Organics in the News
Certified organic farming enjoys success – and
challenges – like never before thanks to surging
consumer demand, USDA-regulated standards, and increasing
attention to how farming impacts our land, water, communities
and human health.
We’ve asked Jim Riddle to bring his perspective
to our e-pages as a voice from the progressive center
of this dynamic food and farming sector. “Organics
in the News” will be an occasional series where
Riddle shares his insights in the context of current
James A. (Jim) Riddle has been an organic farmer, gardener,
inspector, educator, policy analyst, author, and consumer.
He was founding chair of the Independent Organic Inspectors
Association, (IOIA), and co-author of the IFOAM/IOIA
International Organic Inspection Manual.
Riddle has helped train hundreds of organic inspectors
throughout the world. Riddle serves as vice-chair of
the National Organic Standards Board, which advises
the USDA on organic agriculture policies and regulations.
In 2003, Jim was appointed Endowed Chair of Agricultural
Systems at the University of Minnesota.
He serves as an organic policy specialist for NewFarm.org.
2004: Are you ever faced with too many positive choices?
That is exactly the predicament I found myself in this summer.
From July 19-22, 2004, I had the privilege to participate as a
review panel member for the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education,
and Extension Service (CSREES) Integrated Organic Program.
The panel was charged with reviewing and evaluating the 105 grant
applications submitted to the Integrated Organic Program. We reviewed
proposals from universities with long-standing organic programs,
and from research institutions making their first foray into organic
There were many innovative projects addressing issues critical
to the growth of the organic sector. Unfortunately, there was only
enough money available to fund a fraction of the fundable projects.
The review process
Each panel member was responsible for reviewing 16 proposals in
detail prior to the meeting and submitting written comments on each
of the reviewed proposals.
All proposals were seriously and meticulously reviewed. Panel members
presented their evaluations, and then each proposal was discussed
by the full panel. Panel members recused themselves from all discussions
in which they had actual or perceived conflicts of interest.
After discussions that were at times intense, but always respectful,
proposals were scored as “Outstanding,” “High
Priority,” “Medium Priority,” “Low Priority,”
“Some Merit,” or “Do Not Fund.” All proposals
scoring as “low priority” and above were found to have
at least some fundable objectives, while those scored as “some
merit” or “do not fund” were not recommended for
Sources of funds
The Integrated Organic Program had $4.7 million available in 2004
from two different Congressional authorizations.
The Organic Transitions Program (ORG) was authorized by the 1998
Agricultural Research, Education and Economics Reform Act. For 2004,
$1.8 million was available under ORG. Funds for ORG are appropriated
annually, and eligibility is limited to colleges and universities.
This was the fourth year of the ORG program. Program goals focus
on organic production system research.
The Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) was authorized
as part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (aka
the most recent Farm Bill). The Farm Bill contained mandatory funding
of OREI at $3 million per year for five years, although only $2.9
million was made available in 2004. OREI has broad eligibility,
and the program goals include economic and consumer issues as well
as production research. This was the first funding year for OREI.
Both the ORG and OREI programs were offered as an Integrated Organic
Program, meaning that applicants did not have to choose between
the programs, but could submit one application that could fit the
goals and objectives of either program.
It is important to note that the term “integrated”
was chosen by CSREES in order to give priority to multi-functional
projects: those that emphasize research and extension and
higher education, as well as being multi-disciplinary, multi-state,
Projects that scored the highest were projects where:
- A stakeholder advisory group was consulted prior to
development of project objectives;
- Clear methodologies were included in the design of the project;
- A measurable, outcome-oriented plan was presented for dissemination
of information developed by the project during the life of the
- Stakeholders were to be involved in project evaluation; and
- Progress reports were anticipated to demonstrate the project's
As stated, a total of $4.7 million was available for awards, and
105 proposals were submitted for a total
request of almost $52 million.
Eighty-six proposals, or 82 percent of all applications, had at
least some fundable objectives. The 86 fundable proposals represented
a total request of just over $42 million.
There were sufficient funds
available for only 11 proposals, meaning that just 10 percent
of all applications, and only 13 percent of all fundable applications,
Applications were submitted in the categories of crops, livestock,
economics, standards, and other. The table below shows the amount
of money requested and funded in each category and the number and
percent of projects funded in each category.
Categories Funded in 2004
Organic crop research applications were submitted for agronomic
and horticultural projects. The table below shows the amount of
money requested and funded for agronomic and horticultural projects,
as well as the number and percent of projects funded for each category.
Category Funded in 2004
Applications were submitted from all regions of the United States.
The table below shows the amount of money requested and funded,
and the number and percent of projects funded for each region. It
is interesting to note that the Northeast and West regions had a
relatively high percentage of projects funded, while a low percentage
of projects from the North Central and South regions were funded.
Requests for and Disbursement of Funds in 2004
Grant applicants are currently being notified whether or not their
projects are to be funded, and Secretary Veneman will soon make
a formal announcement. In the meantime, plans are in motion for
the 2005 Integrated Organic Program. A new Request for Applications
(RFA) is being drafted, and the need for organic research continues
The U.S. House of Representatives mark-up for the 2005 appropriation
has the ORG program to be funded at $1.8 million, and the Senate
mark-up is similar. Approximately $3 million will again be available
for the OREI program. (The OREI funds are mandatory under the Farm
Bill, and are not subject to annual appropriations.)
This means that unless additional funds are allocated for ORG,
the majority of fundable organic research projects will again go
unfunded in 2005.
If you feel that the Integrated Organic Program should be funded
at a higher level, please contact your members of Congress and urge
them to increase the appropriation for the Organic Transitions Program
(ORG), as authorized by the 1998 Agricultural Research, Education
and Economics Reform Act.
Jim Riddle serves as vice-chair of the National Organic Standards
Board, which advises the USDA on organic agriculture policies and
regulations. He has been an organic farmer, gardener, inspector,
educator, policy analyst, author, and consumer.