Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has announced more than $19 million in grants have been awarded to universities across the country to solve critical organic agriculture issues through the integration of research, education and extension projects.
Merrigan announced the funding in Portland, Maine, and was joined by representatives from the University of Maine, the local grant recipient which is conducting research that will increase farmers’ capacity to produce high quality organic bread wheat. The announcement was made at Borealis Breads bakery where proprietor, Jim Amaral, benefits from the USDA funded research by using the locally produced organic bread wheat that meets the higher quality standards necessary for bread production. Supplying this expanding market for organic bread wheat represents a significant economic opportunity for this region’s farmers.
Launched in September 2009, the ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative emphasizes the need for a fundamental and critical reconnection between producers and consumers. ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ includes such major agricultural topics as supporting local farmers and community food groups; strengthening rural communities; enhancing direct marketing and farmers’ promotion programs; promoting healthy eating; protecting natural resources; and helping schools connect with locally grown foods.
Since the late 1990’s, U.S. organic production has more than doubled, but the consumer market has grown even faster. Organic food sales have more than quintupled, increasing from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $24.6 billion in 2008. More than two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, and 28 percent buy organic products weekly.
The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), funds projects that will enhance the ability of producers and processors who already have adopted organic standards to grow and market high-quality organic agricultural products. Meanwhile, the Integrated Organic and Water Quality Program funds projects that demonstrate benefits to soil and water availability posed by implementing certified organic practices. Projects combine physical measurements of soil and surface and/or groundwater conditions at the field or farm scale with modeling information generated at the same spatial and temporal scale.