Little Rock, Ark. – Winrock International has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to address barriers experienced by farmers in the mid-South when considering organic crop production.
The $1.25 million grant will fund research, education, and extension work to create pathways for success and profitability for producers who transition to and adopt organic standards, with the goal of improving farm revenues. The USDA’s Economic Research Service reports that consumer demand for organic products has shown double-digit growth in the U.S. “most years since the 1990s,” and that organic produce often commands substantial price premiums.
Focusing on the three mid-Southern states of Arkansas, Missouri, and Tennessee, where organic production lags behind much of the rest of the country, the Advancing Organic Agriculture in the Mid-South project will address challenges unique to farmers and crops grown in the region, including problems with weeds, insects, and diseases.
“Many farmers in our region are already interested in learning about organic production and aware of new market channels that it can open, but they need support, including information about certification and training to explore organic systems and make the transition,” said Linsley Kinkade, Winrock’s senior director of U.S. Programs. “This project will meet that need and will help more farmers in our region grow and process more high-quality, organic produce while sustaining the health of soils, ecosystems and people.”
Through controlled scientific trials on cropping and management, the project will demonstrate successful organic systems on farm-scale plots and will offer training and education opportunities both to the public and to farmers who want to transition to organic production. It will also help guide them through USDA’s organic certification process.
The project will create a community of practice for new organic farmers in the mid-South, a space to share ideas, learn about practical production and marketing strategies. This approach aims to increase the comfort level and practical knowledge of producers as they explore organic farming, increasing the likelihood that they will enter organic production.
The project is conducted in collaboration with USDA’s Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Booneville, Ark., the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, the University of Missouri Southwest Research Center, the Natural Soybean and Grain Alliance in Fayetteville, Ark., and Agricenter International in Memphis, Tenn.