USDA to provide over $17m for organic feed, ag research

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages
© GettyImages

Related tags Agriculture

USDA’s organic research program is seeking projects aimed at improving organic production including feed related initiatives.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it will be accepting research proposals​ for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) through March 1.

That program is designed to bolster research, extension programs and education for producers or processers that are involved with organic production, said NIFA.

It covers research to improve efforts in plant and animal production systems, including work on forage production and animal nutrition, said Mat Ngouajio, national program leader in the division of plant systems, NIFA.

“Our hope, in this funding cycle, is to put together a portfolio that covers all eight [organic production] goals legislatively-defined by the Farm Bill,”​ he said. “We also hope to see more projects funded in the area of livestock and poultry production.”

The eight goals of the Farm Bill, in relation to organic production, include:

  • Improving organic agriculture production, breeding and processing,
  • Evaluating economic benefits of production methods,
  • Exploration of international trade opportunities,
  • Identifying important traits for organic commodities,
  • Highlighting constraints to organic expansion,
  • Determining optimal conservation and environmental outcomes,
  • Developing new seed varieties; and
  • Research to observe, experiment or innovate with working organic farms.

Organic agriculture faces a unique set of challenges, Ngouajio told FeedNavigator.

“While research conducted under organic systems may be applicable to all productions systems, the reverse is not always true. The OREI program was created to address challenges that are unique to organic agriculture.”

Grant program details

The organic initiative is a competitive program that funds about 20% of submitted projects, he said. There is an external review of submissions done by a panel of scientists and industry representatives based on set criteria.

“These include proposal relevance to the needs of the organic industry, potential for impact, and proposal quality,” ​he said. “Overall, most funded projects address the right topic, include the right team of investigators, use the right methodology and show high potential for success and impact.”

The program is open to multiple groups including state agricultural experiment stations, university research foundations, college and universities and other research institutes and organizations, said NIFA.

“Applicants should describe how the results of their research, education, and extension programs will improve the ability of growers to develop the Organic System Plan required for organic certification,” ​the agency said. “Organic systems fieldwork must be done on certified organic land and/or facilities.”

Trials looking at animal production or health also need to be completed in a certified organic setting, if management is part of the project, said NIFA.

Depending on the type of project, funding requests can be made for up to $500,000 for a targeted proposal, $1m for a regional project or $2m for a multi-regional project, the agency said. Conference and planning proposals can request up to $50,000 and a curriculum development project up to $250,000.

There also is a cost sharing or matching fund requirement for submitted projects, said the agency.

Feed-related awards

Past projects supported by the NIFA organic grant program have been able to provide useful information and tools for organic producers, said Ngouajio. The Organic Farming Research Foundation assessed​ the program’s functioning in 2016.   

Some of the earlier projects include efforts at the University of New Hampshire to address the needs of organic dairy producers regarding improving forage production systems and milk markets, reported NIFA. The project resulted in the transition to new feeds or diet for multiple dairy producers in the region.

Another previously funded project through the Agricultural Research Service sought to address the challenges faced by US producers of organic feed grains, said NIFA. Research goals included providing information to feed crop producers to improve production and increase the numbers of organic grain producers to meeting growing feed needs.

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