Sustainable Farming Research Innovations Highlighted

By: sustainableag , 12:55 PM GMT on March 20, 2014

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Following up on its award winning report published for 2011 and 2012, USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has released its latest biennial report highlighting a variety of research projects that have been funded over the last two years that are helping to advance sustainable farming.

The SARE program is administered through four regions, and each year all four regions provide grant funding to farmers, ranchers, researchers and educators for projects that aim to improve the sustainability of American agriculture.  SARE is the only USDA competitive grants research program with a clear and consistent focus on sustainability and farmer-driven research and has been funding innovative and cutting edge research for over 25 years.

SARE is unique among USDA competitive grant research programs because it is driven by regional administrative councils made up of farmers, ranchers, researchers, educators, and representatives from public, private, state and federal organizations that have an intimate understanding of the evolving needs of the agricultural sector in their regions of the country and the unique challenges that their producers face.

Over the last two years, nearly 50 percent of all SARE grantees were farmers or ranchers — who are the true innovators behind the success of the program for the past quarter of a century.  These smaller-scale on-farm research projects are important in their own right and also help inform the bigger university research projects as well as the extension efforts that SARE funds.

A snapshot of some of SARE’s latest investments

SARE’s regional delivery structure ensures that local needs are met and all regions of the country have equal access to funding opportunities.  Some examples of the diverse projects that SARE has funded over the last two years, and which are highlighted in the recently published report, are listed below:

Northeast Region (website)

Dairy farmers in the Northeast now have new nutrient management tools thanks to a SARE-funded team of Cornell University researchers who have worked with farmers in the region to develop a suite of on-farm nutrient assessment tools.  Farmers are able to improve environmental stewardship, profitability and productivity by using these tools to better understand how nutrients enter and exit their fields.

Southeast Region (website)

In South Carolina, a food hub called GrowFood Carolina was funded through SARE that numerous farmers have been able to tap into and receive up to 25 percent more for their products.  The food hub distributes products to grocery stores and restaurants, opening up new markets to farmers and boosting the local economy.

Western Region (website)

California Central Valley farmers joined forces with University of California researchers to develop innovative ways to produce more crops using fewer inputs in the face of rising fuel and input costs, competition for and shortages of water, and concerns over soil, air and water quality.  To this end, they are carefully analyzing methods of conservation agriculture including reduced tillage, diverse crop rotations, cover cropping and precision irrigation.

North Central Region (website)

SARE is helping to develop the niche market of hops production in Michigan that is benefitting current hops growers and encouraging new farmers to diversify and add hops as a new crop.  By developing a low-trellis system, University of Michigan researchers and local farmers are learning ways to maximize output and market their product at a premium price.

Funding for SARE a critical issue for Congress this year

Championed by NSAC’s since its founding in the late 1980s, SARE was authorized  in its current form in the 1990 Farm Bill, the outcome of one of NSAC’s first major policy campaigns.  While funding for the program has steadily increased over the last 25 years, current funding levels of roughly $23 million a year remain at merely a third of the program’s authorized amount or $60 million per year.

As part of NSAC’s appropriations campaign, we are urging Congress to fund SARE at $30 million in FY 2015, which would be a significant increase over current funding, but still only half the level authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill.  At half of full funding, the program could begin to address the tremendous demand for the program in which USDA currently can fund only one out of every five meritorious proposals (including extension, outreach, and on-farm projects) and well less than one of every ten full-blown research proposals.

Over the next 25 years, SARE is uniquely poised to invest strategically in sustainable agriculture systems research, one of the largest unmet needs in USDA’s overall research portfolio.  We hope that USDA and Congress will rise to that challenge and increase the investment in high-payoff research dollars through SARE to meet the pressing challenges of creating a more sustainable farm and food system for our collective future.

For more information

Visit the SARE Outreach website to download a PDF or order a print copy of SARE’s 2013/2014 Report from the Field, or see a list of grants funded in your state.  Farmers can also search the Funded Research Projects Database to learn about funded research on any topic related to sustainable agriculture (e.g., “organic apple production” or “cover crop fertility management”).

Sign up to engage with NSAC in support of SARE and other critical sustainable food and agriculture programs here.

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We are an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture.

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