Organic Project Grants

It has been a while since I wrote a blog post, but I have a good excuse – Maybe! I really try to post something every week or at most every other week so that I make myself stay up to date on organic topics and keep you up to date on organic topics. The first of March we got word from USDA that they had posted the “Request for Funds Application” for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative or OREI and they were due by March 31, 2022. This meant a hard month of coordination, collaboration and grant writing but it’s almost over!

These grants are from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture or NIFA and they can be substantial and if funded, can mean years of good organic agriculture work for both researchers, extension and our organic growers.

Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension has been fortunate to receive funds from these grants in the past and we certainly want to keep helping the organic producers and the organic program in Texas. These grants help researchers look at the important problems facing organic producers and then develop the tools producers need to overcome those problems and stay profitable. Currently, having high quality, disease and insect resistant, water and nutrient efficient, organic varieties to plant is the major issue facing organic producers. This means our grant applications are mainly focused on variety breeding and the issues that surround bringing organic varieties to the market.

There are a lot of researchers and extension specialists in the Texas A&M AgriLife system, and I don’t know them all, but I do know four teams that have been working hard over the last few weeks to develop these OREI proposals.

Dr. John Cason is a peanut breeder at the Texas A&M Center in Stephenville where I am privileged to be located as well. Dr. Cason has a great organic peanut project called, “Addressing the Challenges of Organic Peanut Production with Conservation Management Strategies and Breeding.” I am just one of several who are involved in this proposal which includes a team of 10 scientists and extension specialists working together.

Dr. Waltram Ravelombola is an organic crop breeder at the Texas A&M Center in Vernon and in a fairly new research position for organic growers. His project is working on cowpeas, a crop that we use for cover, soil health improvement, animal feed and as a great human food crop. His OREI project is, “Evaluation and breeding of short duration and stress resilient cowpea varieties suitable for organic cropping systems in the southern USA.” Cowpea (we call them blackeyed peas) reaches across all cultures in Texas and is harvest commercially while also being a farmers market favorite.

Dr. Shyamal Talukder is a rice breeder at the Texas A&M Beaumont Rice Research Center. He also is a new researcher but has a real passion for helping Texas improver overall rice breeding efforts with a special emphasis in organic rice. His project proposal is, “Development of effective phenotypic selection criteria, molecular markers, and varieties for organic rice systems.” I am privileged to be part of a 6-person organic rice team that will be working to develop and test rice varieties developed specifically for organic systems. We are especially concerned with fertility, weed control and ratooning potential.

Dr. Genhua Niu is a horticulture researcher at the Texas A&M Center in Dallas and is very interested in the organic vegetable industry in Texas. She has worked on transplant media for several years and has developed a proposal entitled, “Enhancing the transplant quality – a bottleneck in the sustainable production of organic vegetables.” This project has a great team of seven researchers and extension specialists and will have research projects scattered from West Texas to the Rio Grande Valley to Central Texas. Should be fun!

Now that they are all about to be submitted to USDA, the hard part starts – waiting to see if they get funded! Wouldn’t it be great for Texas organic producers and handlers if they were all funded? We sure hope so….

Author: Bob Whitney, Regents Fellow & Extension Organic Specialist

Agriculturalist, extension educator and researcher, organic agriculture enthusiast and promoter, international program developer, Christian, husband, father and friend.

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