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Tuskegee receives USDA grant to broaden organic farming in the Southeastern U.S.

December 02, 2019

Researchers left to right: Dr. Desmond Mortley, Dr. Adelia C. Bovell-Benjamin, Dr. Kokoasse Kpomblekou-A and Dr. Franklin Quarcoo
Researchers on the grant include from left to right: Dr. Desmond Mortley, Dr. Adelia C. Bovell-Benjamin, Dr. Kokoasse Kpomblekou-A and Dr. Franklin Quarcoo.

Jacqueline Carlisle, College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Science
Brittney Dabney, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing

A $50,000 competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow Tuskegee University’s College of Agriculture, Environment and Nutrition Sciences to broaden the adoption of organic farming throughout the Southeast. An upcoming forum the college is planning will address the latest organic farming research information and highlight how to promote and strengthen organic farming infrastructure throughout the region.

According to project director Dr. Kokoasse Kpomblekou-A, organic farming activities in the Southeast can be improved only if organic agricultural production information and research findings about topics like soil and water management, and pest and disease management are disseminated to growers who are already organic or are considering transitioning.

“Growers in the Southeast cannot be competitive if they do not have access to research data backed by a strong outreach effort,” explained Kpomblekou-A. “A coordinated effort in research and outreach among universities in the region and elsewhere is essential to empower organic growers and farming enterprises to be successful.”

Tuskegee will partner with the California-based Organic Farming Research Foundation to organize and implement a one-day forum at the 2020 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, this January. There, researchers, extension personnel and successful organic growers can expect to identify best practices in order to identify research and legislative needs that would remove barriers to developing organic farming throughout the Southeast.

“A new partnership must be introduced by bringing together researchers, extension personnel, federal and state agencies, NGOs, and producers to the same table to identify and manage a wide range of challenges along the production-consumption value chain in the Southeast,” noted Kpomblekou-A.

According to Kpomblekou-A, as of 2016, the world’s organic market has an estimated value of $89.7 billion — nearly half of which is attributed to the U.S. While the growth of the organic market has generally outpaced the expansion of organic land, the number of certified U.S. organic farms. increased to 14,217, and the acreage of certified farms reached 5 million in 2016.

However, this growth has not occurred uniformly across the U.S. Over the last 10 years, organic acreage increased considerably in 10 states spread across the west (California, Montana, Oregon, Alaska and Idaho), Midwest (Wisconsin), Southwest (Texas and Colorado), and Northeast (New York and Vermont) — but increased only slightly in the Southeast.

Although unfavorable weather conditions and soil factors have been identified as impediments to organic production in the Southeast, a lack of information on organic agriculture practices and progressive legislation agendas also constitute serious barriers.            

The grant comes from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which invests in and supports initiatives that ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. Tuskegee’s team includes Drs. Adelia Bovell-Benjamin, Desmond Mortley, and Franklin Quarcoo. In addition, Auburn University, Delaware State University, North Carolina State University and Oregon State University were also selected to be a part of the multidisciplinary team.

© 2019, Tuskegee University