The Organic-PLUS (O+) project has the overall aim of providing high quality, trans-disciplinary, scientifically informed decision support to help all actors in the organic sector, including national and regional policy makers, to reach the next level of the organic success story in Europe. By doing so, organic food systems can be more true to organic principles but equally to the EU Bio-economy agenda.
Organic-PLUS has four objectives: 1) to identify and evaluate contentious inputs currently used in European agriculture 2) to provide specific technical solutions to minimise or phase-out their use 3) to provide environmental, social and economic assessments of phase-out scenarios 4) to disseminate and broker knowledge, ideas and results to maximise impact.
We use a ‘multi-actor approach’; the consortium comprises 10 universities and 15 research organisations and NGOs from 9 EU and 3 associated countries. It includes scientists from a wide range of academic disciplines and will involve advisors, farmers and other stakeholders in a participatory research design.
Organic-PLUS has three large ‘topical’ workpackages. WP PLANT researches alternatives to copper and mineral oils used for plant protection, working on potatoes, glasshouse crops and perennial Mediterranean crops. WP LIVESTOCK considers the use of natural plant sources of vitamins as alternatives to synthetic products and the use of alternative and novel bedding materials in place of straw from conventional farms. As well as in vitro experiments to characterise the materials, replicated trials (with sheep, calves, dairy cows, beef cattle, poultry and pigs) are used to evaluate their effects on animal performance, health and quality of meat and milk. WP SOIL considers alternatives to the use of manure from non-organic farms and other animal-derived fertility inputs such as blood and bone meal (including legume-based fertilisers in horticultural production, marine derived fertilisers and pond sediments). It also works on alternatives to peat in growing media (including materials from agroforestry) and alternatives to fossil fuel-derived plastic used as a weed supressing mulch (including degradable plastics and biocomposites). All experimental work is conducted in multiple European countries in close collaboration with relevant stakeholders including product manufactures and commercial farmers and growers.
The topical work is supported by WP IMPACT. This includes collection of information concerning current consumer conceptions of contentious inputs (using surveys and citizen juries), establishment of a comprehensive database of key stakeholders throughout Europe and coordination of dissemination activities. All workpackages feed into WP MODEL where scenarios for the phasing out of contentious inputs from organic agriculture are designed. This includes environmental and sustainability assessments of the proposed alternatives using a variety of life cycle assessment tools. The WP LEAD coordinates the project, ensuring transparent and participatory communication flow across workpackages and among the multi-actor stakeholders but also with business and policy actors in the organic and non-organic food and farming sector in the EU and globally. The creation of the International Scientific Advisory Board and the European Industry advisory boards maximises impact to industry and policy development.
The results of the project are disseminated through a variety of different mechanisms, including peer-reviewed academic journal articles, trade and farmer-facing publications, social media, on-farm events, demonstration and training activities, conferences and policy workshops.