Nov 21, 2022
NIFA forum highlights importance of ongoing organic research

The USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture held a listening session Nov 2. to collect feedback on the organization’s role and research priorities in the priority-setting process of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Research, Extension and Education programs.

A diverse array of stakeholders offered insights on the challenges involved in NIFA continuing to deliver resources and expertise to the agricultural community.

Both Gordon N. Merrick, policy and programs manager, and Mark Schonbeck, research program associate, highlighted the importance of NIFA’s competitive grant programs for organic agriculture, such as the Organic Research & Extension Initiative and Organic Transition Program. The pair also pinpointed the importance of organic agricultural management in the response to climate changes.

Merrick reinforced the fact that “we now know, with scientific certainty thanks to publicly-funded basic research, that organic management leads to a more-resilient landscape in the face of the ongoing climate crisis.”

Schonbeck added that “in long-term farming systems trials, organic systems that maintain healthy soil show greater resilience to drought, excessive rainfall and nutrient limitations than their conventional counterparts.”

Schonbeck discussed research being done by these programs, including cultivar development networks that work directly with farmers and regionally appropriate nutrient management and cycling techniques.

Merrick emphasized that organic agricultural research should not be limited to these organic-specific programs.

“Research into organic management techniques has resulted in economical and ecologically sound management systems for all producers. We at OFRF think this reality should be reflected in how NIFA prioritizes research topics across all competitive research grant programs,” he said.  “The importance of organic-specific programs cannot be overstated. It has resulted in high-value research applicable to all producers, but a significant gap still exists between current research funding levels and the amount spent on organic production when considering organic’s 6% market share.”

Gordon said the need for this research will only increase in light of the USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative, a $300 million investment supporting transition to organic production.

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