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Posts Tagged: Houston Wilson

Organic farmers to get technical assistance from CDFA and UC ANR

California’s organic farmers will receive production and marketing assistance from CDFA and UC ANR.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is awarding $1.85 million to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources to increase technical assistance for California's organic farmers.

CDFA's State Organic Program is executing $850,000 in contracts with UC ANR to run through September 2024, while CDFA's Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation is awarding a $1 million grant to run from July 2022 to June 2025. 

“California farmers provide 36% of all organic production in the United States,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “This funding expands technical assistance to growers transitioning to certified organic agriculture and supports our strong California community of organic farmers and consumers by conducting field trials and demonstration projects with farmers to improve organic practices.” 

California organically farms just over 2 million acres, which is about 8% of the total agricultural acreage in the state, and will likely continue to expand over time as long as consumer demand continues to rise, according to Houston Wilson, director of UC ANR's Organic Agriculture Institute.

“Demand for organic agriculture has consistently grown every year for the past two decades,” Wilson said. “Organic currently accounts for 5.8% of domestic food sales.” 

“We are excited to see CDFA increasing support for organic agriculture as part of a broader climate-smart agriculture strategy,” said Wilson. “As demand for organic continues to rise, California growers need increasingly targeted technical assistance in all areas of organic production and marketing.”

The CDFA funds will allow UC ANR to hire two academic coordinators, which are currently being recruited.

“The academic coordinators will work directly with growers, as well as develop research and extension projects that will involve existing UC Cooperative Extension personnel,” Wilson said. “One of the coordinators will specifically focus on connecting our efforts with small-scale and historically underserved growers through our partnership with the UC Small Farms Program.”

The organic practices can be used by conventional farms as well as organic farms.

“Just as organic farmers benefit from UC ANR's pest management, irrigation and crop production research, the new knowledge developed on organic practices by the UC Organic Agriculture Institute will be useful for all California farmers,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources. 

Some of the key UC ANR project objectives include:

  • Conduct research on soil health management, carbon sequestration and crop rotations in organic systems 
  • Create new extension and training opportunities for organic growers across California
  • Provide technical assistance to both certified and transitioning organic growers 
  • Review and summarize organic acreage and practices in California
  • Develop economic analysis of organic production and markets 

“Clif Bar is proud to have supported the creation of the UC Organic Agriculture Institute and congratulates them on this new and important funding,” said Philippa Lockwood, Clif Bar social responsibility program manager. “Supporting the advancement of organic agriculture in our home state of California and the great work that's to come from the UCOAI is a true honor and we look forward to their impactful agricultural innovations ahead.”

The 2022-2023 state budget signed last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom includes $5 million in funds for CDFA to assist farmers with transitioning to organic operations, and the USDA recently announced an investment of up to $300 million for the same purpose. 

Updated July 18, 2022, to add Philippa Lockwood quote. 

Posted on Thursday, July 7, 2022 at 12:01 PM
Focus Area Tags: Food

New California Organic Research Agenda available online

A new report examines current needs and challenges of organic farmers and ranchers across California. Organic strawberries photo by Joji Muramoto

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has published the new California Organic Research Agenda (CORA), a comprehensive report that examines current needs and challenges of organic farmers and ranchers across California and provides policy and research recommendations to address producer-identified issues.

The CORA report is a companion to OFRF's 2022 National Organic Research Agenda. The national organic survey data boasts responses from over 1,100 producers and 16 listening sessions held across the U.S. Using the California subset of the national survey data, the CORA report highlights the top production and non-production challenges cited by California's organic farmers and ranchers.
“Organic farming has been historically under-invested in, in terms of research, education and extension,” says OFRF Executive Director Brise Tencer. “Both the new California Organic Research Agenda and the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda present incredible feedback directly from organic farmers and provide a compelling roadmap for how to best support the growth of this important sector of agriculture.”
Report findings indicate that managing production costs is a substantial challenge for 71% of producers surveyed, and accessing labor proved to be the leading non-production challenge. An overwhelming number of state producers (76%) expressed substantial need for technical assistance with the organic management of weeds, pests, and disease. In addition to detailing farmer challenges on and off the field, OFRF's CORA report provides a comparison analysis of farmer responses based on commodity and farming experience. National and state comparisons are also included in the report.
Production of the CORA report was supported in part by the University of California Organic Agriculture Institute, a new statewide program within the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well as the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology.
“One of our primary activities is to generate new research and extension programs focused on organic agriculture,” says Houston Wilson, director of the UC Organic Agriculture Institute. “The CORA report provides an excellent roadmap to guide and prioritize our efforts, we're really excited to turn this information into action.” 
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, state farmers and ranchers were responsible for 40% of all organic agricultural product sales in the country. Data from a 2019 USDA organic survey concludes California has 965,257 acres in organic production, which is approximately 17.5% of all organic acreage in the country. OFRF's California Organic Research Agenda examines grower needs in the nation's top-producing state of organic agricultural commodities and specialty crops, paving the way for future research and investment.

"This report will benefit organic growers in California by playing a role as a critical reference to increase public support and develop research projects targeting specific needs that diverse organic growers in the state are facing," says Joji Muramoto, UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist based at UC Santa Cruz.
The CORA report is available free online at for farmers, policymakers, agricultural suppliers, seed companies and the general public.

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 at 5:23 PM
  • Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
  • Author: Caroline Baptist, Communications Manager, Organic Farming Research Foundation
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Organic Ag Institute begins forming knowledge network, assessing needs

The Organic Agriculture Institute is conducting a statewide needs assessment for organic agriculture and forming the California Organic Agriculture Knowledge Network. Photo by Evett Kilmartin

Cal OAK Network to build on, grow connections between UC and organic community

After pioneering the organic movement in the 1970s, California now leads the nation in number of organic farms, total organic acreage and overall organic crop value. Attaining this status was no small feat, and largely driven by resourceful growers who developed and refined the wide range of novel organic farming practices seen in California today.

Now, with the creation of the Organic Agriculture Institute, the University of California will be able to leverage its vast capacity for research, extension and education to further improve the sustainability, resilience and profitability of organic agriculture in the state.

In its first major public initiative, the Organic Agriculture Institute – a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – is conducting a statewide needs assessment for organic agriculture, as well as forming a knowledge-sharing network that connects UC experts with growers, processors, producer organizations, certifiers, crop consultants, community groups and state agencies.

The needs assessment and knowledge network comprise the first major public initiative of the Organic Ag Institute, a UC ANR program established in January 2020.
This California Organic Agriculture Knowledge Network, or Cal OAK Network, builds upon the productive partnerships and knowledge systems established by organic growers and other stakeholders over many decades.

“This network will be a sustainability partnership that enables learning, innovation and cooperation among organic agriculture stakeholders,” said Houston Wilson, director of the Organic Agriculture Institute, which was established in January 2020. “As facilitator of the Cal OAK Network, the Organic Ag Institute will serve as an intermediary that fosters communication among stakeholder groups, organizes discourse, forges new collaborations, and generally enhances coordination of stakeholder activities.”

By creating closer connections between the UC and the organic community, the Cal OAK Network will foster ongoing feedback cycles of knowledge and best practices, and in doing so help create the conditions and momentum to facilitate the development and adoption of organic production practices.

“The Cal OAK Network will better connect the organic community with UC technical and training resources, while at the same time providing a mechanism for that community to feed information back to the UC that helps us shape our programs at the Organic Ag Institute,” said Wilson, noting potential contributions in areas such as pest control, weed management and crop nutrition.

In the first 18 months of the Institute, Wilson has been charting the current landscape of organic agriculture in California, listening to the needs of stakeholders and working to position the Institute in a way that best uses the UC's unique research and extension capacities to support and augment existing efforts by growers and other groups.

The California Organic Agriculture Knowledge Network helps connect the leading-edge research and technical expertise of the UC with the organic community. Photo by Evett Kilmartin
“Almost 20 years after the establishment of the National Organic Program, many stakeholders are excited to see the UC making such a focused effort to support organic agriculture,” Wilson said.

The Institute recently received a planning grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to conduct a formal needs assessment through summer 2022. In surveying growers and other stakeholders, the Institute seeks to identify their primary research and extension priorities, as well as gain a better understanding of the key people and organizations they currently rely on for information about organic production.

Through this process, a map of nodes and connections in the organic community will also take shape – and the roster of members for the Cal OAK Network will continue to grow. As Wilson points out, it is only through a diverse and robust information-sharing system that California organic agriculture will successfully adapt to challenges like climate change.

“We're trying to create a resilient infrastructure for engagement with organic stakeholders,” he said. “When we talk about sustainability in agriculture, part of that is having sustainable institutions that function well and can be flexible and dynamic as new challenges arise down the road.”

To learn more about and join the California Organic Agriculture Knowledge Network, visit and contact Wilson at

Posted on Monday, November 15, 2021 at 10:09 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Food, Innovation

Organic agriculture tops $3 billion in California farm gate sales

Dairy cows stroll in from the pasture to be milked in Humboldt County. Organic cow milk brought California dairies $251 million of revenue in 2016.

Organic farming continues to expand in California and now includes more than 360 commodities, according to a new University of California report. The number of organic growers, acreage and farm gate sales revenue is reported by commodity, county, region and statewide in the new “Statistical Review of California Organic Agriculture, 2013-2016.” The data are collected from farms that register as organic with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“This report highlights the incredible diversity and abundance of organic crops being grown across so many different geographic regions in the state, which reflects California's leading role in this production sector,” said Houston Wilson, director of the new UC Organic Agriculture Institute. 

“Dairies continue to lead by value of organic production,” said Rachael Goodhue, UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics and coauthor of the report.

The number of organic growers in California jumped from 2,089 in 2013 to 3,108 in 2016. The top 10 organic commodities for sales value in 2016 were cow milk, strawberries, carrots, wine grapes, table grapes, sweet potatoes, almonds, raspberries, salad mix, and chicken eggs.

“This review is critical to understand the changes in the fast-growing organic agriculture sector in the state where more than 50% of the nation's organic vegetables and fruits are produced,” said Joji Muramoto, UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist at UC Santa Cruz and coauthor of the report. “It provides statistics of all organic commodities produced across the state as well as at county level. This is the primary reference to learn about the size, diversity, and trends of organic agriculture in the state.” 

Organic strawberries ranked second in California organic commodities with $202 million in sales value in 2016. Photo by Joji Muramoto

In 2016, California organic sales were $3.1 billion with an average of $1 million in sales per farm, but revenue varied widely among farms. For example, San Diego County had the most organic growers (313) in 2016, but Kern County's 47 organic farmers earned the most in total organic sales: $381 million on 49,727 acres, excluding pasture and rangeland, according to Muramoto.

“The average gross income of organic farms increased 14-fold from 1994 to 2016, reaching $1 million in 2016,” Muramoto said. “However, 77% of growers received less than $500,000 per year and 22% of growers who made $500,000 or more per year received 94% of the total gross sales, showing the income concentration among organic growers in the state.”

The statistical review of California's organic agriculture had been published since 1998 by the late Karen Klonsky, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, and her team after statistics for organic agriculture became available in 1992 as a result of the California Organic Food Act.

The last report published by Klonsky, who passed away in 2018, covered 2009-2012. All previous organic agriculture statistics reports can be accessed at

“This report of organic data continues the series of studies initiated by Karen Klonsky many years ago. It contains vital summary information for industry and policymakers as well as researchers,” said Goodhue.

Since the data collection began in 1994, the number of organic growers in California has increased 2.8-fold to 3,109 and the farm-level sales 40-fold to $3.1 billion in 2016.

Organic carrots ranked third in sales value in California at $161 million in 2016.

“Accurate annual data on California organic crop production, acreage and value is critical to understanding the scale and scope of this growing agricultural sector,” said Wilson. “As the UC Organic Agriculture Institute begins to develop research and extension programs, it is important that we have a reliable way to assess the extent and geography of organic production as well as track changes over time.”

Muramoto, who became the UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist in 2019, collaborated with Goodhue, Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics; and UC Davis graduate student Hanlin Wei to produce the latest statistical review of California's organic agriculture.

More recent years are not included because the data collected by CDFA changed in 2017 and again in 2019 so they are not comparable to the data in this report. The full report can be downloaded from the UC Agricultural Issues Center website at  

Posted on Monday, October 19, 2020 at 2:57 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

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