The Organic Center will collaborate on two projects made possible by grants awarded last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Organic Agriculture and Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) to help advance research on vital challenges facing organic agriculture—protecting organic farmers from inadvertent pesticide contamination and innovating through accessible and equitable agricultural technology.
"Protecting organic farmers from the consequences of conventional pesticide overuse and ensuring that technological development is accessible across the diversity of the organic sector are two of or our top priorities for 2020. We are thrilled that this funding from USDA will help us achieve our goals of addressing these issues," said Dr. Jessica Shade, director of science programs for The Organic Center.
OREI awarded 20 research grants this year, totaling $17 million in funding. OREI helps support wide-ranging research projects that specifically address the most critical issues impacting organic growers. The 2018 Farm Bill approved increasing funding for OREI to $50 million per year by 2023, thus establishing permanent funding for the program.
Protecting against pesticide contamination
Funding for the first project will be used to help protect organic farmers from inadvertent pesticide contamination from such sources as pesticide drift, through rain and irrigation water, or through the soil. Organic farmers hurt by this inadvertent contamination take big economic hits. Inadvertent chemical spread can ruin crops in organic fields and make them unsellable as organic due to prohibited residues. The aim of the project is to come up with solutions to prevent inadvertent chemical spread.
The project will gather information on crop losses and specific pesticide residues that are the most problematic in contamination and determine the research and education needs for developing and implementing a comprehensive plan to control pesticide contamination in organic crops across the supply chain.
The Organic Center will be collaborating with a top-notch team including researchers from Washington State University, Arizona State University, Cal Poly, Montana State University, University of Montana, Purdue University, Texas A&M University, University of California at Berkeley and University of Montana through a $50,000 grant to study inadvertent contamination.
Making technology available to all
The second project centers on innovation through accessible and equitable agricultural technology (often referred to as AgTech). AgTech has revolutionized agriculture to improve yields, increase efficiency and boost profitability, but while a broad spectrum of technologies are available for more sustainable farming systems, what now exists does not always align with the needs of organic producers. Organic farmers are a diverse group, with organic farming operations coming in all sizes. As a result, technology developed for this sector needs to be accessible across demographics and size and designed to be easily used by small- to mid-size farms as well as by larger ones.
Addressing that need, The Organic Center has been awarded a grant of $50,000 to host a two-day conference examining the needs of smaller farms, exploring challenges to equity and accessibility, fostering partnerships to produce free, open-source tools for organic farmers, exploring ways to prevent barriers to AgTech adoption by some organic farms and fostering innovation through accessible and equitable agricultural technology.
Since 2016, The Organic Center has been gathering top organic agricultural researchers, scientists and stakeholders together once a year in its Confluences Conference series to study ways to advance and disseminate research to solve some of organic's most pressing problems. This current project would build on that tradition.
The OREI-funded AgTech Confluences Conference will partner with GOAT (Gathering for Open Agricultural Technology), and will include a workshop where organic farmers are paired with AgTech software programmers and hardware engineers in a collaborative "hackathon," where code, prototype and other deliverables will be designed. The conference will also develop a framework for future software and hardware to fulfill organic farmer needs and will build a pathway forward for improving AgTech usability in the organic sector.
"Without a focus on making AgTech equitable and accessible for the organic community, we risk exacerbating current disparities in farm profitability and long-term success. This conference will not only connect AgTech abilities with organic needs, it will also build a scaffolding for ensuring organic AgTech fosters innovation across the board, supports social equity and is accessible to small and large farms alike," Shade added.
Other ongoing grants from the USDA that The Organic Center is collaborating in are:
- A planning grant in collaboration with the University of Florida to assess and quantify current practices and research priorities for organic citrus growing combating Huanlongbing, or citrus greening disease;
- A multi-regional integrative research project in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin on an organic alternative to celery powder for meat curing;
- A large-scale study in collaboration with researchers at USDA, the University of California, Davis, Woods End Laboratories, University of Maine, the University of Minnesota and Cornell University on the use of animal-based manure and compost in organic agricultural practices to prevent the risk of soil pathogens;
- A multi-state research project in collaboration with the University of California, Davis, to evaluate the food safety impacts of cover-crop grazing in fresh product systems to improve cover crop adoption, crop-livestock integration and soil health.
Source: The Organic Center