Developing a model to increase support for organic farming research at Land Grant Institutions
According to the USDA, organic farming was one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture during the 1990s. Certified organic crop land more than doubled nationwide from 1992 to 1997. However, the 75,678 acres of certified organic acres in the South in 1997 represented only 5.6 percent of the total U.S. certified organic crop land. And 84 percent of that was in just two states; Florida with 32,745 certified acres and Texas with 30,880. One of the obstacles to increasing organic production in the South is lack of information specific to organics.
Organic growers have similar research needs to those of conventional farmers but there are fewer tools available to solve their problems. Furthermore, their needs are not being met through most existing programs at land grant universities. Despite the rapid increase in organic farming acreage in the United States, the number of research programs and positions within land grant institutions focused on organic agriculture has seen little change. Currently, North Carolina State University is the only institution in the South that has a research station devoted to organic farming systems.
One of the obstacles facing researchers at land grant universities is finding locations at which to conduct organic research. Traditional research stations generally are not adequate for organic research because of past land use, usually including heavy chemical applications. Additionally, buffers between conventional crops and organic crops must be maintained between research plots to truly evaluate an organic system.
This goal of this project is to assemble a multi-disciplinary team of farmers, and researchers and extension personnel from the University of Florida and Florida A&M University. Through a series of meetings and workshops, this team will create a model to develop research priorities and to establish an organic research and education center. The first step in developing an effective research agenda will involve producers and researchers working together to create a list of research priorities. The second step in the process is to allocate resources to a research facility in North Florida whose purpose will be to meet the needs of organic farmers. Establishing such an organic research farm and education center will significantly promote organic agriculture in the South.
Based on the 1997 National Organic Farmers Survey conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the top research priorities of U.S. organic growers were: weed management, the relationship between fertility management and crop health, pest and disease resistance, the relationship of organic growing practices to the nutritional value of product, soil biology, crop rotations and cover cropping. The climate, soil and environmental conditions in North Florida are similar to many southern states and Florida is the leading state in certified organic acreage in the South.