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OPN Connect Newsletter 272 · June 9, 2022

OFRF Advances Organic Farming with Research, Education, and Advocacy


Established in 1990 in Santa Cruz, California, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) was founded to support and promote organic agriculture across North America through scientific research.

This year, OFRF published the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda (NORA), a report that documents the experiences, challenges, and successes of organic farmers across the US. Based on the results of surveys and focus groups conducted in 2020 with over 1,100 certified organic and 71 transitioning-to-organic farmers, OFRF’s 2022 NORA identifies organic farmers’ most pressing needs and provides policy and research recommendations to address them.

Global Organics Aug 2022

Brise Tencer, Executive Director, OFRF

“Our mission is to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. We cultivate organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production,” says Brise Tencer, OFRF’s executive director.

“Our mission is to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. We cultivate organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production." -Brise Tencer

According to NORA’s survey results, the top five production challenges faced by organic farmers are (by % respondents):

  • Controlling weeds (67%)
  • Managing production costs (59%)
  • Maintaining adequate yields (48%)
  • Managing soil fertility and crop nutrition (43%)
  • Controlling insect pests (41%)
Chelan Aug 2022

And the top five needs for organic technical assistance are (by % respondents):

  • Organic management of weeds, insect pests, and diseases (74%)
  • Soil fertility and crop nutrient management (65%)
  • Soil conservation and soil health (60%)
  • Securing sales channels (54%)
  • Production assistance (43%

“Our 2022 National Organic Research Agenda reveals organic farmers’ most pressing production challenge is controlling weeds,” says Tencer. “Our focus group participants discussed difficulties managing weeds without degrading soil health, which underscores the need for additional research in organic weed management strategies that require less [tillage].” 

In the 2022 NORA, OFRF points out that because organic growers’ top technical assistance needs are related to soil health and resource conservation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) could provide some very helpful solutions. A federal agency within the USDA, the NRCS offers a number of financial and technical assistance programs for farmers.

“Our 2022 National Organic Research Agenda reveals organic farmers’ most pressing production challenge is controlling weeds." -Brise Tencer

Misionero Aug 2022

In fact, just last year (before the 2022 NORA had been published), OFRF and NRCS formed a three-year partnership. “As part of [the] agreement, OFRF has consulted with farmers and researchers alike to create useful and effective resources to help NRCS staff deepen their understanding of organic farming systems and how they advance conservation goals,” says Tencer. “Our training tools range from webinars and guidebooks to farmer stories and video blogs—and cover soil health, organic tillage, water quality, carbon sequestration, and other climate-mitigation techniques.”

OFRF also offers funding for scientific research on organic farming-related topics, and since its inception, the nonprofit has awarded more than 350 grants totaling over $3 million dollars to on-farm research projects. Reports detailing the results of these research endeavors can be found in a free online database available on OFRF’s website.

“We recently completed our 2020-2021 research grant cycle, and we are now sharing findings from the 13 projects with farmers and the broader agricultural community,” says Tencer. “These research projects led to key takeaways and learnings on topics including crop breeding, soil health, weed and pest management, organic seed development, organic fertilizers, and farmer mentorship.” 

Cal-Organic Aug 2022

Now in its 2021-2022 grant cycle, OFRF is focused on research that addresses climate change through organic farming systems. The nonprofit has prioritized research led by farmers and early-career researchers and has earmarked half of the funds for individuals identifying as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color). “It is critical to foster the next generation of researchers and support historically underserved and marginalized communities while also ensuring all farmers have the most up-to-date and science-based information,” says Tencer. “Projects this cycle are funded in partnership [with] the Foundation for Food & Agricultural Research (FFAR) and other contributors and focus on building on-farm resilience and climate mitigation.”

“We recently completed our 2020-2021 research grant cycle, and we are now sharing findings from the 13 projects with farmers and the broader agricultural community." -Brise Tencer

In addition to offering research grants, OFRF produces educational materials, which it provides free of charge on its website and elsewhere. These include Soil Health and Organic Farming, a series of guidebooks and webinars that synthesize and analyze decades of research related to building healthy soils. 

Vitalis

Another critical component of OFRF’s work is its advocacy for federal programs and policies that support organic farming. “We partner with other organizations and coalitions focused on organic regenerative initiatives and educate policy makers on the importance of supporting organic ag research,” Tencer says. 

OFRF guidebook "Soil Health and Organic Farming: Nutrient Management for Crops, Soil, and the Environment"

Back in 1997, OFRF published an important study, Searching for the “O” Word, which documented the lack of federal funding for organic farming. “At [that] time, less than 0.1 percent of USDA research funding was allocated to organic agriculture,” says Tencer. “This stark finding motivated OFRF to advocate for the establishment of the first dedicated USDA organic research program, which was authorized by Congress as part of the 2002 Farm Bill.”

Since then, OFRF has continued to be involved in advocating for organic ag funding in subsequent Farm Bills (which are renewed every five to six years). “In the 2018 Farm Bill, we championed a significant increase to $50 million annually by 2023 for USDA funding of organic agriculture research," says Tencer.

“We partner with other organizations and coalitions focused on organic regenerative initiatives and educate policy makers on the importance of supporting organic ag research.” -Brise Tencer

Looking ahead, OFRF plans to use the findings and recommendations of the 200-plus-page 2022 NORA to help guide its advocacy efforts for next year’s Farm Bill. “This report is invaluable to us in understanding the needs of organic farmers, which will inform our [2023] Farm Bill priorities,” says Tencer. “We are committed to ensuring funding for organic research, education, and advocacy is expanded. We invest a lot as a nation in ag research to address parallel challenges faced by conventional producers, so this report is a key roadmap for how to level the playing field and create more support for organic farmers.” 

Stemilt Aug 2022
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