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Seeds Adapt | USDA Gives Grants | Atlanta Show Goes All Organic

“Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”  ~Langston Hughes

Featured Topic

The Elemental Role of Organic Agriculture in Combating Climate Change

As we step into the second half of 2024 and many are experiencing daily impacts of climate change in all its myriad ways, let’s acknowledge the pivotal role of organic agriculture in combating climate change. The agricultural sector is not only a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions but also a potential leader in the fight against climate change through sustainable practices.
One of the core tenets of organic agriculture is avoiding synthetically compounded nitrogen fertilizers. These fertilizers are a major source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential approximately 300 times that of carbon dioxide. By not using these synthetic fertilizers, organic farming significantly reduces the emission of this potent greenhouse gas. Moreover, synthetic fertilizers contribute to soil acidification and the depletion of essential soil nutrients, leading to long-term soil degradation.
In contrast, organic farming emphasizes the use of natural fertilizers such as compost, manure, and nitrogen-fixing cover crops. These organic inputs enhance soil fertility and structure, promote biodiversity, and improve water retention. This holistic approach not only reduces dependency on chemical inputs but also mitigates the environmental impact associated with their production and use.
Organic agriculture plays a critical role in carbon sequestration, a process vital for mitigating climate change. Practices such as crop rotation, cover cropping, reduced tillage, and the incorporation of organic matter into the soil enhance the soil’s capacity to capture and store carbon. These methods increase the organic carbon content of the soil, turning agricultural lands into effective carbon sinks. Studies have shown that organic farming can sequester significantly more carbon in the soil compared to conventional farming methods, but we have only just begun to measure the differences.
The benefits of organic agriculture extend beyond carbon sequestration. By fostering healthy, biologically active soils, organic practices improve soil resilience against erosion and extreme weather events. Healthy soils can better retain water during droughts and reduce runoff during heavy rains, mitigating the impacts of climate change-induced weather variability.
Organic agriculture is not just a farming method; it is a comprehensive approach to environmental stewardship and climate change mitigation. By embracing organic practices, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance carbon sequestration, and build resilient agricultural systems that safeguard our planet for future generations. Let us commit to supporting and expanding organic agriculture as a cornerstone of our strategy to combat climate change.

NOP News

23 More Organic Market Development Grants Awarded
During the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Week in May, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced new programs, partnerships, grant awards and additional funding to expand the markets for organic products and help producers transition to organic production.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has awarded a total of $75.2 million to 93 projects across the nation through the Organic Market Development Grant program. AMS prioritized projects addressing specific market needs for organic grains and livestock feed, organic dairy, organic fibers, organic legumes and other rotational crops, and organic ingredients currently unavailable in organic form. A full list of the funded projects, including the awards announced in January and March 2024 and the 23 from May, is arranged by state.

USDA announced an additional $10 million is available through the program—awards for this funding will be selected from the existing applicants and will be announced this summer.

NOSB Openings–Apply Now to Serve on the Board
Nominations for the National Organic Standards Board are due June 28. If you’ve applied before or have any interest in guiding the future of the organic sector, you are encouraged to apply. Openings for the five-year terms will be for one farmer seat; two handler seats; one retailer seat and one environmental protection/resource conservation seat. Our COO John Foster has served on the Board, and would be happy to discuss it with you.

New Technical Reports for Some Key Materials
Get a sneak peek at some of the information the National Organic Standards Board will be using to evaluate materials during sunset reviews. The Organic Materials Review Institute has sent these technical reports to the USDA:

Risk Management Agency Offers Products for Diversified Farms
Two risk management plans—both especially useful for specialty crop, organic, urban, and direct-market producers—are part of an online directory from the Risk Management Agency. Whole Farm Revenue Protection bridges the insurance gap for several specialty crops that don’t currently have individual policies and with it producers can insure their entire operation, including crops, livestock, and nursery production, under one policy. The Micro Farm option is designed for farms with up to $350,000 in approved revenue, including farms with specialty or organic commodities (both crops and livestock), or those marketing to local, regional, farm-identity preserved, specialty, or direct markets.

International News

In the UK, Organic Acreage Growing Fastest In Scotland
According to statistics from the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, organic acreage in Scotland increased as organic acreage in other UK countries decreased from 2022 to 2023. Organic acreage in Scotland was up 11.8%, from 92,500 hectares to 103,500 hectares. Land in transition to organic is also increasing in Scotland, and there is funding available to assist with transition and maintenance of organic management. Across the UK in 2023, 60% of organic land was in England, 23% in Scotland, 15% in Wales and 1.4% in Northern Ireland.

Japan Clarifies Updates Substances Lists For Packaging
Food manufacturers that produce the end product sold to consumers are responsible for the safety and quality of food packaging, ruled Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.  Packaging operations are often outsourced, leading to confusion about who is responsible for meeting safety and quality standards. Japan has recently updated its lists of materials acceptable for food packaging, food contact substances, and equipment; compliance date is June 1, 2025. Information about the Positive List System and the transition period is available in English.

The Survey Says…

Survey Looks at Rural And Urban Food Shopping
In a survey of urban and rural consumers, Purdue University found that 87% of consumers were happy with their diets, up from 81% in January 2024. Differences in shopping options for rural and urban consumers show up in the results, with 78% of rural households indicating they have a discount or dollar store available for grocery shopping versus 64% of urban households. Among consumers with access to a farmers market, greater share of urban consumers shopped there in the previous month (27%) compared to rural consumers (8%). Urban shoppers generally make more grocery trips than rural shoppers. Rural shoppers are more likely to make grocery trips from work or while running errands. Food selection, fresh produce and meat offerings, and price were the top three reasons for choosing where to buy groceries.

Produce Tops US Organic Sales Again
U.S. organic food sales in 2023 totaled $63.8 billion and sales of organic non-food products totaled $5.9 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association’s most recent industry survey).

Increases in unit sales were reported for up to 40 percent of the products tracked in this year’s survey. The survey also showed that prices for many non-organic products climbed at a faster rate than organic products. This means the price gap between conventional and organic is closing, which should help fuel growth for organic products in 2024. 

Produce was once again the top seller at 29.4% of the market and up 2.6 % in 2023, followed by grocery (22%) and beverages (13.4%) and dairy/eggs (11%). Organic produce represents 15% of U.S. fruit and vegetable sales, and organic dairy and eggs represent 8% of all U.S. dairy and egg sales.

Non-food organic products, including fiber, supplements, personal care, and pet foods, represent 2.9% of U.S. organic product sales, with organic fiber products as the largest share.

Plants Adapt to Farming Conditions Over Time
A long-term study at the University of Bonn found that farming conditions have an effect on the genetic material of plants. In the course of the 23-year study, the genetic material in organic barley differed from the barley grown using conventional methods. For the first 12 years of the study, the changes in the barley genetics of the organic and the conventional seeds were similar. After that, the changes diverged increasingly, with the organic barley developing more genes that were less sensitive to nutrient and water deficits. The organic barley also retained more diversity than the conventional barley, which became increasingly uniform. The results highlight the importance of breeding plants specifically for organic agriculture.

GMO News

China Approves Gene-Edited Wheat
China’s Ministry of Agriculture has approved commercial cultivation of disease-resistant gene-edited wheat in Beijing. The move is seen as a step toward commercializing genetically modified food crops and garnering acceptance from Chinese consumers skeptical about the safety of GMO crops. New regulations for labeling GM food products in China are expected this year.
Philippines Stops Commercial ‘Golden Rice’ Production
On April 17, the Philippine Court of Appeals revoked the permits for commercial production of rice genetically modified to produce beta-carotene—Golden Rice—and eggplants genetically modified with Bt. The court cited conflicting scientific views and uncertainties on the risks around the effects of the two crops. Commercial propagation is prohibited until the relevant government agencies submit proof of safety and compliance with legal requirements.

Organic Industry News & Notices

Organic-Only Trade Show Coming to Atlanta
A new all-organic trade show from BioFach America will debut in Atlanta on June 2-4, 2025. Organizers will include the entire organic value chain from farm to retail. Stay tuned for details as they develop.

Market Development Grant Will Fund Three-Year Promotion Campaign
Organic Trade Association and The Organic Center received a $2.2 million Organic Market Development Grant, which will be matched for a total of $4.4 million, in a three-year project to promote the science-backed benefits of certified organic products and farming. One focus will be reaching beyond mainstream organic markets into regions and communities where organic production is not prevalent. The joint project of OTA and The Organic Center will be done in collaboration with Organic Voices and an industry advisory committee.

Fertilizer Maker Fined for Mislabeling Fertilizer
An administrative law judge has upheld a penalty of $1.89 million plus investigative costs against Agro Research International, LLC, for adulteration and mislabeling of registered organic fertilizing material Agro Gold WS. The product was found to contain the synthetic herbicides diquat and glyphosate, both of which are prohibited from use in certified organic agriculture production. California initiated an investigation of the fertilizer product in August 2020, and quarantined it in December 2020. Sale and use of this product posed a public health risk because the synthetic herbicides were not disclosed on its label. Parties in possession of Agro Gold WS who wish to dispose of quarantined inventory are instructed to submit a disposal plan to California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Organic Community

Organic Seed Alliance Calls for Proposals
The 12th Organic Seed Growers Conference, hosted by the Organic Seed Alliance and slated for February 26-March 1 2025, seeks proposals for its agenda of workshops, demonstrations, farm tours, keynote presentations, and more. The event will include in-person and online components. Farmers, practitioners, and seed stewards of all kinds are encouraged to submit. Proposals are due July 5.

Employment Opportunities

  • Organic Farming Research Foundation seeks a Conservation Scientist to build institutional knowledge of the conservation benefits of organic production at USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) while also helping highlight the significant funding opportunities available to organic producers through NRCS programs.
  • The Organic Center is seeking a Science Program Manager to manage scientific programs and outreach campaigns for the organization.
  • Pennsylvania Certified Organic seeks several positions, many fully remote: Accounting and Grant Manager; Certification Specialist (apply by June 25); Sales and Marketing Director; Contract Organic Inspectors