USDA's Merrigan announces organic grantsFrom building a better organic carrot to developing non-antibiotic treatments for fire blight in organic orchards, 23 federal grants are funneling $19 million toward what the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s deputy secretary says has been an underfunded area.

Deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the grants Oct. 25.

“The USDA has historically underinvested in organic research,” Merrigan said. “That’s one reason I am so happy to announce these grants today.”

The grants come from two USDA programs: more than $15 million is from the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and almost $4 million is from the Organic Transitions Program. A complete list of the grant projects and award amounts is available on the USDA’s website.

Merrigan said statistics from the USDA’s Economic Research Service show more than two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally and 28% buy organic products weekly.

“There is potential for great growth in the organic produce industry in the U.S.” the deputy secretary said, adding she believes the U.S. needs to grow more fresh produce in general.

“If everyone woke up tomorrow and started eating half a plate of fruit and vegetables at every meal, we wouldn’t have enough to meet that demand.”

She said she believes there is a nearly perfect storm blowing through America now, made up of rising consumer concerns about health, increased nutrition education efforts and the media focus on food — from cooking shows to news coverage of healthy habits — that has made it OK to talk about agriculture in general and organics specifically.

That talk is helping drive the demand for organic products and growers’ desires to enter the organic arena.

As more growers adopt organic practices they need the best available science to operate profitably, Merrigan said. The research and extension projects paid for with the grants announced Oct. 25 will give growers the resources to produce quality organic food and increase farm income.