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NIFA Invests in Research to Help Boost Organic Farming
Illinois Ag Connection - 10/13/2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced grants to help farmers and ranchers grow and market high quality organic food, fiber, and other products. The grants are funded through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and Organic Transitions Program (ORG).

"Organic farming is one of many approaches to make American agriculture sustainable and responsive to consumer demand," said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. "These NIFA investments help develop tools necessary for traditional farmers to pursue organic farming and help boost the economic gains for existing organic farmers and ranchers."

The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) funds research, education and extension projects to help improve yields, quality, and profitability for producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards. The Organic Transitions Program supports research, education and extension efforts to help existing and transitioning organic livestock and crop producers improve their competitiveness and adopt organic practices. Grants for both programs are made through a competitive peer review process involving an external panel of experts. In FY 2017, 24 new grants totaling $20.15 million were made through these two programs.

Among the projects, Oregon State University researchers will develop and test a breed of naked barley as an economically viable alternative crop with multiple uses in brewing, livestock feed, and human diets. A Lincoln University project will determine the economic viability of different types of cover crop-based, no-till systems for small- and mid-size organic producers.

Grants totaling $16.49 million were made through the OREI program, including the University of Illinois, Champaign, which will receive $1,999,559.

To date, NIFA has awarded more than $183 million through the OREI and ORG programs. Among past OREI projects, a West Virginia University (link is external) project investigated how tannin-rich grass feed might help suppress certain gut parasites in sheep and goats. This research has shown promise as a way to maintain goat and sheep health and profitability while using organic production principles. Other past projects include a University of Florida study on sustainable organic strawberry cropping systems for the Southeastern U.S. and a Montana State University project that examined the resilience of organic crop-livestock systems.

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