California Leads in Organic Agriculture

Like many areas of agriculture, California has always been a leader in organic. Starting in the 1970s, California farmers led the first efforts to develop a standard for organic agriculture, which ultimately culminated in the creation of the USDA National Organic Program in the early 2000s. Today California leads the nation in total organic farms, production acres and crop value – in fact, we more than double the next leading state in each category. That said, the organic sector still only accounts for about 10% of California agriculture.


Growing Demand for Organic Agriculture and Farming Practices

Over the past 20 years, the rise of organic has been, in part, driven by ever-expanding consumer demand for certified organic products, which typically garner a premium over conventional prices. At the same time, all growers are facing increased regulatory and consumer demands to improve the environmental quality of crop production. As such, many organic practices are becoming increasingly relevant to non-organic growers, since numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that organic agriculture has multiple positive impacts on the environment and ecosystem services. In this way, investing in the further development and optimization of organic production practices has the potential to yield multiple economic and environmental benefits to a wide range of California growers, farmworkers and rural communities. This continued growth in demand for certified organic food, or simply the broader use of organic practices, has created a pressing need for increasingly specific research and extension support for organic production. While historically the University of California has developed various sustainable agriculture programs, none have explicitly focused on organic – until now.


UC Organic Agriculture Institute – Delivering Research, Extension and Education to Support Organic Agriculture

In early 2020 the UC Office of the President partnered with Clif Bar & Co. to establish a joint endowment (UC OAI). Tasked with the development of research and extension programs for organic agriculture, this new Institute will harness the unique power of the UC to accelerate the development, optimization and adoption of organic agriculture practices. In doing so, we aim to make the University of California a leading model for organic agriculture research, extension and education, while creating a resilient food system that produces abundant healthy food without harming people or the environment.


Working in Partnership with Organic Stakeholders – The California Organic Agriculture Knowledge Network

Meaningful engagement with organic growers and stakeholders is integral to the success of the UC OAI. Over the years, the organic community has independently developed a wealth of unique knowledge and experience in organic agriculture, and to leverage that we’re now facilitating the development of the California Organic Agriculture Knowledge Network (Cal OAK Network), which will bring together growers, certifiers, consultants, community groups and other relevant stakeholders, as well as UC research and extension personnel. This network of organic knowledge-holders builds upon existing relationships to create new opportunities for sharing information while connecting the expertise and capacity of the UC system to the organic community. While the UC OAI will help steward this effort, leadership will also come from the multiple stakeholder nodes that make up the network itself. As we develop targeted research, extension and education activities, the UC OAI will work within the Cal OAK Network to form new partnerships to address the most relevant and high priority needs for the organic sector.


UC OAI: Catalyzing and Facilitating Activities to Support Organic Agriculture

By coordinating and aligning with stakeholders through the Cal OAK Network, the UC OAI will enhance on-going projects as well as expand support for organic in new ways. More specifically, we will work with stakeholders to (i) synthesize current knowledge and status of organic agriculture, (ii) identify organic research, extension, training and policy needs, and (iii) bring together collaborative teams to develop research proposals to address key challenges, create extension support and relevant training opportunities and provide technical expertise to policy makers and advocates. In parallel, the UC OAI will work with educators to support curriculum develop and student opportunities to train the next generation of organic agriculture scientists, educators, advocates and practitioners.


Building Institutional Capacity for Organic Agriculture in California

Initially, the UC OAI will facilitate the development of organic research and extension programs simply by leveraging existing personnel and expertise within the UC system. While in the long term, additional infrastructure, research funding and personnel support will be necessary to make these efforts sustainable over time, the UC OAI has an immediate need for an additional staff person to coordinate and support UC OAI activities, this includes research on organic production trends and practices, facilitation of the Cal OAK Network, development of extension and training opportunities, outreach materials, an organic demonstration site, as well as a statewide conference on organic agriculture.