Two recent grants will support the organic grains program at North Carolina State University and provide education to promote the production of organic grain in the state, according to Chris Reberg-Horton, assistant professor of crop science and organic cropping specialist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The organic grains program recently received $100,000 from Golden LEAF, a foundation dedicated to the long-term economic advancement of North Carolina, and $35,000 from Organic Valley, an organic dairy cooperative.

The funds will support education and North Carolina Cooperative Extension programs on organic grains.

The organic industry is the fastest growing niche in the agricultural sector, with many mainstream food retailers joining the bandwagon. The organic market pays a premium for most crops, so organic grain can earn growers more cash per acre than conventional grain, according to Reberg-Horton.

Organic grain is particularly important to producers of organic poultry, livestock and dairy products, who rely on organic grains as a feed source. Currently, about $8 million in organic grain is imported to the state for this purpose each year. North Carolina is the nation’s leading producer of organic eggs, Reberg-Horton said.

The state has a limited market for organic grains for human consumption, but that market could increase as growers produce more grains and new grain processors come on line. The market for organic crops is expected to continue growing at an annual rate of more than 20 percent.

The goals of the education and Extension programs in organic grains are to increase the number of farms producing organic grains, increase profitability on farms already producing organic grains and expand the organic grain market by increasing the number of organically certified grain processors.

In planning for the grant, Reberg-Horton and his colleagues convened a meeting of farmers, county agricultural agents, non-profits and Extension specialists to determine critical needs for expanding the organic grain industry in North Carolina.

“One item that received unanimous support was to showcase farms that are already growing organic grains. Most farmers in the state are unaware of our organic grain farms, and their successes will highlight the potential in this industry,” Reberg-Horton said.

“The group wanted to host field days at these farms, do on-farm testing and demonstrations and have quarterly meetings where farmers could share information.

“Our planning group also identified weed management as the No. 1 concern in the transition to organic, with soil fertility not far behind. We will conduct a series of tests on farms to improve weed and fertility management. Those tests will include cultivation practices, fertility sources and the use of cover crop mulches to control weeds.”

The group is organizing a bus tour of organic grain farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia for July 24-26, 2008.

Funding partners expressed enthusiasm for this organic grains initiative. “Golden LEAF is excited to be a part of the expanding organic grains industry in North Carolina,” said Valeria Lee, Golden LEAF president. “Providing opportunity for growth is paramount to the success of a competitive agricultural community.”

“Ensuring a strong supply of organic grains is key to the potential of organic livestock farmers in North Carolina and the nation. Organic crop growing is a viable long-term market, and we want to encourage conventional farmers to transition to organics,” said George Siemon, chief executive officer for Organic Valley Family of Farms. “We’re confident North Carolina State’s efforts will help area farmers meet the current organic grain needs in the short-term, and we hope their efforts will make a positive impact for the next generation and beyond. We’re happy to help them be a part of the solution.”

For more information on the organic grains program at North Carolina State, visit the Web site: http://www.organicgrains.ncsu.edu/