Montana State University has received $743,000 to research the use of sheep in organic farming, incorporate those findings into course work, and share the findings with producers.
The three-year grant announced in late October by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as one of 23 awarded by the agency's Institute of Food and Agriculture in 18 states. The grants total $19 million nationally through to specific programs: the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and the Organic Transitions Program.
"These days, there's lots of competition for these funds," says Patrick Hatfield, principal investigator of MSU's project. "Funding is getting harder to find."
Significantly, MSU's project was ranked first among all the projects submitted for funding, resulting in full-funding of the proposed study.
The purpose of the new grants is to help organic producers and processors grow and market high quality organic products, notes USDA Deputy Sec. Kathleen Merrigan.
"As more and more farmers adopt organic agriculture practices, they need the best science available to operate as profitable and successful organic farmers," she says. "America's brand of organic agricultural goods is world-renowned for its high quality and abundance of selection.
"These research and extension projects will give producers the tools and resources to produce quality organic food and boost farm income, boosting the 'Grown in America' brand."
The long-term goal of MSU's sheep study is to integrate the livestock into farming systems in a way that is profitable and environmentally sustainable, notes Hatfield.
"Our goal is to use targeted sheep grazing to reduce tillage intensity, nitrogen leaching, greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil fertility and carbon sequestration, while taking advantage of weeds, cover crops and crop residues for fiber and meat production," says Hatfield.
Organic farmers have long been criticized for their intensive soil tillage, which leads to massive loss of soil to water runoff and in wind.