OPPORTUNITY! MDA offers organic demonstration grants
Minnesota breaks ground with an innovative new look at presenting organic research


ST. PAUL, Minnesota, October 27, 2003: For organic growers, practical information can sometimes be difficult to find. That’s why the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is offering a new organic demonstration grant program designed to help farmers try out new organic practices on their own farms.

The MDA’s Agricultural Resources Management and Development Division will award up to $50,000 for organic demonstration projects this year. According to Agricultural Diversification Specialist Meg Moynihan, the grant program fills a need for the organic community.

Funding your own organic research initiatives

by: Cara Hungerford

The Minnesota Organic Demonstration Grants program is being made possible through a joint effort between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA). According to Meg Moynihan, MDA’s Diversification Specialist, the partnership allows the MDA to provide the state’s organic sector with a way to investigate and hopefully eliminate some of the uncertainties that still surround organic farming while the Risk Management Office provides the finances necessary.

Minnesota got the funding by applying to the Risk Management agency’s open call for grant proposals but it got the idea from a grant program it was already running. The MDA operates a grant program that supports research in sustainable agriculture. The Department found that, despite no specific requirement, farmers were eager to share their results with each other. It was this idea of information dissemination that gave the new organic program its most innovative component.

The organic program would learn from the sustainable program’s successes. The demonstration portion would now be a requirement and in many ways the most important aspect of the new program. According to Moynihan, the demonstrations make the program unique because they put the farmer in charge instead of relying on outside organizations to push new developments and research.

For other states looking to develop a similar project Moynihan recommends contacting your regional Risk Management Out-reach person and establishing a relationship. “Risk Management is usually associated with insurance but they have a lot of programs that seek to reduce risks in a number of ways,” said Moynihan.

For contact information for your regional office go to: http://www.rma.usda.gov/

“We are partnering with the USDA Risk Management agency to make this special program possible,” Moynihan said. “These grants can reduce the risk associated with trying a new practice, especially something as intricate as organic production. By sharing what they learn from the demonstrations, participants also help other Minnesota organic farmers create success for their own operations.”

In what is probably the most unique aspect of the grant program, all recipients must present their findings in a public forum to other farmers. Field days are probably the most popular option according to Moynihan but she said the department would be open to a variety of presentation methods, “Whatever the farmer is comfortable with as long as long as the information gets out there.” She also suggested an educational session, conference presentation or an article for a local newspaper.

Individual grants up to $5,000 are available for one-year projects that demonstrate organic crop, livestock, or vegetable production practices. Joint applications from groups of farmers will also be considered.

The MDA has offered the following list of eligible projects but stresses that farmers are in no way limited to these suggestions. Instead they are encouraging farmers to come to them with the problems they feel are in most need of solutions.

    • Weed management;
    • Cover-cropping and inter-seeding strategies;
    • Pest and disease management;
    • Soil issues, including fertility management, biological health, and conservation;
    • Alternative grains for livestock feed;
    • Organic livestock management, including parasite control and feed;
    • Improving cosmetics of fruits and vegetables to increase marketability;
    • Issues related to transitioning from conventional, including agronomics and economics;
    • Reducing cost of production to increase profit margins.

Projects must be on Minnesota farms to qualify. Farms need to be organic but they do not need to be certified. In addition to the presentations, results of the demonstrations will also be available in the Greenbook, a free annual publication produced by the MDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Program. Completed applications must be received by December 12, 2003.

Applications and more information are available on the MDA website, www.mda.state.mn.us/esap/organic, or by contacting Meg Moynihan at 651-297-7686 or by mail at 90 West Plato Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55107. An independent panel will review applications.