Organic Farming Research Foundation Releases Grantmaking Review
February 29, 2016 | Davina van Buren
In November, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) released a review of research and education projects it funded between 2006 and 2014. An update to their 2006 report, “Investing in Organic Knowledge,” the report offers detailed insights into the most recent period of the organization’s grantmaking.
OFRF has four main areas of focus: policy, education, grantmaking and community. During the 2006-2014 period, OFRF issued a total of $1,452,517 in grants, each averaging around $14,000.
We spoke with Joanna Ory, OFRF’s Research Program Associate, about the findings. Ory wrote the impact report and also administers the organization’s grantmaking program. She recently completed her Ph.D. in Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, specializing in sustainable agriculture, environmental policy, and alternatives to pesticide use.
Seedstock: What are some particular challenges faced by the rapidly growing agricultural sector?
Ory: Farmers face many challenges such as troublesome weeds, insect pests, water shortages and flooding, labor shortages, and changing climatic conditions. Organic farmers face these challenges as well, and others such as the threat of contamination from GMOs and pesticides from neighboring conventional farms. There is a strong need for research and innovation to find solutions to these challenges and create a more sustainable agricultural system.
Seedstock: How is the western drought impacting organic farmers?
Ory: The drought in California and other western states has profound and lasting impacts for agricultural regions. Many farmers in California are changing to water saving irrigation technologies like drip irrigation, and many are also drilling new wells and relying more on groundwater. Uncontrolled groundwater extraction has impacts on neighboring farmers and future groundwater storage reserves in a region. Water management that is a collaborative process and involves all stakeholders is needed to protect the long-term needs of natural environments and aquatic species, agricultural areas and urban areas.
Seedstock: What are some specific examples of how OFRF investments have resulted in advancements in organic farming?
Ory: OFRF has awarded over $3 million in grants since 1990. The research results of these grants have helped organic farmers better manage weeds, insect pests and diseases. For example, we funded research on tomato grafting to reduce soilborne diseases in North Carolina. The research allowed farmers to overcome the challenge of disease by developing a new grafting technique that promoted successful tomato production. We have funded over 15 projects on organic seed breeding. As a result, there are now three new organic sweet corn varieties especially suited for organic farming that are now commercially available. We have funded over 300 projects, each with a meaningful impact on organic farming knowledge and with the results published and freely available at ofrf.org.
Seedstock: What are some examples of what future OFRF projects might look like?
Ory: We recently completed a survey of thousands of U.S. organic farmers asking them about their research needs. This survey identified two major research priorities: 1) improving soil health and 2) managing weeds. The survey results inspired OFRF to launch a new research initiative to fund research on improving soil health to better manage reduced water availability. In 2016, we expect to fund several new projects that examine how different organic practices can improve soil health and functioning. In the future, we also hope to fund projects related to animal health.
Seedstock: Were there any surprises in the study? Any unexpected results?
Ory: It was exciting to see that many of the projects that began with a modest grant from OFRF went on to build lasting organic agriculture research programs and receive substantial funding to continue the research from state and federal agricultural agencies.
Seedstock: Where do you see the future of organic farming headed?
Ory: Organic farming that protects and enhances the environment, protects the well-being of farm workers, and improves rural livelihoods is integral to a healthy planet. Organic agriculture can improve food security and reduce climate change-causing greenhouse gases. Organic agriculture improves the soil through the incorporation of organic matter, and it doesn’t rely on energy-intensive inputs like pesticide and synthetic fertilizers.
Research from the UC Berkeley CHAMACOS study found that children who eat an organic diet have significantly reduced pesticide loads in their bodies, and that pesticide exposure causes lasting, negative developmental impacts. For the protection of the environment and our health, we need a future where organic agriculture is the predominant form of agriculture.
Seedstock: How do people apply for an OFRF grant?
Ory: Farmers, researchers, students, and others can apply for a research grant at ofrf.org.