support for meaningful policy development. Additionally, research can provide much needed technical and economic support for farmers to help improve their growing practices, increase yields, and make farming as profitable as it can be in light of the many barriers they face. In OFRF’s 2022 National Organic Research Agenda, which reported on surveys and focus groups conducted with transitioning and certified organic producers across North America, participants named the availability of organic research funds (54%), access to knowledgeable agricultural service providers (53%), and the imbalance of organic supply and demand (58%) among their top concerns.
OFRF’s role in addressing food system complexity:
The needs of small and organic farmers are still underrepresented in the Farm Bill, but, thanks in part to the work of ag support organizations, USDA is now implementing more programs geared toward small, beginning, and historically underserved communities. Through my internship with OFRF, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how individual organizations can promote policy reform through coalition building. For instance, OFRF’s policy team continues to champion the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act (SOAR Act) as well as the Organic Science & Research Initiative Act (OSRI Act), which both aim to obtain necessary Farm Bill research funding to solidify our path toward a more equitable and resilient agricultural industry.
OFRF is also excited to be part of USDA’s Transition to Organic Partnership Program (TOPP), a program investing up to $100M over 5 years in cooperative agreements with organizations like OFRF to provide technical assistance and mentorship for transitioning and existing organic farmers. Knowing that small, beginning, and historically-marginalized farmers are particularly vulnerable to financial hardship and time constraints, the OFRF policy team has been working with TOPP West to develop toolkits for farmers to mitigate the common barriers they face when it comes to accessing USDA’s grants, loans, and technical support. Lately, I’ve been working to unpack NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in a brief guide to help farmers know exactly when and how to apply for financial assistance.
How can you promote public health and a more equitable food system?
To reduce the impact of global warming, we will need a societal shift toward supporting local food systems and organic farming practices. In doing so, we can also promote a stronger local economy, combat the ongoing health disparities disproportionately affecting the farming community, and ensure that the people growing our food are able to earn a livable wage. Please prioritize buying from local producers using organic growing methods whenever possible. Consider reaching out to your representatives to highlight the need for more financial and policy support to help reshape sustainable agriculture into a tenable profession. And, please join us for an upcoming virtual OFRF event, where you can learn new skills for communicating with legislators or get involved with your own farmer-led research.
The word unprecedented has become tiredly overused, as we weather the storms of one climate-induced disaster after another, and set new records for temperature extremes. Farmers and farm workers in particular are keenly aware of the impacts of this climate chaos; in a profession dependent on and deeply affected by the weather, people working in agriculture are canaries in the coal mines of rapidly changing weather patterns and new climate extremes. Earlier this year farmers in Vermont raced to harvest crops before flood waters overtook fields and contaminated crops, while farmers throughout the west coast donned n95 masks or respirators to work the fields amid hazardous air quality due to a wildfire smoke. These stories are sadly not uncommon; everywhere you look farmers are working hard to stay afloat in challenging conditions. Climate change is impacting farms and ranches across the nation and organic farms are particularly vulnerable; but they are also full of potential for climate adaptation and even mitigation.
Cultivating corn at the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab in Beltsville, MD, with cultivated beans in the foreground
Because organic farms do not rely on synthetic chemicals, they tend to be more dependent on natural systems than their conventional farming counterparts. This can mean they are more vulnerable and easily impacted by climate change, but organic systems also hold tremendous potential to build climate resilience. Farmers have always adapted, and the unpredictability of our current climate continues to push farmers to seek innovative solutions and evolve their farming practices to help withstand and even mitigate the extremes of climate change.
Long term agroecological research is critical in order to provide farmers with cutting edge understanding of how climate change affects different production systems and how different production systems can build resilience to withstand climate change. While a lot can be learned in short-term studies, there are things that only long-term observation can reveal. To better understand the role of long term agriculture research OFRF recently spoke with Michel Cavigelli, PhD about his work at the long term agricultural research (LTAR) station in Beltsville Maryland, ancestral homelands of the Piscataway and Nacotchtank. “I was always interested in long-term research because everything changes every year,” Cavigelli said.
Weather patterns can change so much year to year, that a two year study, for instance, may fall over the course of two good-weather years, or even a good year and a bad year, and the results will not accurately represent the full picture of how a farming system behaves over the course of several years and weather cycles. Other elements of agriculture change so slowly that it’s nearly impossible to measure them in a short period of time.
“You need long term data to look at things that change a lot from year to year, and you also need long term data to look at things that change slowly,” Cavigelli explained. “Soil organic carbon changes slowly, that’s probably the most notorious one. You usually need at least ten years of a treatment difference to see those [changes] statistically.”
Dr. Michel Cavigelli
Running a long-term study offered Cavigelli a unique opportunity to study Soil Organic Carbon (SOC). “There’s all this talk now about climate-smart agriculture, and looking at ways to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. So any increase in soil carbon is a decrease in atmospheric carbon.”
At the Beltsville research site they have five different cropping systems in place: two conventional and three organic, with a variety of tillage practices and crop-rotations in place. The cropping systems they maintain are:
no-till, 3-year corn-soybean-wheat rotation
standard tillage, 3-year, corn-soybean-wheat rotation
standard tillage, 2-year corn-soybean rotation
standard tillage, 3-year corn-soybean-wheat rotation
standard tillage, 6-year corn-soybean-wheat-alfalfa rotation, with alfalfa as a three-year perennial crop
The conventional systems receive a double-cropping of soybeans after wheat harvest, while the three-year organic rotation gets a hairy vetch planting. “It’s still corn, soybean wheat, and then a legume,” said Cavigelli, of the 3-year organic rotation. “So it’s quite comparable to the two conventional systems.” This variety of cropping systems allows them to compare different production methods.
Along with studying SOC, Cavigelli also looks at crop yield, economic viability, soil quality and soil properties, weed population dynamics, and the overall health of the soil food web. He also explained the long term trial site functions as a base for other researchers to look at things that they don’t study at the Beltsville lab, such as soil invertebrate communities. “We provide the long term study for people to kind of helicopter in and do their specialty, which provides a lot more depth of knowledge of the different systems,” Cavigelli said.
Organic soybeans at the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab in Beltsville, MD
The results of these studies help researchers like Cavigelli give more accurate and useful advice to farmers and ranchers. Along with publishing scientific reports on their findings, researchers at Beltsville engage in a variety of outreach activities to share their findings with the agricultural community. Prior to Covid, Cavigelli said he regularly presented at ag conferences and hosted field days at the research site that would draw groups of 80-100 farmers and others at a time. He also worked with partners at the local university extension office on a “traveling road show” tour to present findings to ag communities in the mid-Atlantic region, and is eager to reinstate those outreach activities now that the national emergency has ended.
There have been a lot of studies on no-till conventional agriculture, which allowed people to develop some robust conclusions early on. “That’s why no-till became the focus of what farmers ought to do to sequester carbon,” Cavigelli said. Based on this he explained that his initial hypothesis was that the organic systems would retain soil carbon at a rate somewhere between the conventional tillage and conventional no-till systems, taking into account the added organic matter from the organic systems but the disturbance from tilling.
Some of the initial results they’ve found in studies have surprised even Cavigelli. He initially expected the no-till systems to have higher SOC levels because of the decreased soil disturbance. However, when they looked at the findings after 11 years, the organic system actually had more soil carbon than the no-till system, although he made sure to point out that their latest study on SOC has not been fully vetted by peers yet; they will be submitting the paper soon.
Farming Systems Project, Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab in Beltsville, MD
“A critical part of the story is that when the experiment was started we had relatively high SOC because the site had been planted to perennial alfalfa for at least 14 years,” Cavigelli said. “This also points to the value of perennials.” When Cavigeli’s team compared their results to archived soil samples from 1996, before the long-term systems trials began, the only cropping system that was not losing soil organic carbon over the long term was the 6-year organic rotation. As noted above, this rotation differs from the others by adding a three-year planting of perennial alfalfa before going back into an annual corn-soybean-wheat rotation. “It’s not a tree, it’s not the native perennials, but it’s still a perennial,” Cavigelli explained about the alfalfa. “And during the three years that it’s in there you’re not tilling, and you’re increasing root biomass and all that.” As a legume, the alfalfa roots have a symbiotic relationship with rhizobial bacteria that pull atmospheric nitrogen from the air and fix it in the plant, while the perennial root systems and the lack of tillage or soil disturbance for those three years support the soil in sequestering carbon. Alfalfa is also a valuable cash crop in itself, providing high quality livestock feed.
“When we look at the difference between time-zero, 1996, and all five of our systems they all lose carbon except for the six-year organic system,” Cavigelli said. “It’s not just that it’s organic, but it’s that we have a perennial in there. So it looks like the story is that perennials are the best way to either maintain or increase soil carbon.”
As we head into the unknown of our changing climate, long-term research will be increasingly important to help farmers and ranchers make informed decisions about their management practices and to help policy makers respond to the climate crisis with effective programs. However, funding for these long term projects is precarious. All the funding comes from Congress, and Cavigelli explained that it can be tough to make the case for long-term research. “They like to see more quick results, and it’s not quite as sexy as developing a new technology,” he laughed. Researchers like Cavigelli are limited by Congress’s funding decisions. “It’s a harder sell,” Cavigelli continued. “And it’s a sustainability sell. The only way to measure our sustainability is doing things long-term. And the amount of money we get is directly related to how much research we can do.”
. . .
Dr. Michel Cavigelli is a Co-Director of the USDA Northeast Climate Hub, providing expertise on cropping system management and impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. He is also a Research Soil Scientist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service at the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab in Beltsville, Maryland. He serves as Lead Scientist of a research project that includes evaluating the long-term impacts of organic and conventional cropping systems management on sustainability. His areas of expertise include organic and conventional cropping systems, nutrient management, and environmental and microbiological controls on soil nitrous oxide production and emissions. He received a B.A. in Biology at Oberlin College in 1984, a M.S. in Agronomy at Kansas State University in 1990, and a Ph.D. in Crop and Soil Sciences and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Michigan State University in 1998. OFRF is grateful to Cavigelli for taking the time to speak with us about his work.
Our political and civic institutions are similar to agricultural operations. Both require a degree of predictability and adherence to deadlines to function effectively. In the same way that farmers depend on predictable climate patterns for successful cultivation, our governments rely on stability to meet the deadlines that shape policies and funding critical to our society.
Aerial view of storm water on cotton fields that are already saturated with days of heavy rain. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.
However, both realms face growing unpredictability. Climate change has disrupted farming with unpredictable weather patterns, altering frost dates, precipitation, and pest cycles, making it challenging to maintain smooth agricultural operations. Similarly, the political landscape in Washington, D.C., has become increasingly erratic, impacting our ability to foresee legislative actions and their potential effects.
This past month, Congress narrowly averted a government shutdown and allowed the 2018 Farm Bill to expire. Now, they have until November 15th to pass crucial Appropriations bills or another Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded. Additionally, there’s a tight deadline until late December to pass a new Farm Bill or extend the current one. However, the latter seems less likely due to persistent political disagreement.
The dynamics of climate instability and political gridlock are deeply interconnected. Yet, amidst this uncertainty, there is a powerful action we can all take to influence change: effectively communicating to legislators and policymakers how these issues impact our lives. Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is offering another round of our ‘Communicating with Legislators Workshop’ to support this work.
Here’s a snapshot of what you should know and what the workshop will cover in more detail:
Legislatures are Reactive: Legislative processes respond to public concerns and emerging issues. If they don’t know about a problem or issue, they can’t act on it; conversely, if they don’t know something significant is happening, they can’t defend or support it.
Legislatures are Slow-Working: The pace of legislative work is deliberate to ensure thorough consideration of implications. Continuous engagement ensures our perspectives remain in their purview as they deliberate policies.
Consistent Input is Crucial: Legislatures need regular, diverse, and informed input from citizens to make effective and well-informed decisions.
Our ‘Communicating with Legislators Workshop’ is tailored for farmers and researchers in the organic farming sector. We equip you with insights into how legislatures operate, emphasizing your vital role in communicating about the issues you care about.
One critical area where consistent input is necessary is in the realm of organic agricultural research. Organic farming isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a key player in our fight against climate change. The unpredictability climate change introduces is a significant challenge for farmers. Organic agricultural practices can mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting soil health, and enhancing resilience to extreme weather events. Research in this field is essential for mitigating and adapting to climate change, and we need policymakers to understand the importance of continuing to invest in it. However, this research is primarily funded through public appropriations, which have been decreasing since 2000.
Join us in this workshop to learn best practices and how you can advocate for increased investments in organic agriculture and research. Your voice matters, and it’s a potent force in shaping the future of our agriculture sector. Together, we can navigate these unpredictable times and work towards a more stable and supportive environment for organic farming.
Workshop registration is free. More info on our events page.
Farm Bill Policy, Funding Implications, and Ways to Stay Engaged
September is a month of transitions. In Vermont it brings the first signals of autumn with cool mornings full of valley fog; in DC it brings a flurry of work before the end of the Federal Government’s fiscal year, which brings with it the expiration of the government’s funding and Farm Bill legislation, which are both in flux right now.
For government funding, or appropriations, neither chamber has successfully passed all twelve of the necessary spending bills on the floor, which means much of the limited floor time for the rest of the year will be spent on both a continuing resolution and then hopefully passing full funding bills before the end of the year. But, that would mean the other expiring piece of legislation, the Farm Bill, would also need an extension. This is all-but guaranteed with the amount of work needed to bridge the yawning gap between the Senate and House spending bills. Some predict that the Farm Bill will be extended until the spring of 2024, some until after the elections in 2024.
As the Farm Bill and FY24 Appropriations situation continues to clear and muddy itself again, one thing remains certain, continued interaction with policy makers is imperative! We at OFRF want to ensure that you all have the ability to meaningfully engage. But, we also depend on our network and community to help keep us in the know of opportunities, too! Below are three ways you can plug in with OFRF and stay connected.
Communicating with Legislators Workshop Series:
First and foremost, I am excited to share that OFRF is hosting another series of workshops aiming to give researchers and farmers some tools to effectively engage with policymakers. Our goal is to equip individuals within the organic farming community with the tools to effectively engage with and educate legislators about the impact of their organic research. This will be geared to both publicly funded researchers as well as farmers that utilize and participate in research.
There are four workshop sessions available:
– Thurs Sep 21st 7-8:30pm EST
– Wed Oct 11th 1-2:30pm EST
– Mon Oct 30th 5:30-7pm EST
– Tues Nov 21st 12-1:30pm ES
All sessions cover the same material, so you only have to attend one. I hope you will also share this opportunity with your colleagues and networks! Registration is FREE. You can find details here.
Field Days with an Organic Component:
Second, we at OFRF are interested in hearing more about research field day opportunities, especially those with organic components, taking place near or organized by you! At OFRF, we are dedicated to fostering the exchange of knowledge and best practices in organic farming. If you know of any field days on the horizon that emphasize organic methodologies, we are keen to explore opportunities for collaboration, participation, or mutual promotion.
Stay Connected with OFRF
Lastly, we always want to stress the significance of staying connected with you and the organic farming community. That is why we’re asking you to highlight any listservs or newsletters your local organizations or extension services operate that we should be aware of! These platforms enable us to learn about upcoming field days, networking events, and initiatives that align with our goals and values.
If you know of any field days that happen annually, especially those with organic components, or of any good newsletters with those events in your region, let me know at email@example.com! Thank you for the work you do in the organic community! The possibilities to collectively contribute to the growth of organic agriculture, and empower the next generation of farmers and researchers is an exciting and real opportunity. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or to discuss your work.
This month’s Policy Corner has a guest author, OFRF Policy and Communications Intern, Adam Bagul.
Almost as if chased away by the potent combination of heat and humidity that has descended upon the District of Columbia, our Senators and Representatives have returned back home to their districts for the August recess. Congress Members usually use this time to hold town hall meetings or to be available for in-district meetings. This break from the hustle and bustle of Capitol Hill presents a golden opportunity
Photo credit: Adam Bagul
for constituents to connect with their policymakers. Since 2023 is a Farm Bill year, let’s take a moment to delve into the Farm Bill process, a linchpin of agricultural policy, and use this recess to mobilize support for bills that will ensure a robust future for organic and sustainable agriculture in the United States.
The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that shapes agricultural policy, nutrition programs, and rural development initiatives for the next five years. My internship with the Organic Farming Research Foundation has provided me with a front-row seat to this intricate process. I’ve witnessed various organic and sustainable agriculture advocacy organizations, all working towards a common goal – a resilient and sustainable agricultural future. I’ve worked to promote different marker bills, legislation used to signal positions on issues within our legislative bodies. This work has helped me to see that the Farm Bill isn’t just an obscure collection of irrelevant policies; it’s about our farmers, our land, our health, and our food security. The bills that make up this Farm Bill will dictate the immediate future of agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry of the US.
The August recess allows Congress to step back into their home districts, reconnect with their roots, listen to their constituents’ concerns, and gain a better understanding of local issues. Showing legislators that farms and organic businesses are part of your community, how they make an impact in their districts, and communicating what support they need to be successful are important actions to take during this period. As citizens passionate about agriculture and rural development, this is our moment to be heard. Meeting with policymakers might seem daunting, but it’s an avenue that holds immense potential to create change. Here are a few tips to make the most of your interaction:
Plan Ahead: Reach out to your Congressperson’s local office to schedule a meeting. Be clear about the topic you wish to discuss and your objectives for the conversation.
Do Your Homework: Familiarize yourself with the Congressperson’s stance on agricultural issues and the Farm Bill. This shows your commitment and helps tailor your conversation. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the marker bills being considered this year. OFRF has great resources for you to do so.
Bring Data: Numbers and statistics can be persuasive. If you’re discussing the impact of a certain policy, back it up with relevant data. Another piece of information to bring could be lists of organizations within your legislator’s district that are in support of initiatives or bills that you support.
Be Concise and Clear: Time is often limited. Clearly articulate your main points and concerns. Provide real-life examples to illustrate your arguments. Constructing a rough road map of how you’d like to share information with your legislator is a helpful way to ensure every point that you’d like to make is included.
Engage Emotionally: Share personal stories that highlight the real-world implications of agricultural policies. Emotionally compelling narratives can leave a lasting impression.
These principles for successful conversations with our elected legislative officials are a part of my daily work as an intern at OFRF. Amidst this bustling realm of policy and legislation, my internship experience has been informative and rewarding. From diving into research on agricultural sustainability to participating in policy discussions, I’ve gained invaluable insights into the complexities of policy advocacy in the United States. At OFRF, much of my work consists of drafting and sending communications to congressional staffers, conveying the significance of marker bills centered around organic farming research for the impending Farm Bill, such as the Organic Science Research Investment (OSRI) Act and the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act. Similarly, sitting in on meetings between various organic and sustainable agriculture advocacy organizations has been edifying. Witnessing the behind the scenes work and shared determination to drive positive agricultural reform has been nothing short of inspiring.
One particular initiative that I have been working with is the Safeguarding Agricultural Research (SARF) letter. This letter is a call for legislators to prioritize and protect agricultural research funding, written by OFRF, signed by organizations, businesses, and farmers from all over the US. The purpose of SARF advocacy isn’t just for Universities to receive more money for research; it’s about ensuring that our farmers have access to the knowledge and tools they need to overcome challenges. It’s about fostering innovation that leads to more resilient crops, sustainable practices, and a brighter agricultural future. My internship with OFRF has illuminated the necessity of agricultural advocacy: as engaged citizens we have a duty to communicate our priorities to our legislators and secure our commitment to the land and crops that sustain us. The August recess is an occasion for us to advocate for policies that bolster initiatives like SARF, in turn advocating for the resilience and vitality of American agriculture. Our voices, together, have the power to shape the future of our fields and farms.
If you have questions about OFRF’s policy advocacy work, or want to know how to get involved, please reach out: gordon[at]ofrf.org. As Gordon says:
Today, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is happy to deliver to the leadership of Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry a letter in support of the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act. OFRF and the undersigned believe this bill represents significant investments into answering research questions that organic producers continue to grapple with.
“We are excited to be able to work with Organic Champions in Congress to help ensure there are resources available to support the success of organic farmers and ranchers across the nation. Over the last several years OFRF has collected robust information from farmers about their research and education needs and these bills would provide much needed investment in solutions to these problems. These bills are also an important signal to early career researchers that organic agriculture research is an important, respected, and securely-funded area to engage in,” – Brise Tencer, OFRF Executive Director.
The 2018 Farm Bill was an important step towards recognizing the status of the organic agriculture industry, OREI reached mandatory funding levels. The organic agriculture market has continued to mature over the past five years of the Farm Bill, partly due to this increased investment. For this growth to continue, organic producers must be given their fair share of resources dedicated to agricultural research. This bill intends to do just that with the 2023 Farm Bill.
In the Senate, Senator Fetterman is joined by Senators Booker, Brown, Casey, Gillibrand, Welch, and Wyden to introduce the Organic Science and Research Investment Act. This legislation would increase the resilience of U.S. agriculture, create economic opportunity for producers, and result in improved ecological vitality of the landscape by:
Creating the Coordinating and Expanding Organic Research Initiative. This initiative charges the Research, Education, and Economics agencies at USDA to catalog the current, ongoing research on organic food and agriculture topics and provide a path to increase organic agriculture research conducted and funded by the USDA.
Directing the USDA to develop a plan to increase organically managed acreage. This plan will formulate how the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the sole in-house research operation at USDA, will dedicate a portion of their research fields to organic agriculture research.
Bolstering programs operated by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The OSRI Act would provide stair-stepped budget increases to the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), expand the statutory priorities to include climate change, organic alternatives to prohibited substances, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. The bill would also provide first-time Congressional authorization for the Researching the Transition to Organic Program (RTOP), currently known as the Organic Transition Research Program (ORG).
Boosting funding for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI). The data produced through the ODI is essential for the development of risk management products and targeted market development. The OSRI Act directs the Economic Research Service (ERS) to conduct a full, systematic evaluation of the economic impact organic agriculture has on rural and urban communities, taking into account economic, ecological, and social factors.
We at OFRF are excited about this opportunity to support the expansion of organic agriculture research, and look forward to working with our partners and collaborators to advance the OSRI Act in the Senate, and the SOAR Act in the House this Farm Bill season.
“The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition strongly endorses the Organic Science and Research Investment Act (OSRI Act). The OSRI Act makes meaningful investments in providing organic producers with the research and tools they need to continue to improve upon already climate friendly and resilient farming systems and meet the growing market demand for organic products. In addition to increasing investments in critical organic research programs such as the Organic Agriculture Research and Education Initiative (OREI), this bill provides a structure for USDA to coordinate and expand organic agriculture research across REE agencies. This will increase the scientific research and economic data and analysis these agencies are able to provide so that both organic and conventional agricultural producers can sustain and improve their operations while helping us reach meaningful solutions for the climate crisis.” Nick Rossi, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
“As one of the oldest and largest organic certification agencies in the country, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association applauds Senator Sherrod Brown for his leadership on the Organic Science and Research Investment Act of 2023. The increased research investments and coordination across the many USDA agencies will help farmers overcome production hurdles and implement holistic approaches to farming that result in better water management, water quality, soil health and resilience. It is critical that we focus on the development of new public plant cultivars and livestock breeds that are regionally adapted and appropriate for organic production in this time of increasing weather extremes. “ Amalie Lipstreu, OEFFA Policy Director
“The National Organic Coalition is thrilled to see the introduction of the Organic Science and Research Investment Act, and we appreciate the work of Senators Fetterman, Booker, Brown, Casey, Gillibrand, Welch, and Wyden to champion this bill. Research is key to tackling the many challenges farmers face and organic research benefits all farmers. In fact, many of the farming practices embraced by organic farmers, such as cover cropping and other regenerative agricultural practices, are now being adopted across the board to protect soil health and natural resources.” Abby Youngblood, National Organic Coalition
“The Northeast Organic Dairy Producer Alliance supports all the requests in the OSRI Act as a very necessary stage in the growth and stability of organic agriculture. Farmers need accurate data in establishing risk management, deciding to transition to organic and establishing a sustainable business plan. This is not available to the majority of organic commodities and presents difficulties in establishing safety net programs, disaster programs and incentives for transitioning to organic production.” Ed Maltby, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance
“By investing in organic research, adding climate mitigation/resilience to legislative goals of OREI, and fully recognizing the contributions of Traditional Ecological Knowledge to climate solutions, the OSRI Act will go far toward building an equitable, resilient, and climate-friendly agriculture and food system.” Mark Schonbeck, Virginia Association for Biological Farming
“The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) recognizes the critical need for organic research for the responsible co-creation of just and ecological food and agriculture systems. The passage of the OSRI Act will provide vital funding to support this research.” Juliann Salinas, Women, Food and Agriculture Network
“This program has not only been a benefit to our faculty in staff working on organic agriculture, but has supported the transition of a lot of our partnering farms in the southeast.” Crystal James, Tuskegee University
“While organic agriculture makes up more than 6% of the food sales market, ARS and NIFA devote less than 2% of their research dollars to organic research. The policies in the OSRI Act signal to researchers that organic agriculture research is valued.” Jaydee Hanson, Center for Food Safety
“As a leader in organic rice and rice products, we are supportive of these efforts to grow and nurture the organic farming industry. We applaud the Senate’s leadership here and urge the body to adopt this legislation.” Natalie Carter, Lundberg Family Farms
“Continued funding and increased funding is necessary for equitable research for organic agriculture practices, materials, outreach and leading in promoting climate smart agricultural practices.” John McKeon, Taylor Family Farms
Gordon’s Policy Corner, July 2023: This year has already sent a clear message to the world that our changing climate is no longer a future concern, but a current hazard. At OFRF, our staff is spread out across this nation. During our virtual staff meetings I hear personal reports from our staff dealing with historic tornadoes, hail, and smoke in the midwest; swinging from a millennia-era drought to unprecedented flooding in the West; sweating through a heat dome and drought in the Southeast; breathing smoke-filled air from wildfires raging through Canada. This spring we experienced unheard-of late frosts where I live in New England, and as I write this we’ve shifted from historic short-term drought a month ago to historic flooding this week, with road closures and evacuations occurring across Vermont.
We are living in the anthropocene era of Earth’s history. We know that organic agriculture has the potential to significantly mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, yet we continue to see a lack of any urgency for action to answer these problems in Washington DC.
This Farm Bill has been continually framed as a “flat farm bill,” meaning that there will be no increases to the baseline budget of programs. This means that for any program to see an increase in funding, another program must be cut. That is why we are championing bills in Congress like the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act in the House, and the Organic Science and Research Investment Act in the Senate, being introduced this week. These are not the only actions we are taking, though, and are actively working with coalitions to make it clear to the Senate and House Committees on Agriculture that this is not the time to reduce research funding.
Agricultural research programs don’t just answer producer’s questions or support early-career scientists (although they do both of those things). They also significantly benefit the rural communities that actively participate in and host these crucial research projects. Every dollar invested in public agricultural research generates an impressive $20 of benefits. Despite this well-documented impact, public funding for agricultural research has experienced a 20% decline since the turn of the century, while funding for other research areas has increased during the same period.
Gathering signatures for organizational letters is a crucial part of Farm Bill strategy, but what carries real impact is the ability to make this a human story. We need your input on the challenges being faced, and the research products that are helping you overcome them and thrive. For us to communicate with the powers-at-be in our nation’s capital, we need to hear what you are experiencing, and how continued and expanded investments into research and conservation are needed to answer these challenges. Please use this quick form to share your story, and we will follow up with you to make sure it is brought to the right ears.
June is fully in swing here in Vermont where I live and down in DC where the Farm Bill process continues.
In Vermont, the first cutting of hay is being dried and bailed, ewes and their lambs are headed to pasture, and crops are getting in the ground. In the Northeast we’ve also just experienced an unusually late, historic frost. If you were like me, and rolling the dice to plant a little early this year, I hope you didn’t lose too many crops and are able to recover easily as we transition into the warmer weather again. The biggest sign that summer is here in New England, though, is the black flies that are now out in force! We’re looking forward to some rain in the forecast to keep things happy, as it’s been a dry spring again this year. Never a dull moment farming in a changing climate!
In DC, marker bills are being introduced and cosponsors corralled. This past month we were thrilled to share the announcement that the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act was officially introduced in Congress. You can take a look at our SOAR Act Toolkit here. Keep an eye out for a Senate Companion bill coming soon; we’re still working with representatives and partners to get the final details ironed out. (Sometimes with policy work it’s a hurry up and wait game!). Drafting of the Farm Bill is actively happening in both chambers, appropriations bills are slowly being drafted (partly due to the Debt Ceiling Debacle), and August recess plans are being made and solidified. As we wait for the text of the Farm Bill which will come later this summer, and for Report Language from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees in the coming weeks, policy work is in a holding pattern until the next sprint (did I mention hurry up and wait?).
During this small lull in updates from DC, we wanted to take this opportunity to devote this month’s Policy Corner to ask you, dear reader, a favor:
Can you take a moment to share your story as a researcher or a farmer interacting with organic agriculture research? We are collecting and amplifying stories of researchers around the U.S. who have effectively shared their research with decision-makers or have benefitted from organic research. Are you a farmer that’s participated in a research project? Are you a researcher who has been awarded or participated in a project funded by the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) or Organic Transitions Program? Are you a farmer who has used research products that were created through these programs? If so, it would be great to hear from you as we work to advocate in support of these programs, while also addressing the needed reforms we are fighting for!
We need your help to deepen the impact of our advocacy work! Facts, figures, and statistical breakdowns of the effects of increased public investment in agricultural research are important, but the lived experiences and stories of researchers and farmers communicate more than a report ever can. As we head into the summer months, can you take a moment to share a little bit of your experience with us? Or, share this with a farmer or researcher you know who has a good advocacy-related story to tell?
Thank you for being a part of the movement for organics.
May 25, 2023- Today, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) delivered to the leadership of House Agriculture Committees a letter in support of the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research (SOAR) Act. OFRF and the undersigned believe this bill represents significant investments into answering research questions that organic producers continue to grapple with.
“We are excited to be able to work with Organic Champions in Congress to help ensure there are resources available to support the success of organic farmers and ranchers across the nation. Over the last several years OFRF has collected robust information from farmers about their research and education needs and these bills would provide much needed investment in solutions. These bills are also an important signal to early career researchers that organic agriculture research is an important, respected, and securely-funded area to engage in,” Brise Tencer, OFRF Executive Director.
The 2018 Farm Bill was an important step towards recognizing the status of the organic agriculture industry, OREI reached mandatory funding levels. The organic agriculture market has continued to mature over the past five years of the Farm Bill, partly due to this increased investment. For this growth to continue, organic producers must be given their fair share of resources dedicated to agricultural research. This bill intends to do just that with the 2023 Farm Bill.
In the House, Representatives Newhouse(WA-04), Panetta(CA-19), and Pingree(ME-01) are all leading the way, introducing the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act. This legislation does three things that would increase the resilience of U.S. agriculture, create economic opportunity for producers, and result in improved ecological vitality of the landscape:
Bolsters the funding for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative. The SOAR Act would provide stair-stepped budget increases to the Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), from $60 million in 2024 to $100 million in 2028.
Provides Congressional authorization and direction for the Researching the Transition to Organic Program. The bill would also provide first-time Congressional authorization for the Researching the Transition to Organic Program (RTOP), currently known as the Organic Transition Research Program (ORG), with an authorization for appropriations of $10 million a year from 2024-2026 and $20 million from 2027-2028.
Bolsters funding for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative (ODI). Providing $10 million over the life of the Farm Bill, the SOAR Act would double the farm bill funding for this crucial joint-initiative of three USDA Agencies: NASS, Economic Research Service (ERS), and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The data produced through the ODI is essential for the development of risk management products and targeted market development. The SOAR Act also directs ERS to conduct a full, systematic evaluation of the economic impact organic agriculture has on rural and urban communities, taking into account economic, ecological, and social factors.
In the Senate, we are working with Agriculture Committee leaders to introduce a comprehensive companion to the SOAR Act. We look forward to announcing this bill in the coming weeks with broad support.
“Organic Valley applauds congressional leaders who recognize the importance of public investments in organic research. Research enabled by this legislation represents the building of collective knowledge to help organic farmers gain on-farm efficiencies. It allows businesses like ours to bring to bear a confidence and commitment in partnership with academic institutions and federal agencies to continuously improve the organic farming systems. This is necessary as organic is part of the larger agricultural landscape and pressures we all are facing to balance natural resource protection and grow good food for consumers in the U.S. and globally. ” Adam Warthesen, Senior Director of Government & Industry Affairs, Organic Valley.
“Research is key to tackling the many challenges farmers face and organic research benefits all farmers. In fact, many of the farming practices embraced by organic farmers, such as cover cropping and other regenerative agricultural practices, are now being adopted across the board. NOC is thrilled to see the introduction of the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act to provide resources for the ecosystem-based approach that is so central to successful organic farming.” Abby Youngblood, Executive Director, National Organic Coalition
“The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauds Representatives Newhouse, Panetta, and Pingree for their steadfast leadership in supporting organic farmers and ranchers. The SOAR Act makes meaningful investments in providing organic producers with the research and tools they need to continue to improve upon already climate friendly and resilient farming systems and meet the growing market demand for organic products.” Nick Rossi, Policy Associate, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
“The Organic dairy industry suffers from a lack of available data for farmers to make decisions on their individual contract with their buyers, assessment of their economic future and risk management. Organic Dairy has no safety net program because USDA and Congress do not have the data available to develop one. They are left exposed to dramatic market fluctuations outside their control.” Ed Maltby, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance
“Organic research is funded at a tiny fraction of overall agricultural research yet benefits the whole farming community – an investment in organic research is an investment in the future of our food system!” Katie Baildon, Policy Manager, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY)
“A robust investment in organic agricultural research is an investment in a climate-stable and food-secure future for the US and the world” Mark Schonbeck, Virginia Association for Biological Farming
“Organic Research Programs have not only been a benefit to our faculty and staff working on organic agriculture, but have also supported the transition of a lot of our partnering farms in the southeast.” Crystal M. James, JD, MPH, Tuskegee University
“As a leader in organic rice and rice products, we strongly support the further development of organic farming and foods. We urge Congress to do the same with this legislation.” Natalie Carter, Lundberg Family Farms
“Research funding for organic agriculture needs to be increased and acknowledged as a critical and instrumental strategy in carrying agriculture forward “ John McKeon, Taylor Farms
This past week I participated in Organic Week with the Organic Trade Association (OTA), where the Confluences conferences organized by The Organic Center merged with the OTA’s policy presentations and advocacy day. The participants in this week-long event represented a diverse range of individuals, including long-standing certified organic producers, farmers venturing into organic farming for various reasons, scientific researchers investigating the effects of plastics on our food system and environment, as well as plastic manufacturers and food distributors actively seeking alternatives.
Heading home from DC on the train, I had the chance to reflect on the week and on how much progress has been made in organic agriculture policy. During my meetings with members of Congress from both major political parties, it was abundantly clear that they and their staff were well aware of the benefits of organic farming and understood why the industry deserves support from the Farm Bill. In fact, just this week, OTA announced that the annual organic market has exceeded $67 billion, with the food market contributing over $60 billion. Organic sales now make up more than 6% of the total food marketplace. However, despite these impressive figures, research investments in organic agriculture remain insufficient. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture allocates less than 2% of its budget to organic agriculture, while the Agricultural Research Service dedicates less than 1%.
These facts are precisely why we are so enthusiastic about the organic leaders and champions we have in Congress. In the House, OFRF has been collaborating with Representatives Newhouse (WA-04), Panetta (CA-19), and Pingree (ME-01) to introduce the Strengthening Organic Agriculture Research Act (SOAR Act). Meanwhile, in the Senate, we have been working with supportive allies to develop a companion bill, and we will share more details in the upcoming weeks! We are offering various avenues for involvement to support these crucial pieces of legislation, including toolkits with templates for outreach and social media, explanations of the bills’ provisions, opportunities to share personal stories related to research, and more! If you wish to contribute to these efforts, please feel free to contact me at any time: firstname.lastname@example.org.