The organic food industry has been growing at a rate of 20-30% per year for the past 10 years in the U.S., with a commensurate increase in land farmed under certified organic management, and an increased need for research on organic farming practices and systems. In Washington State, organic acreage has increased 8-fold since 1993 and the organic food industry is valued at over $200 million per year. The organic sector supports thousands of businesses of all sizes, with extensive positive repercussions for rural communities. Organic systems generally lead to improved environmental performance and farmworker safety thus lessening the need for the public sector to bear these costs. Organically approved products, often developed by small businesses, need testing for efficacy and registration. Conventional growers also benefit from the development of organic practices and products, which they are increasingly adopting to deal with pesticide resistance and regulatory constraints and because adoption of these methods can lead to reduced costs, improved biological performance, and enhanced environmental protection.
Washington State University has a solid history of involvement with organic farming. One of the first organic studies (David Holland and Stephen Kraten, 1970s) compared energy usage by organic and conventional grain production systems. In 1980, the USDA Study Team on Organic Farming (led by Bob Papendick, USDA-ARS researcher based at WSU Pullman) produced “Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming”. In 1981, the first organic farming symposium at the American Society of Agronomy national meetings (organized by Lloyd Elliott and Dave Bezdicek, WSU) led to the publication of “Organic Farming: Current Technology and Its Role in a Sustainable Agriculture,” available from the American Society of Agronomy as an ASA Special Publication.
Today, Washington State University continues to play a key role in organic research and education. In 2002, CSANR published a survey of organic research and education at WSU that identified almost 50 faculty and staff who were involved in organic research and education projects. Also in 2002, CSANR received federal funding for its Organic Research program. In 2003, an organic working group was formed at WSU with the purpose of increasing research, networking and outreach opportunities and impacts. In 2007, WSU began offering a new undergraduate Organic Agriculture Systems major. WSU established an organic teaching farm (certified organic in 2004) which is in the process of moving and expanding into a 30-acre state of the art student learning center known as the Eggert Family Organic Farm.