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  • Did You Know?
    Three new studies confirm that exposures to common insecticides during pregnancy can cut a child’s IQ 4% to 7%  by age 9.
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Research Projects

Multi-regional Risk Analysis of Farm Manure Use: Balancing Soil Health and Food Safety for Organic Fresh Produce Production

This collaboration is a USDA Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) funded project to further the study of the use of animal-based manure and compost in organic agricultural practices in order to best prevent the risk of soil pathogens, and includes researchers from University of California, Davis, University of Minnesota, University of Maine, the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, USDA’s Economic Research Service Resource and Rural Economics Division, Cornell University, and The Organic Center

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The Environmental Footprints of Organic Cotton: From Field Through the Supply Chain

Cotton is one of the most widely grown crops in the world, and conventional cotton is one of the most chemically intensive crops with serious consequences for both the environment and farm workers. Furthermore, post-harvest treatment of cotton and fabric production practices can further contribute to environmental degradation. Organic cotton and textile production likely provides a sustainable alternative however, no assessment has ever been conducted for organic cotton through the full supply chain. This project will fill this knowledge gap by creating an up-to-date report to compare costs and externalities (biological, environmental, and social) of organic and conventional US cotton and textile production.

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Organic Agriculture: Reducing occupational pesticide exposure in farmers and farmworkers

The millions of farmworkers who labor on our farms across the country are vitally important to the success of agricultural operations. But those men and women who are on the front line of our bountiful agricultural system are also at greatest risk for exposure to agricultural pesticides and the adverse health impacts that can occur as a result of that exposure. This project examines the reality of farmers and farmworkers today and uses organic as an example of how we can reduce pesticide exposure – and associated occupational health risks – for our invaluable American farming sector.

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The Benefits of Organic Meat

When you eat meat, choosing organic is especially important, because meat production can have cascading effects on human health, animal welfare, and the environment. There is a long chain of resources that support the animals used for meat production. Choosing organic at the grocery store has an added value when it comes to supporting sustainable production, because you are not only ensuring that the animals are not raised with synthetic chemicals and have high welfare standards, but also that all the food that animals eat comes from organic sources that support soil health and biodiversity.

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Improving yields through soil health practices on organic farms

Different soil building practices do not necessarily have an equitable effect on yields. While most farmers are committed stewards of the land, many operations maintain thin margins of return. Thus, when considering the adoption of new practices, it is important for farmers to be able to evaluate which practices are most likely to promote environmental sustainability while simultaneously maintaining (or increasing) their bottom line. This project will quantify the interaction between different management practices on soil health and yield.

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Healthy Farm Index Biodiversity Calculator

The concept of healthy farms brings to mind fertile soils, clean water, and abundant wildlife. These amenities or ecosystem services were at one time taken for granted, but are now increasingly in the news and scientific literature, as we recognize that many are being degraded.  Ecosystem services are the benefits that people receive from nature.  Global intensive conventional farming, with a focus on maximum production, has resulted in decline of many ecosystem services.  The Healthy Farm Index (HFI) collaboration with Professor John Quinn at Furman University enables farmers to measure and optimize multiple ecosystem services to prevent the decline of on-farm biodiversity.  The HFI also communicates the value of ecosystem services and ensures that ecosystem services remain in the decision-making process of farmers, agency personnel, and other stakeholders.

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Connecting Soil Management with Carbon Sequestration

Healthy soils can also play a key role in combating climate change because they maintain carbon stores for long periods of time. With proper management agriculture can actually increase the soil carbon pool, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it in the soil thus contributing directly to climate change mitigation. Understanding practices that are specific to carbon sequestration will help move the needle forward when it comes to providing guidance on strategies that farmers can adopt to mitigate climate change. This objective will quantitatively assess and communicate the effect of different soil health building techniques on carbon sequestration.

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Sustainable and Profitable Strategies for IPM in Southern Organic Rice

This project is a collaboration between researchers at Texas A&M University’s AgriLife Research & Extension Center, Texas A&M Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, USDA’s ARS Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center, University of Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Department of Agriculture, and The Organic Center. It employs a multi-stakeholder research team to develop a multi-disciplinary approach to developing Integrated Pest Management strategies for organic rice production in the Southern United States.

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NOP Natural Resources and Biodiversity Conservation Guidance Compliance Tool

This project builds on the success of the Healthy Farm Index to provide a farmer-friendly tool with an interactive front-end interface that includes the mandates released by the National Organic Program in their Guidance Natural Resources and Biodiversity Conservation in order to aid farmers in technical decisions to increase on-farm biodiversity and comply with the new guidance.

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Pollinator Health

The Organic Center released a report showing that organic farming has an important role to play in supporting the health of our pollinators. Large-scale chemically intensive agricultural production has been implicated as a major source of threats to pollinators. Increasingly, scientific research demonstrates that the use of toxic synthetic pesticides, destruction of native habitat, and a decrease in nutritious forage due to extensive use of mono-cropping are detrimental to pollinators. A number of studies reviewed in this report have demonstrated that organic farming practices alleviate many threats to honey bees and that organic farms support significantly more pollinators than conventional farms.  This is because organic farming standards not only prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, many of which are highly toxic to bees and can be persistent in the environment, but also require that organic producers manage their farms in a manner that fosters biodiversity and improves natural resources.

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Organic Food and Farming as a Tool to Combat Antibiotic Resistance and Protect Public Health

A report released by The Organic Center, which reviews almost 100 studies, demonstrates that the best choice consumers can make to combat antibiotic resistance and protect themselves from antibiotic-resistant bacteria is to choose organic. Antibiotic resistance has been described as one of the most pressing human health concerns today and contributes to thousands of deaths each year. While the use of antibiotics in conventional agricultural practices has been implicated as an important contributor to this growing crisis, research also demonstrates that livestock production without the use of antibiotics, such as in organic agriculture, is an important part of the solution. This review paper takes an in-depth look at everything from mechanisms by which resistance develops in bacteria and the role that modern day agricultural practices play in exacerbating the problem, to how organic agriculture provides a simple and effective means to combat the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and to protect the health of consumers.

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Soil Health on Organic Farms

An understanding of methods that build soil health are key to the success of organic farms. A large body of science concludes that organic farming is key to improving soil health yet few studies have synthesized the research to determine the best soil health building practices within organic agriculture. Thus, it can be difficult for organic farmers to draw solid conclusions on specific best-management practices for achieving optimal soil health.  The Organic Center is addressing this gap by collaborating with the University of Maryland review the science that evaluates organic methods for building soil health for scientific publication.

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Net-Positive Impacts of Organic

Industry impacts on environmental and human health are often framed in a negative light.  Even attempts to achieve sustainability, such as the organic standards, center on minimizing destructive consequences.  However, some industries also provide sustainable benefits, which are largely ignored in the media and research communities in favor of focusing on reducing adverse effects.  There is a growing need to highlight a Positive Sustainability approach which incorporates not only the reduction of negative impacts on the environment and people (Footprints), but also to incorporate positive impacts on the environment and people (Handprints). This project proposes to use the Positive Sustainability approach to examine the positive impacts of organic production on the emissions and sequestration of greenhouse gases and risks and benefits to human health via worker and family exposure to pesticides, consumer exposure to pesticides, and nutritional differences per unit of food consumed.

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Organic Solutions for Citrus Greening

Citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing, threatens the citrus industry on a massive scale. It has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops throughout the United States and abroad, ravaging countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. The highly destructive disease can spread quickly, and once a tree is infected, it cannot be cured.  To address this issue, The Organic Center has launched a multi-year research project in collaboration with farmers, industry members, organic certifiers, and University of Florida entomologists to find holistic organic solutions to controlling citrus greening organically. This project will determine the efficacy of labeled organic pesticides for controlling the Asian citrus psyllid, develop protocols for organic growers struggling with citrus greening, and examine naturally occurring organic trees resistant to citrus greening that can be bred to create non-GMO citrus greening-resistant varieties of citrus.

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Production-Related Contaminants in Retail Milk

This research is dedicated to an urgent issue in human health and organic farming may likely provide the solution.  Milk consumption in the United States is decreasing, a trend that is particularly worrisome in children whose diets are lacking in calcium and vitamin D. One factor thought to be driving this downward trend is consumer concern regarding the use of production enhancing hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics in the dairy industry. Scientists have hypothesized that exposure to recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), a synthetic hormone, may play a role in causing early onset puberty in girls. Common pesticides have also been implicated as endocrine disruptors, and low-level antibiotic application can lead to development of resistance yet little research exists about what substances consumers are exposed to when they consume milk. This research will quantify the chemicals that consumers of conventional dairy milk are exposed to as well as the extent to which consumers can avoid these exposures by choosing organic.

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Fire Blight in Organic Apple and Pear Orchards

The Organic Center (TOC) has completed a project providing critically needed information on how to prevent fire blight from decimating apple and pear orchards without the use of antibiotics. Fire blight is a serious problem for apple and pear growers in the US.  Unlike some fruit pathogens, fire blight doesn’t just damage or destroy that season’s fruit – it can kill the entire tree.  It is caused by the bacteria Erwinia amylovora, and is easily spread among trees and orchards.  With growers now spending up to $20,000 per acre to establish an orchard, the risk of severe tree injury or loss from fire blight needs to be controlled.  This Critical Issue Report on controlling fire blight  in organic orchards is currently available for download!

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The Effects of Organic Farming Practices on Nitrogen Pollution

The Organic Center is working with Professor James Galloway, Ariel Majidi, and Allison Leach at the University of Virginia to investigate the effect of different farming systems on nitrogen pollution.  Nitrogen pollution is a problem, because it can lead to eutrophication of aquatic environments and “Dead Zones” in the coastal ocean.  It also contributes to climate change, acid rain, smog, biodiversity loss, and more.  This project focuses on how farming practices can have an impact on the amount of reactive nitrogen released into the environment.

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Decreasing Arsenic Uptake in Organic Rice Systems

The Organic Center has partnered with the  U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to conduct targeted research on the factors affecting the presence of arsenic in organically grown rice.  ARS scientists are testing stored samples of organic rice grown under controlled organic conditions at USDA research facilities, and examining the factors that directly impact the rate of arsenic accumulation in rice grown organically—varietal selection, flooding and organic compliant fertilizers. The goal is to offer future strategies to the organic sector to minimize such accumulation.

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Sequestering Carbon in Soils

Directed by Principal Research Scientist Elham Ghabbour and Professor Geoffrey Davies, the National Soil Project (NSP) at Northeastern University is collaborating with The Organic Center to examine some of the benefits organic agriculture may have on soil health.  We are also working with with OFRF on soil health communication.  Specifically, this project will quantify the amount of sequestered carbon in hundreds of organic farm top soil samples for comparison with corresponding conventional samples to determine differences in levels of humic acids (HA), fulvic acids (FA), and humin (HU) in the soils. These efforts will result in a reference database that will enable agronomists, farmers and environmental scientists to correlate soil health and productivity with agricultural practices, which will be an essential tool for maintaining and improving the quality of our nation’s soil through organic farming.

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Health Effects of Dietary Exposure to Pesticides

This collaborative project of The Center and Professor Lu of Harvard University will examine the health effects associated with dietary pesticide exposure through the lens of metabolomics, the study of chemical processes that involve metabolites. This research is critically needed, because while research studies are increasingly finding pesticides negatively affect human health, public awareness of these findings is low because there are few papers that look at exposure on the dietary level. This project will be directly applicable to consumers by examining levels and frequencies of exposure that are the most common for the general public.  In addition to our research, we will communicate our findings with the public to ensure understanding and increase awareness around the issue of pesticide risks.

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Dietary Risk Calculator

Several studies have shown that organic products have far fewer pesticide residues at much lower average levels than conventional products, but have you ever wondered what that means for your health? This calculator quantifies the relative pesticide dietary risks for specific food-pesticide combinations for organic and conventional food categories. Pesticide dietary risk is a function of exposure (how frequently pesticide residues appear on food and at what levels) and toxicity (the innate biological activity of a pesticide).

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Methods for protecting organic agriculture from inadvertent pesticide residue contamination

Concern over exposure to pesticides is one of the top reasons that people choose organic.  Several studies have shown that organic products have lower pesticide residues than conventional products, but there are still incidences of low-level pesticide residues on a small proportion of organic products.  While these residues are low and often and typically are detected at levels below applicable FDA “Action Levels,” organic growers strive to eliminate all pesticide residues on their crops.  To improve the quality of organic and identify methods to prevent contamination at its source, the Organic Center is collaborating with Dr. Chuck Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University, on a project that will fill the gap in the organic industry knowledge about pesticide contamination vectors.

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Organic alternatives to Conventional Celery Powder as a Meat Curing Agent

An OREI planning grant was awarded to the University of Wisconsin, with The Organic Center and The Organic Trade Association as collaborators, to help identify an organic alternative to conventional celery powder in curing organic meat and products.

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