USDA seeks organic agriculture research ideas with $20m funding offer

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Petmal
© GettyImages/Petmal

Related tags Usda Organic farming Organic feed Research

Funding opportunities exist under a USDA's organic animal and crop production research initiative; to get support projects would need to address challenges linked to feed or integrated livestock and feed production systems.

The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture is awarding up to $20m in grant funds​through its Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI). The program​ focuses on addressing “critical organic agriculture issues, priorities or problems.”

Research proposals must be submitted by January 30 2020, the USDA said. 

Commenting on the grants initiative, a spokesperson for the US National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) told FeedNavigator:

“The OREI was created by Congress to make competitive grants to support research, education, and extension activities regarding organically grown and processed agricultural commodities in the US for eight legislatively-defined goals,” ​said the spokesperson. “Applicants to the program are asked to describe how the results of their research, education, and extension programs will improve the ability of growers to develop the organic system Plan, which is required for organic certification.”

The program funds activities that enhance the ability of certified organic producers and processors to grow and market high quality organic agricultural products, he said.

The 2018 Farm Bill raised mandatory funding for the program from $20m to $50m by 2023, he added.

“The program covers the entire continuum from foundational to translational work,” ​the spokesperson said. “However, the focus really is on translational studies, [the idea being the ] results are directly applicable to producers.”

Three types of applications under OREI funding program

Multi-Regional Proposals:

Proposals addressing program priorities with a maximum 10 award amount of $2m. These are large coordinated projects addressing critical issues that cut across multiple regions. An advisory panel is required for multiregional proposals.

Regional Proposals​:

Proposals addressing program priorities with a maximum award amount of $1m. These are multidisciplinary projects addressing issues that may be limited to a single region.

Targeted Proposals:

Proposals addressing specific critical constraints with a maximum award amount of $500K, reflecting the possibly narrower scope of these projects or locality-specific nature. 

Grant program details

Applications can be submitted by several entities including land-grant institutions, university research foundations, other research institutions or organizations, national laboratories, private colleges and universities, state agricultural experiment stations, state-controlled institutions of higher education and some for-profit organizations.

However, organic systems fieldwork projects have to be done on land that is certified organic, or in select cases, land that is being transitioned to organic production, the department added.

Focus priorities for the 2020 grant program include projects conducting advanced on-farm crop, livestock, or integrated livestock-crop research and development,  research looking to improve organic crop propagation systems, practices to product soil, water and natural resources, and post-harvest handling and safety.

Another priority would be research focused on evaluating breeds and genotypes suited for production in an organic system, with an emphasis on animal response to organic feed practices, the department said.

OREI legislatively-defined goals:

  • Facilitating the development and improvement of organic agriculture production, breeding, and processing methods.
  • Evaluating the potential economic benefits of organic agricultural production and methods to producers, processors, and rural communities.
  • Exploring international trade opportunities for organically grown and processed agricultural commodities.
  • Determining desirable traits for organic commodities.
  • Identifying marketing and policy constraints on the expansion of organic agriculture.
  • Conducting advanced on-farm research and development that emphasizes observation of, experimentation with, and innovation for working organic farms, including research relating to production, marketing, food safety, socioeconomic conditions, and farm business management.
  • Examining optimal conservation, soil health, and environmental outcomes relating to organically produced agricultural products.
  • Developing new and improved seed varieties that are particularly suited for organic agriculture.

Organic feed research

Previously funded projects included research at Iowa State University examining ways to optimize an integrated organic production system where a farm generates its own feed, livestock and field inputs. A second funded project at that university sought to improve organic corn yields.

Another funded study looked at perennial grain crops able to generate both forage and grain while improving soil health. Funding also supported work at the University of Minnesota focused on establishing an organic swine program with a focus on using alternative feed ingredients and developing feed additives to promote animal health.

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