The Organic Center collaborates in USDA-funded grants to advance organic

From The Organic Center

The issues facing today's organic sector are diverse and range from questions arising in organic fields and processing plants to conference halls and research laboratories. The Organic Center is thrilled to collaborate in three wide-ranging grants totaling more than $2 million that will address key needs of today's organic industry. The grants were announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and will be funded by the agency's Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).

"The organic sector has made great strides on its own," said Jessica Shade, PhD, director of science programs at The Organic Center. "But adequate government funding is vital to enabling research and other activities that help uphold the integrity of organic and advance the sector."

Sharing organic knowledge to increase adoption of organic

In May 2016, The Organic Center brought together a group of thought leaders including farmers, scientists, industry members and key policymakers in the first-ever Organic Confluences Summit. The ground-breaking conference looked at environmental areas where organic research could complement federal agricultural conservation and sustainability programs.

The Organic Center is delighted to be the recipient this year of a $50,000 grant to host a second Organic Confluences Summit in 2017. The goal of next year's conference will be to find ways to improve the dissemination and adoption of scientific research aimed at overcoming common challenges to organic production.

More American farmers are transitioning to organic every year, but despite the increased interest in organic agriculture, less than 1 percent of this country's farmland is organic. A critical challenge to boosting the further adoption of organic production in the U.S. is ensuring the adequate and broad dissemination of organic information to farmers and policymakers, including important organic research findings and other developments in organic agriculture.

While scientist are increasingly conducting research and developing new methods to address the diversity of obstacles faced by organic farmers, research results are often slow to reach growers. The need for better research dissemination and utilization also extends to policymakers. Agricultural issues are debated by lawmakers and translated into policy by executive agencies.  Scientific data are needed at every step to develop meaningful regulations, yet communication among scientists and policymakers is lacking.

Again spearheaded and coordinated by The Organic Center, the summit will be hosted in collaboration with USDA's Economic Research Service. Participants will include organic and transitioning farmers, researchers, extension agents, and key industry and policy influencers.

An organic alternative to celery powder in meat curing

An almost $40,000 grant (exact amount $38,564) was awarded to the University of Wisconsin, with The Organic Center and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) as collaborators, to help identify an organic alternative to conventional celery powder in curing organic meat and products.

Celery powder has been in use for over a decade as a "curing" agent in certain processed meat products as an alternative to sodium and potassium nitrate and nitrite. Since 2007, conventionally grown celery powder has been allowed for use in certified organic meat products. During this time, the organic processed meat industry has grown to an estimated $150 million. As the demand for organic processed meats increases, the organic industry wants to replace the use of conventional celery powder with an organic alternative.

The awarding of this grant reflects the involvement and hard work for over a year of OTA's National List Innovation Working Group, which was formed in 2015 to invest in research to identify and develop alternatives to inputs on the National Organic Program's list of approved ingredients for certified organic products.

The first project of the National List Innovation Working Group was to look at the development of organically grown celery or other vegetables used in the curing of organic meat products. Celery powder is a key preservative in the curing of meats, but organic celery powder is not as effective in curing as non-organic celery powder. While organic stakeholders would like to remove non-organic celery powder from its toolbox, an appropriate alternative needs to be developed first.

The OREI-funded research will help identify potential varieties of organic crops that would meet the chemical specification needed for curing, while being easily incorporated into current crop rotation systems. It will also identify potential management protocols to achieve target nitrate levels in the curing crop to produce the required shelf life and prevent bacteria in the cured meat, and to produce the desired flavor, color and texture in food.

Food safety and use of manure in organic farming

Addressing one of the most pressing issues for the organic community, a $2 million grant was awarded to examine the relationship between manure use in improving soil health and food safety, concentrating on organic fresh produce production. How to use manure effectively in organic farming in ways that foster healthy soil and minimize risks to food safety is of critical concern for the organic sector, as many certified organic producers rely on animal-based manure and compost to improve soil fertility and quality instead of chemical fertilizers.  

The grant (exact amount $1,999,848.) was awarded to a multidisciplinary team from the University of California, Davis; University of Minnesota, University of Maine, the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, USDA's Economic Research Service Resource and Rural Economics Division, The Organic Center, and the Produce Safety Alliance to examine the relationship between manure use in improving soil health and food safety, concentrating on organic fresh produce production.

Last year, a $50,000 grant, which was conceived and written in collaboration with The Organic Center and the Organic Trade Association and others, was awarded to UC Davis to explore current practices used by the organic industry related to manure, compost use and rotational grazing. As part of that initiative, UC Davis, The Organic Center, Organic Trade Association and other collaborators conducted farmer-focused public meetings, as well as online survey and interviews, to allow farmers to voice concerns and beliefs regarding the use of manure and compost and any potential associated food safety risks.

The new grant will be used to develop a risk analysis of on-farm practices associated with the persistence of pathogens on organic farms using manure and compost; determine the relationship between soil health and pathogen survival in organic produce fields treated with animal manure, and develop a program to provide technical and systems-based produce food safety training.

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