Engagement, relevance and investment: The must haves for organic research

Engagement, relevance and investment: The must-haves for organic research
Organic Center white paper lays out recommendations to make research count

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 21) – Science-based research solves problems, discovers solutions, develops new products, and is one of the keystones for advancement. And so it is with organic. A growing array of diversified and innovative research projects on organic agriculture is underway now throughout the country, helping to advance organic.

covershot.pngBut the real success of research depends on the results of that hard work being effectively communicated to – and used by – the stakeholders for which the research is intended. To that end, The Organic Center has released a White Paper entitled "Making Organic Research Count" that makes specific recommendations to ensure that organic agriculture research really does make a difference, contributes to the success and growth of organic agriculture, and provides an economic opportunity for farmers in a sustainable manner.

"Even the best research doesn't count if the results of it don't get to the people who most need it and can't be transferred into workable action, or if the research can't fulfill its potential because of inadequate funding," said Dr. Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs for The Organic Center. "Our 2017 Organic Confluences Conference participants looked at real-life successes and ongoing challenges to research communication and stakeholder adoption in the organic community, and we came up with real-life recommendations to make that research count."

The 2017 Organic Confluences Conference took place in May. The conference, presented by The Organic Center in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Economic Research Service, focused on making certain that the research happening in the organic sector tackles the issues most critical for moving organic forward, and on communicating research findings in the most effective way. It looked at challenges to the design, implementation, and dissemination of organic research, and provided recommendations to amplify both the significance and reach of that research.The White Paper made the following recommendations on how to improve organic research:

The White Paper made the following recommendations on how to improve organic research:

  1. Improve communication to organic stakeholders. Researchers must involve farmers in the development of research questions. Clear lines of communication must be maintained among farmers, academics, industry and policy influencers to make research results accessible.
  2. Engage underrepresented groups. A comprehensive effort must be made to involve minorities, transitioning farmers and young or new farmers in the process of research needs gathering, cooperation in study design and execution, and results dissemination. Multiple formats should be used to distribute outreach materials.
  3. Design relevant research studies that reflect organic.  Organic research needs to reflect the whole systems approach of organic farming so that the research results are useful. Funding must increase for long-term research and for research that addresses the complexity of organic systems, including economic benefits and tradeoffs.
  4. Make research results accessible, understandable and actionable. Researchers must have a clear understanding of their different audiences and recognize the needs of those different audiences. Funding should be increased to cover the creation of materials that convey research results to the intended audience in a compelling and understandable manner.
  5. Provide adequate research funding and resources.  Applied organic research is dramatically under-funded in the U.S. Specific suggestions include increasing  the number of private-public partnerships, securing federal research funding for the organic sector that is proportional to organic's market share, renewing funding in the next fam bill for USDA's Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, creating large-scale partnerships among multiple companies, non-profits, and researchers, and establishing an organic check-off research and promotion program to help set federal grant priorities and act as matching funds for federal grant programs.

"Research funding devoted for organic agriculture remains low compared to the investment in conventional sector agriculture. Accordingly, it is imperative that the dissemination of research findings is carefully targeted to reach its intended audiences, that research is conducted on topics prioritized by farmers and other stakeholders, and that information is disseminated in a form that is understandable and useful," the White Paper concludes.

2018 Organic Confluences Summit to look at knowledge transfer

The Organic Center will bring farmers, scientists, extension agents, industry members and key policy influencers together this spring for what will be the third annual Organic Confluences Summit to address the challenges facing organic agriculture and to share knowledge and research findings.

The theme of this year's summit is "Evaluating and Advancing Knowledge Transfer in Organic." It will gather diverse organic stakeholders to assess the state of extension and education for organic and transitioning farmers, explore current innovations in information dissemination, and address barriers that constrain knowledge transfer within the organic sector.

"Examining innovative, effective ways to transfer knowledge to farmers is absolutely critical for the continued success of organic.  By looking at the challenges that face the pathway between practical solutions to on-farm issues and producers, we will be able to overcome a major barrier keeping new farmers from transitioning to organic, and current farmers from succeeding," said Dr. Shade.

"Our 2018 Confluences will look at innovative programs that have been a success, as well as challenges that past programs have faced," said Dr. Shade. "Our goal is to provide recommendations for developing a successful framework that will work for farmers across the U.S."

This year's day-and-a-half summit will take place Monday, May 21, and the morning of Tuesday, May 22, at USDA Patriots Plaza III, in Washington, D.C. The event will be held in conjunction with Organic Week in Washington, D.C., which includes the Organic Trade Association's annual Policy Conference and Hill Visit Days, a Capitol Hill Reception, and more.

For more information about the 2018 summit, including how to register, visit The Organic Center's website. Download the White Paper here.