(Beyond Pesticides, January 17, 2011) The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) Board of Directors announced last week that it will invest $50,640 in four new grants to improve the success of organic farmers. The projects include helping organic growers to increase yields while decreasing nitrogen and impacts on surrounding waterways, preventing organic seed-producing crops from being contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), producing sweeter corn in Oregon, and testing new varieties of broccoli best suited for farmers in North Carolina.
“The benefits to OFRF grant awards are far reaching,” states OFRF Board President Deirdre Birmingham. “After more than 20 years and $3 million investment in organic research, we continue to experience sustainability benefits for both organic and non-organic farming.”
Organic food sales have grown significantly each year since 1997 as more and more consumers make healthier food choices and turn away from the use of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. It is the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture despite its premium prices. Today OFRF estimates that there are nearly 14,500 certified organic farmers who raise fruits, vegetables, grains and textile crops that improve the soil and the health of consumers and the planet while supplying a $29 billion industry.
That’s not to say that organic food production hasn’t had its setbacks. Growers may initially be hesitant to adapt to organic agricultural methods because of the substantial investment required to adopt new methods of production. A farm must go through a three-year transition phase, producing food without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or sewage sludge before it can be certified organic. The high demand and relatively low supply allows producers to charge retailers higher prices.
The higher prices also have to do with the fact that organic farmers absorb the costs that chemical-intensive farmers externalize. Chemical-intensive agriculture uses inputs that may save time and money for the farmer, but create other costs that are passed off to society in the form of adverse health effects and depletion of natural resources. See “The Real Story on the Affordability of Organic Food” from Pesticides and You. Funding projects such as OFRFs grants help to advance scientific information on the benefits of organic agriculture and make it more accessible to everyone. And, as organic agriculture continues to grow and evolve, researchers are continuing to find new evidence of the benefits of choosing and growing organic foods.
This year, with funding from OFRF, researchers from Washington State University will conduct field tests at eight organic farms in western Washington to help match the requirements of a variety of crops with the amount of natural fertilizer needed for maximum productivity. The overall goal of the project is for farmers to reduce the use of fertilizers, saving money and preventing unused nutrients from washing into nearby streams or rivers. The project will be headed by Douglas Collins from the WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, who was awarded a $14,996 grant from the OFRF.
Farmers who produce organic seeds will benefit from a $12,500 grant awarded to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Preservation. In recent years, organic growers have become increasingly concerned that pollinating bees may contaminate organic plants with pollen from non-organic crops. The project will identify native bee species that are drawn to specific crops. By improving conditions for such pollinators, researchers expect seed production to increase significantly. That would lead to lower costs to farmers purchasing the seed, lower prices for consumers and decrease in genetic contamination.
The OFRF teamed up with the Clif Bar Family Foundation to award two additional grants to researchers in Oregon creating new varieties of sweet corn and broccoli best suited for organic farmers in North Carolina. The $8,410 grant awarded to Jonathan Spero of Lupine Knoll Farm in Williams, Oregon, continues sweet corn research started last year. Jeanine Davis of the North Carolina State University, Mountain Research Station in Mills River, North Carolina, will use the $14,734 grant to develop and test new varieties of broccoli for organic production in the western part of the state.
“Investment in organic agriculture research was important in 1997.” states Maureen Wilmot, Executive Director of OFRF. “It’s even more relevant today, as we experience 20% growth in organic agriculture. The imperative is on us all to invest in vital research that sustains organic supply in our country,” adds Ms. Wilmot.
For more information on the importance of organic, see Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience page. For more information on organic food and farming, visit our organic program page.
Source: Organic Farming Research Foundation Press Release
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.