WASHINGTON — A new $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will address one of the most pressing issues for the organic community: How to use manure effectively in organic farming in ways that foster healthy soil and minimize risks to food safety.
The grant will support research examining the relationship between manure use in improving soil health and food safety, concentrating on organic fresh produce production. It was awarded to a multidisciplinary team from the 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, the Produce Safety Alliance, and The Organic Center, with funding provided by its Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).
The new grant implements a research plan developed by UC Davis, The Organic Center, and the Organic Trade Association (OTA) during their 2016 OREI planning grant. The long-term goal of the project is to provide critical information for guidelines on risk mitigation of foodborne pathogens for organic and sustainable agriculture.
“With this grant, we can now engage in specific research using the knowledge base that we’ve built, and The Organic Center welcomes our role in helping to get the word out about this vital issue,” said Jessica Shade, Director of Science Programs at The Organic Center.
The impetus for these grants has been the ongoing implementation process of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to improve food safety. In new rules implementing the FSMA regulations, changes were proposed relating to the use of compost and manure and the required interval that untreated manure could be applied and crops harvested. This is of particular importance for the organic sector, as many certified organic producers rely on animal-based soil amendments such as manure and compost to improve soil fertility and quality instead of chemical fertilizers.
Several studies have shown that the use of manure and compost has multiple positive environmental impacts: increased soil health, higher soil biodiversity and reduced erosion. The improved soil health and microbial diversity in organic soils have the potential to control the presence of soil pathogens, which can impact food safety. But little research has examined the specific wait periods between manure application and crop harvest required to control pathogens, and how pathogen presence interacts with heathy soil.
“By developing an innovative, customized risk-assessment based on good agricultural practices used within the organic industry related to raw manure and soil health,” said Professor Alda Pires, one of the team’s principal investigators from UC Davis, “the project will benefit organic farmers and consumers by providing strategies to maintain the value of raw manure soil amendments while limiting food safety risks”
“With this grant, we can now engage in specific research using the knowledge base that we’ve built, and The Organic Center welcomes our role in helping to get the word out about this vital issue.” Jessica Shade, director of science programs at The Organic Center.