Research needs in the organic industry are numerous and run the gamut from production to marketing, growers and others in the industry say.
To identify the industry’s top priorities, The Organic Center partnered with the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to get input from farmers, industry members, researchers, policy-makers and nonprofit organizations.
A gathering last year included panels, listening sessions, breakout discussions and group activities to develop a roadmap for research to move the organic sector forward, Jessica Shade, director of science programs at The Organic Center, said in a webinar on the groups’ findings.
“Our main goal was to find common ground between the research needs of farmers, scientific expertise and then the funding interests of industry members,” she said.
The groups also explored avenues for public-private partnerships to fund research.
“Overall, the organic industry members expressed interest most in funding research that increased the domestic supply of organic food and fiber,” Amber Sciligo, assistant director of science programs at The Organic Center, said.
They were also interested in increasing consumer education and awareness and addressing consumer concerns over climate change and interest in nutrition, she said.
Several research priorities emerged. One is the availability of organic seed varieties.
Some nuances in that research included “regional breeding to accommodate the regional differences in climate and soil, etc., and also selecting for flavor and nutrition as a target for consumer preference,” she said.
Research on soil health was also an area of shared interest.
“A lot of past research has made really significant advances in supporting on-farm soil health,” she said.
But new areas of interest include systems-based research programs that connect the soil health to microbial communities, water quality, food safety, plant productivity and plant nutrition and how that would translate into human health, she said.
Another research priority was agronomic and socioeconomic research.
“The main interest within this research category was really to address the barriers that keep farmers from transitioning to organic or that prevent them from continuing to farm organically,” she said.
That research relates back to increasing domestic supply. There was a desire to focus on farm profitability to ensure organic farmer livelihoods were secure and sustainable, she said.
Climate resiliency was another priority area.
“Climate change mitigation, as well as adaptation to climate change, was identified as an area of interest across all stakeholder groups, and there was a wide range of research questions,” she said.
Those included livestock forage management, water usage and seed breeding for climate change resiliency in various regions and the role of crop diversification in protecting against losses from extreme weather changes, she said.
A lot of people were also interested in agricultural technology, mostly to improve the feasibility of organic operations, she said.
That would include precision technology to make water and nutrient usage more efficient and reduce the burden of labor-intensive tasks such as weeding, as well as making food-safety monitoring more reliable and real-time, she said.
Research on animal health and livestock integration in cropping systems was also a high priority.
The industry needs more knowledge about how organic practices, including pasture-based production, will affect things like animal health, soil health and food safety simultaneously, she said.