On 25th November, Organic-PLUS partners Coventry University and the RHS visited Melcourt Industries, a major UK manufacturer of peat-free growing media. Melcourt has been producing growing media blends for both commercial and domestic users for over 20 years, with bark and wood fibre from UK forestry being the primary constituents. A number of their products are approved for use in organic systems and are in high demand.
Together with representatives from our associated partner Garden Organic, we were able to see the processing and packing of Melcourt’s peat-free growing media at their site near Tetbury. We met with Technical Director Catherine Dawson and Technical Manager Victoria Wright who showed us round the facility and took the time to explain their business, the wider issues about peat replacements and the introduction of the Responsible Sourcing and Manufacturing of Growing Media Calculator. This is a tool developed by the Growing Media Association and Horticulture Trades Association in the UK and it will be used form spring 2022 to score the responsible sourcing credentials of all bulky ingredients in growing media, providing point of sale information to UK gardeners.
Although the extraction of peat for use in growing media is highly contentious (due to habitat loss/degradation, CO2 emissions and increasing flood risk), it is still a primary ingredient in many mixes used by organic growers across Europe. In the UK, there is now a government deadline to end sales of peat to domestic gardeners by 2024 and momentum is building for a complete ban. Organic-PLUS would like to see the organic movement to phase out the use of peat in organic horticulture from its standards across Europe before they are overtaken by national legislations.
Organic-PLUS led a workshop examining the contentious use of peat, non-organic fertility sources and their alternatives. Of the 38 organic producers in the workshop, 37 said they were already peat-free but they still highlighted future research needs such as the requirement for peat-free media that has properties suitable for ‘blocking’ (growing in blocks of growing media without plastic module trays).
As part of Organic-PLUS and theFOOdIVERSE project, Principal Investigator Ulrich Schmutz and the Soil Association’s Hugh Blogg presented the Robust Potato Pledge, encouraging the wider use and promotion of potato cultivars bred to be resistant to diseases such blight (thus reducing pesticide use).
In recent years, there has been significant growth in organic livestock farming (Table 1.), but the amount or research into organic systems has not kept pace with this. The growth of organic along with forthcoming new regulations, motivated Organic-PLUS to produce a description of the current situation and explore the future needs of organic livestock farming in Europe. This was done by way of an online survey of farmers’ concerns around: medication administration, vitamin supplementation, bedding materials and the marketing of their products.
The online survey was conducted among organic livestock farmers in 13 European countries (7 EU, 4 non-EU) and included 426 participants (Figure 1). Characteristics of the participants and their farms represented a broad cross-section of the European organic livestock sector (Figure 2). Results showed that feeding/nutrition, animal health and welfare were the issues seen as most relevant, yet, for farmers transitioning to organic farming systems, production costs, access to the organic market and animal health were most important.
In terms of the use of alternatives to ‘contentious inputs’ (antibiotics, antiparasitics and bedding from non-organic sources), farmers reported some difficulties in finding information, particularly for alternatives to antiparasitic and antibiotic treatments. Farmers reported that the use of alternative therapies depended on the health issue and 64% of the organic farmers did not treat their animals in the last year. The three main sources of information on alternative treatments were through veterinarians, other farmers and the internet. Despite the increasing popularity of using plant extracts to promote health (phytotherapy), conventional treatments are still the predominant form of therapy.
This summer, Dr Dennis Touliatos of Coventry University has been visiting and interviewing vegan organic growers (sometimes known as ‘veganic’ or ‘stock free’) across the UK as part of the Organic-PLUS team’s efforts to identify pathways to phase out contentious inputs from organic horticulture. In organic certified systems, the use of animal manure from non-organic (but not intensive) farms is currently permitted which raises issues such as the potential to import pesticide residues. In addition, the use of any livestock-derived inputs is not compatible with vegan organic principles.
Vegan organic growers use a range of plant-based approaches (e.g. legumes, green manures and compost) to build soil fertility. As well as removing animal-derived fertility, these approaches often negate the need for external inputs altogether.
Dennis will put the data gathered during his interviews intoRISE, a modelling software used by agronomists to assess the economic, social and environmental sustainability of agricultural production at the farm level. As part of WP6 Model, the RISE methodology will be used to assess the potential and practicalities of vegan organic horticulture, and will compare it to other organic and conventional growing systems.
On 25th of May 2021, the University of Padova (UNIPD) and the University of Parma (UNIPR) organised a webinar to present the first results of several trials conducted at UNIPD, UNIPR, and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). After overviews of the wider Organic-PLUS project from Dr. Sara Burbi of Coventry University (CU) and of the Livestock workpackage from Dr. Massimo De Marchi (UNIPD), a range of results were discussed, including: outcomes of the survey of organic livestock producers across 13 European countries, from in-vitro studies with natural antioxidants and antiparasitics, the differences in milk composition between organic and conventional farming systems, and from research on NMR technologies to discriminate organic from conventional milk.
More than 70 producers, consumers and researchers attended the webinar, which was conducted in Italian. The event was also recorded and is available to view here.
Organic-PLUS partner NORSØK has produced a report describing a pot experiment to study the effects of a liquid organic fertiliser containing clopyralid on plant growth. Tests crops were pea (Pisum sativum L.) and tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.), and the study was conducted in spring 2020 by NORSØK at its research farm in Tingvoll.
The report describes the effects of using fertilisers (and other inputs such as growing media) containing undesirable compounds (e.g., herbicide residues) on plant growth. Initially, the report gives a brief overview of how clopyralid and aminopyralid affect plant growth, and at which concentration levels these compounds may be harmful to sensitive crops. The full report (in Norwegian only) is available here but the key points are included in this summary.
Liquid fertilisers made from the sugar industry by-product vinasse have been under discussion for several years, e.g., in the US and UK, and more recently also in Scandinavia. Several professional and hobby growers have reported negative effects on plant growth after application of commercial organic liquid fertilisers. Chemical analyses in different countries have detected residues of herbicides in several cases.
The study presented here was developed in collaboration with the Norwegian Agricultural Extension Service (NLR) and the pesticide laboratory at the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO). Using peas and tomatoes as test crops, a pot experiment was conducted with a nutrient-poor seedling soil. To this soil, various concentrations of an organic liquid fertiliser product made from vinasse and containing clopyralid were applied, with liquid mineral fertiliser as a control. The liquid organic fertiliser impacted plant growth significantly. The lowest applied concentration (1 % of liquid fertiliser) resulted in elongated pea plants with a low dry matter content. The tomato plants developed significantly fewer buds and flowers, and the fruits that developed did not contain normally developed seeds. At higher fertiliser concentrations, pea and tomato plants were strongly impacted or died off. The concentration of clopyralid in the fertiliser was 0,48 mg per litre. The study demonstrated a clear correlation between the application of fertiliser containing clopyralid and plant damage in pea and tomato plants.
Clopyralid is an active substance in several herbicide formulations, and is applied in, e.g., sugar beets. Recently, the EU Commission added additional risk assessment criteria to be used in the evaluation and approval of herbicides containing clopyralid. Utilising plant waste for new purposes, e.g., in fertilisers, is good bioeconomy practice. Hence, the decision of the EU Commission is an important step towards reducing problems related to the presence of clopyralid in soil, compost and organic fertilisers. This is crucial for certified organic growers, who are often dependent on commercial fertilisers.
Liquid organic fertilisers are challenging to analyse because they contain a multitude of organic compounds. NIBIO has developed an analysis to detect aminopyralid and clopyralid with a limit of detection of 2 µg per kg soil or compost, and 7 µg per kg of organic fertilisers. This limit is above the threshold concentration for negative impact on plant growth for several sensitive crops. Analytical methods and bioassays must be developed to ensure that growers who depend on liquid fertiliser products can apply them without any risk of crop damage.
The study was supported by the Horizon 2020 project “Pathways to phase-out contentious inputs from organic agriculture in Europe (Organic-PLUS)”, GA 774340 (2018-2022).
RISE (Reponse-Inducing Sustainability Evaluation) is an international software-based evaluation tool used to assess the sustainability of farms in terms of economic, social and environmental factors. It requires in-depth interviews with farmers and can have an important advisory purpose. Once information is fed into RISE, an action plan is made by the farm advisor and farmer, usually with a time scheme for certain dedicated management changes to improve the sustainability of the farm. Contentious inputs that could have a negative impact on the environment, farmers’ health, product quality, animal welfare (or any other of the 10 themes that are assessed in RISE) will have a negative influence on the score given.
RISE is a holistic tool, validating all themes and parameters in one evaluation, meaning that it is possible to see the influence of individual indicators on the whole system. Farm are incredibly complex; it is not possible to isolate an individual issue and think this is not a part of the whole. Therefore, RISE is an important tool, which gives farmers a good overview of what is working well and what could be improved. To make an analysis will typically cost the farmer 2000 euros, which can of course be a barrier. However, since 2016, more than 300 farmers in Denmark have been through the process, as sustainability, (environmental, social and economic) is important for both them and their customers.
The Organic-PLUS project is using RISE assessments in a number of countries as part of its development and evaluation of alternatives to contentious inputs in organic agriculture. One particular example we are examining is the use of animal manures from non-organic farms for crop fertilisation, with vegan organic (veganic) cultivation methods proposed as an alternative. Dennis Touliatos from UK partner Coventry University will carry out RISE interviews with veganic farmers in England to test and validate the proposed methodologies. It will be interesting to see how the socio-economic and ecological outcomes of the RISE models of veganic farms will compare with traditional organic practice.
To prevent and control late blight (Phytophthora infestans) and early blight (Alternaria spp.) in organic potatoes, Aarhus University (AU) developed an existing early warning system for conventional potatoes to include organic potatoes. The system includes a disease surveillance system using smartphones and a GIS-based dashboard to display data, early genotyping of pathogen population to know the “enemy”, a decisions support system (DSS) to estimate the favorability of the weather for infection and thus recommend fungicide application only when necessary. The systems also includes monitoring of stability, type and level of resistance in the cultivars.
Initially, the Organic-PLUS potato group identified three scenarios for phasing out copper (Fig. 1). Although copper is not allowed in Denmark, these scenarios offers a robust approach towards achieving a strong organic potato sector. A prominent component in the three scenarios (Fig. 1) is the use of resistant cultivars. Host resistance can be an extremely effective means of controlling both late and early blight as it is ‘built-in’ to the crop for the duration of the season. Currently, there are a good number of resistant starch potato cultivars and new but more resistant waxy potato cultivars are on their way to the market, which will offer organic growers an effective means of managing late blight without relying on copper. Previous studies have shown that R-genes deployed in resistant cultivars, particularly against P. infestans, can be ephemeral, owing to the ability of P. infestans to rapidly evolve to break the R-genes. Protecting the R-genes via the application of products/compounds that can suppress infection is vital for prolonging the effectiveness of R-genes. Alternative products are available for organic growers and the use of a DSS can enable optimal use of these products. Modern DSSs make use of precision agriculture technologies as indicated for Scenario 3.
The potato group at the Swedish Agricultural University (SLU) and AU have tested a wide range of biological control agents (BCAs) with a direct effect on the pathogens, plant resistance inducers and bio-stimulants that strengthen plant vigor. Generally, these products provide effective control against late and early blight under controlled conditions (e.g. greenhouse, lab) but not under field conditions.
A wide range of products (Fig. 2) were tested against late blight under field conditions at AU, Flakkebjerg during the 2019 and 2020 growing seasons. Generally, the weather in 2019 was more favorable for late blight than 2020. We also carried out artificial inoculation in 2019 but not in 2020, thus creating a higher inoculum pressure in 2019 compared to 2020. In 2019, only the phosphite-based product (Resistim 0-7-11) had a significant effect on late blight control compared to untreated potatoes. Only 4 of 11 treatments obtained a mean control effect higher than untreated in 2019. In 2020, 8 of the treatments obtained a higher effect than the untreated control, Resistim 0-7-11 and Kumulus S, 25% higher AUDPC than the untreated control (Fig. 2). The key message from these experiments is that infection pressure is very important when assessing the effect of the alternative products. The efficacy (late blight control) of the products were generally higher under low infection pressure (2020) than under high infection pressure (2019) (Fig. 2). The recommendation is to adopt sanitation measures (e.g. healthy and disease-free seed potatoes, crop rotation) to reduce local primary inoculum sources. In 2021, we will continue the test of alternatives as well as using our adapted DSS to time the application of those that are most promising. Better timing according to the risk of infection is supposed to increase the effect against disease development. The next step will be to test a combination of compounds with different modes of action and combine this with the knowledge of the host type and level of resistance.
As research is ongoing to identity effective products which control disease and are tenable in organic production, the need for an effective early warning system and DSS will be important ensure they are used correctly. We developed a smartphone App and its associated surveillance dashboard to identify both early blight and late blight outbreaks in their initial stages. Over 50 registered users from the extension, breeding, industry and research sectors upload data to the Dashboard and the farming community can follow the onset and severity of late and early blight as well the cultivars affected in different regions. This information is crucial in deciding when and how to start a preventive use of either fungicides or any biological product (Fig. 3). Attribute data and photos are available and as such, this tool is valuable as a learning tool as well.
For testing the DSS in field experiments, we developed a simple interactive user interface where the technical people running the trials have access to the trial plan, specific trials, selection of weather data to use, model output to display etc. Simple horizontal bars indicate for each day if the risk of infection is zero (green), low (yellow), medium (orange) or high (red). After a spray, the protection period is indicated for each treatment with a green bar. This approach was initially developed for use in conventional potatoes and with dynamic dosages of traditional fungicides, but it will be adapted and tested with alternatives that have different modes of action in 2021 in Denmark and in 2022 in both Denmark and Sweden. The DSS includes several model components for both late blight and early blight, aiming towards the integrated prevention and control of both diseases.
Host resistance is key for successful management of late and early blight.
The tested alternatives to copper are more effective under low disease and infection pressure.
We have developed a robust and integrated system for early warning and forecasting of the infection pressure of late and early blight.
The new system is pivotal our quest to optimise the efficacy of alternatives to copper.
Jens G. Hansen & Isaac K. Abuley, Aarhus University
On Thursday 15th April 2021, the University of Thessaly organised an on-farm meeting for researchers, technicians, advisors and stakeholders at their greenhouse facilities at Velestino, Greece. Here they presented work on the development of a web-based Decision Support System (DSS) for the control of Botrytis disease on greenhouse tomato crops.
Participants had the opportunity to find out about this alternative approach to indirectly control Botrytis disease, employing new technologies for disease control in greenhouses. The development of Botrytis has been correlated to the microclimate conditions surrounding the crop. The concept of the system is to estimate in advance the risk for disease development, using web-based software to predict microclimate conditions in the near future that favour the disease. Then, the DSS advises greenhouse managers and growers to take action to alter the conditions to avoid development of the disease or if absolutely necessary, to apply the proper permitted plant protection products. In this way, using preventive farm management methods, growers can reduce the number of fungicide applications and production costs, without compromising disease control or yields.
Participants greatly enjoyed their visit to the high-tech greenhouses of the University of Thessaly at Velestino, Greece, where they experienced the setup of the DSS system under development. They were able to find out about the sensors and weather stations collecting and uploading microclimate data to the software, and were given a real time presentation of the DSS operating online in greenhouses with hydroponically cultivated tomatoes.
On Thursday 11th March 2021, researchers from the University of Catania (UNICT) presented the results of trials carried out in the Pedagaggi Sicilian citrus orchards. The results of trials with organic products as alternative to copper were presented to stakeholders, including technicians, advisors, organic producers, representatives of biotech companies and organic farmers. The UNICT research team demonstrated the positive results of the alternative products against emerging fungal pathogens (Colletotrichum spp. and Alternaria spp.) in citrus orchard located in Pedagaggi (Syracuse province).
Biological alternative products (chitosan, Equisetum, sweet orange essential oils and their mixtures) showed effective reduction of disease incidence comparable to copper compounds. Participants shared their experiences and questions in the use of alternative products in integrated and organic citrus farming systems. The participants greatly appreciated the visit to the field which allowed them to “practically” verify the results of the experiments in the citrus groves of Tarocco cv. Scirè.
To minimise the use of copper fungicides in greenhouse tomatoes, Organic-PLUS partner the University of Thessaly in Greece is working to develop a web-based Decision Support System (DSS). By closely monitoring and simulating the environmental parameters within the greenhouse, such as humidity and leaf temperature, the DSS can predict in advance when conditions conducive to the development of Botrytis disease will occur. This early warning gives the grower vital information and opportunity to make the necessary decisions.
The development of Botrytis has been shown to correlate strongly with the microclimate surrounding the crop. By closely monitoring environmental aspects such as humidity in the immediate vicinity of the plants, it is possible to identify the onset of conditions that are conducive to the disease and take preventative action such as improving airflow. Only if such prevention management actions fail should biological or chemical measures like copper fungicide be used to control Botrytis cinerea. By reducing the number of applications, the DSS can reduce production costs and environmental impact of tomato production without compromising disease control or yield.
The innovative part of this work, is that estimates, in advance, the risk for disease development using modelling and data available from previous studies. The DSS simulates the likely greenhouse microclimate conditions in the near future, taking into account: the outside weather forecast, the greenhouse energy and vapor balance, the greenhouse control concept and methodology, the climate control equipment and the greenhouse climate set points set by the grower. Based on the predictions for the health of the crop in the next 5 days (diagram below), the DSS will propose actions that the grower can take such as climate control adjustments to prevent fungi development before resorting to the use of crop protection products.
An effective DSS can be incorporated into disease management plans, enabling greenhouse managers and growers to easily access comprehensive information that will help them decide the best course of action; they will have the opportunity to modify the greenhouse environment before resorting to plant protection products.
In order to test and assess the effectiveness of the DSS system being developed, greenhouse climate monitoring stations have been created at two test sites from which they upload their data to the specially developed software. One of these is at a high-specification greenhouse growing hydroponically cultivated tomatoes and cucumbers at the University of Thessaly in Valestino, Greece. The second has been installed at Organic-PLUS partner, the Food and Agricultural Research and Training Institute (IFAPA) in Almeria, Spain; conditions here are somewhat different with crops growing in the soil, as they would in an organically certified setting. As the Organic-PLUS project progresses, there will be more dissemination events and information published about this DSS.
Nikolaos Katsoulas and Dimitrios Antoniadis of UTH and Jens Grønbech Hansen of AU.
On 1st and 2nd of June 2021, the XIX ITEA-AIDA meeting on Animal Production took place in the form of a virtual meeting due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Researchers from Organic-PLUS presented some of the latest results from WP4 (livestock) within the session ‘Calidad de los Productos I’ ‘Product Quality’. The work was titled ‘Autenticación de leche ecológica mediante espectroscopía infraroja’, ‘Authentication of organic milk using infrared spectroscopy’ and it is possible to view the presentation here.
Dr. Carmen L. Manuelian from the University of Padova, Italy (pictured above) delivered the presentation. She explained that preliminary results from this study reveal the difficulties in discriminating organic from conventional milk using infrared technologies, when samples are from the same breed and other management conditions are also similar.
Citation: Manuelian CL, Vania V, De Marchi M. 2021. Autenticación de leche ecológica mediante espectroscopía infrarroja. In: XIX Jornadas sobre Producción Animal. Asociación Interprofesional para el Desarrollo Agrario. Vol. 1: 213 (ISBN: 978-84-09-30674-9).
Organic-PLUS’s MODEL workpackage (WP6) is dedicated to assessing the environmental impacts of both contentious inputs and their potential replacements; we want to ensure that any alternative inputs or practices really do improve organic. One way we are doing this is the use of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) tools.
LCA is an internationally recognised way of conducting environmental quantifications (recognised by the UN Environment Programme and European Commission). There are, however, several criticisms that could be made when LCA is applied to organic production systems – in particular, areas such as biodiversity which are not wholly accounted for. Being aware of its potential but also of the limitations, it has been the ambition of Organic-PLUS to take advantage of the holistic vision of LCA; meaning the inclusion of the whole production chain from cradle to farm gate and multi-criteria environmental indicators and also to improve the methodology to make LCA more suitable for assessing organic production systems.
Based on information collected from Organic-PLUS partners across Europe, researchers at Catalonian partner, the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) have conducted environmental assessments of: aubergine (Turkey), lemons (Sicily), tomatoes (Spain), olives (Greece) poultry (Poland), lamb (Norway) and pigs (Denmark). Using these examples as reference scenarios, the team used LCA methodology to compare contentious inputs with potential alternatives.
On 11th May 2021, IRTA hosted a webinar for 28 attendees from across the Organic-PLUS partners. IRTA presented the environmental assessments already conducted, the results obtained, highlighted the methodological problems and sought feedback on how to advance the environmental assessment of organic production systems.
The first half of the webinar provided a brief description of LCA methodology, showing two examples of the case studies conducted: Sicilian organic citrus production and Norwegian organic sheep production. In the second part, three specific presentations were made and highlighted the main methodological limitations that had been found: lack of suitable datasets, dealing with the toxicity assessment of inorganic substances and biodiversity indicators. This work has resulted in advancements in some of these weaker areas and has highlighted areas where further research is needed.
Some very interesting discussions took place during the session – the table below summarises the most important points discussed/commented on, including answers and actions required. It can be concluded that there are clear benefits to the LCA method in terms of comparisons and hotspot analysis, but due to the complexity of assessing environmental questions, more research is needed to adapt it to organic production. In particular, more work is needed on biodiversity indicators and terrestrial ecotoxicity impacts.
Veterinarian and Ph.D. candidate Berit Marie Blomstrand at Norwegian Centre for Organic Agriculture (NORSØK) is working reducing the use of anthelmintics in sheep. In an interview with Norwegian radio station NRK she speaks about her research to test whether bark extracts from Norway spruce can help controlling the parasite burden in lambs. Lambs infected with coccidia (Eimeria) were treated with extracts from spruce bark, and although not all samples had been analysed at the time of the interview, the preliminary results were promising and cause for great optimism. Maybe we can help animals controlling the parasite burden by using bark in the future?
Researchers and stakeholders active in two European H2020 projects, RELACS and Organic-PLUS came together for a webinar on 8th April to share lessons learned from project activities since 2018. The main areas examined were: reducing the use of copper and mineral oils for plant protection, animal-derived fertilisers from conventional farming, peat in growing media and fossil fuel-derived plastics. The webinar was primarily for people active in the projects, to facilitate open discussion about experiences and outcomes.
Organic agriculture is receiving increased attention with high expectations of its ability to contribute to improve biodiversity and reduce the negative environmental impacts of farming across Europe. The two ongoing Horizon 2020 projects funded by the European Commission aim to strengthen the abilities of organic agriculture in achieving these ambitious goals, by phasing out the use of contentious inputs which are not completely in line with the organic principles of health, ecology, fairness and care.
Copper is used in most European countries as a plant protection product on a wide range of horticultural crops. While being a naturally occurring element, it can accumulate in the soil and in high concentrations is toxic to soil and aquatic organisms. Both projects are developing promising alternatives such as plant extracts and decision support systems (DSS) which can significantly reduce the need for applications. To replace mineral oils, a promising alternative is to confuse pest insects using sound.
Conventional animal manure and other animal-derived fertiliser products may be applied to organic soils, but this places organic agriculture in a difficult position being dependent on conventional inputs. The RELACS project has studied the input of fertilisers to various organic farming systems across Europe and found that over time, there is often a reduction in the contents of phosphorus and potassium in the soil. Organic-PLUS have trialled a range of fertiliser alternatives, from household-waste based anaerobic digestates to seaweeds and various legume-based fertilisers. Recycled materials such as green waste compost may also provide a substantial source of nutrients, therefore RELACS has studied the safety aspect of recycled fertilisers, such as the occurrence of potentially toxic elements (e.g., copper, zinc and cadmium). It was concluded that in general, the risks are no higher than with animal manure, but that achieving balanced fertiliser applications over a whole cropping system is challenging with recycled fertilisers and needs adapted planning tools. This should allow us to identify regional needs for additional nutrient sources, especially in view of growing areas under organic production. In addition to soil fertility, Organic-PLUS has also worked with wood fibres and composts as alternatives to peat in growing media and is developing and examining potato starch-based degradable plastic films for mulching as well as the potential of on-farm derived mulches.
More than 50 participants joined the event, which included a lot of interesting presentations and discussions. This exchange will continue as the two projects evolve.
On 24th February, the University of Hohenheim shared results from Organic-PLUS trials exploring the use of clover based products and waste materials as fertiliser. The research focuses on stockless organic farming systems and was presented in a web-based seminar of the German project KleeLuzPlus. About 180 participants, mainly farmers and advisors, partcipated in the online seminar where they shared their experiences and asked questions on the use of alternative fertilisers in arable organic farming systems. We will be sharing more details of this work as the project progresses.
The results of our survey conducted among organic farmers in Spain has recently been published in an indexed, peer-reviewed journal. The paper entitled ‘Partial characterization of the Spanish organic livestock sector and current problems’, shows the results of the online survey where 116 farmers participated. Regarding the use of contentious inputs, participants indicated that it is more difficult to find information about the use of alternatives to antibiotics, antiparasitics and synthetic vitamins, than to find information for animals’ bedding; although, they mostly use straw as bedding material. In conclusion, despite production costs being important when deciding to become an organic farmer, the main concerns of organic producers were related to animal health and welfare. Moreover, there is still scarce use of alternative treatments such as phytotherapy and homeopathy, as well as additives such as the probiotics.
Manuelian CL, Albanell E, Such X, De Marchi M (en prensa). Caracterización parcial del sector ganadero ecológico español y problemática actual. ITEA‑Información Técnica Económica Agraria. Vol. xx: 1-25.
Professor Massimo Di Marchi of Organic-PLUS partner University of Padua has featured in the Italian magazine, Platinum. The article focuses on the work of the Universities of Padua and Parma to reduce contentious inputs for livestock such as anthelmintics and non-organic bedding. Read the full article here.
Dr Alev Kir from Organic-PLUS partner MFAL (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Turkey) has received an award from the General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Policies in recognition of her research. Alev came in the top 10 of 2,100 researchers within the 48 Institutes under the Ministry – this is the second consecutive year that she has received the award which will be issued in a ceremony next month. Her contribution to Organic-PLUS is most valued.
On 22nd January, Coventry University researchers presented, “Doing research during a pandemic” using the example of Organic-PLUS, as part of a research event at Coventry University. The presentation covered what measures have been taken within the project to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, including: WP1 LEAD – how the co-ordination has had to adapt to cope with the pandemic, WP2 IMPACT – the switch from physical citizen juries to ‘digital hybrid forums’ where citizen-consumers and farmers (hence hybrid) are combined in a jury or ‘citizen-farmer competence group’ (for further detail see: www.improvingorganic.life) and WP5 SOIL – how field experiments and work with Innovative Farmers was adapted.
All sides can be viewed here: O+ Research during a pandemic Jan-2021.pdf
On Tuesday 8th December, ABioDoc-VetAgro Sup presented research from the Organic-PLUS project to more than sixty organic farming stakeholders in France (advisers, agricultural development stakeholders, etc). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this presentation was made in the form of a webinar organised as part of the professional fair “La Terre est Notre Métier” (“The Earth is Our Profession”, a French national organic agriculture event).
Sophie Valleix and Héloïse Bugaut (from ABioDoc-VetAgro Sup) presented work carried out within the framework of WP5 (soil), WP3 (plant) and some actions carried out in WP2 (impact), in particular those which quantify consumers’ expectations with regard to organic products and controversial inputs (all actions in which ABioDoc-VetAgro Sup has participated). This presentation prompted questions and discussions about the future of organic farming, and in particular the need to make organic food systems more faithful to organic principles. View the presentation (French language) here.
On 2nd December, Organic-PLUS project partners in Catalonia (IRTA and Escola Agrària de Manresa) co-organised a virtual seminar on “Km 0 growing media” along with Belloch Forestal nurseries. The objective of this seminar was to present the results of two projects.
The Operational Group project lead by Belloch Forestal (Production and Use of km 0 growing media) presented the production of compost based on forest by-products, taking into account gas emissions during composting and an environmental assessment approach. Trials of such products in containerised trees were then discussed.
Escola Agrària de Manresa then presented early results from the Organic-PLUS project focusing on peat replacement; these experiments include the use of peat alternatives under organic conditions (two kinds of compost and several compost blends including extruded plant material) which were compared to a treatment containing peat.
On Tuesday 6th October, researchers from Coventry University’sOrganic-PLUS team facilitated an open discussion at the UK’s Northern Real Farming Conference. The session ‘Alternatives to contentious inputs in organic horticulture’ was attended by growers, consumers and academics from across the country but primarily from the north of England and Scotland.
Contentious inputs include peat in growing media, plastic for mulching, fertilisers derived from non-organic production and overall, the dependence on off-farm inputs. Although these issues are widely known, contentious inputs are often used because there is a lack of alternatives, or because they are more expensive. The participants were concerned about contentious inputs in organic systems and discussions focused on the use of plastic in horticulture i.e. for pots and mulching as well as for packaging, the availability of reliable peat-free alternatives and contaminants such as aminopyralid herbicide in animal manures.
Overall, participants were in favour of systems approaches; where inputs could be sourced locally or on-farm and emphasised the imperative for effective intersectoral cooperation. The session was a great opportunity to exchange ideas and insights, learn from each other and explore contentious inputs in organic horticulture as well as the implications of phasing them out. To find out more, there is a more comprehensive summary of the discussion on the Northern Real Farming Conference website.
Would you like to contribute your knowledge and experience to the future of sustainable food production in this country and the rest of Europe?
Organic-PLUS is running a series of joint farmer and consumer sessions with the aim of enabling engagement between experts in the practicalities of food consumption and production, and bringing the voices of these crucial but under-heard groups to bear at the policy level. Through discussions, presentations, creative engagement and group exercises, farmers and consumers will work together over 6 two-hour sessions to explore perceptions of organic, feed into the Organic-PLUS project and add their voices to the future development of organic food in Europe.
Group sessions will be held online between 6 and 8pm on Wednesday evenings from 4/11/2020 to 16/12/2020 and all participants will be compensated £200 for their involvement.
If you are interested in taking part, please fill in this short recruitment survey. It should take no more than 5 minutes and you will be sent an organic chocolate bar as a thank you.
(These sessions are for UK farmers/consumers but we will be running future sessions in Italy and Norway).
Through their work together on the Organic-PLUS project, several of our partners have collaborated to write a new paper published in the journal “Organic Agriculture”. The paper maps the current use of the contentious inputs: copper, sulphur and mineral oils which are applied for plant protection in organic horticultural production.
Data on the use of such inputs is currently scarce, so the information was compiled by consulting expert knowledge such as horticultural advisers and farm managers across 10 European countries. Findings include the wide use of copper in citrus, olive, tomato and potato production; that mineral oils are commonly applied to control scale insect, mites and whitefly; sulphur is also commonly used by organic vegetable growers, particularly in greenhouses. The paper is available to all as an open-access documenthere.
Researchers from our PLANT and SOIL workpackages will be hosting a webinar on Wednesday 21st October2020. Participants will have the opportunity to see a number of presentations of interim results from our Europe-wide research.
A full programme is available here and attendees need to register via this link by Thursday 15th October.
The PLANT workpackage is investigating alternatives to copper fungicide and mineral oils in organic plant production. The SOIL workpackage is researching alternative materials and methods to replace plastic film mulches, peat growing media and the use of animal manure from non-organic farms. We look forward to seeing you on the day!
The Organic-PLUS and RELACS projects teamed up with IAHA and several EU-Core Organic projects to share results on organic livestock research. The proceedings (111 pages) of the IAHA Video-Conference on Organic Animal Husbandry, held 21. and 22. September 2020 (linked to the 20th Organic World Congress of IFOAM – now in 2021) are found here: Otto Schmid, Marion Johnson, Mette Vaarst, Barbara Früh (Eds.) (2020) Organic Animal Husbandry systems – challenges, performance and potentials. Proceedings of the IAHA Video-Conference.
EU-Projects under Horizon 2020 Programme Organic-PLUS – Pathways to phase-out contentious inputs from organic agriculture in Europe http://www.organic-plus.net Contact: Ulrich Schmutz, Coventry University, UK, firstname.lastname@example.org
RELACS – ‘Replacement of Contentious Inputs in Organic Farming Systems’, https://relacs-project.eu Contact: Lucius Tamm, FiBL, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, CH, email@example.com
As well as trialling alternatives to plastic film mulch, we are working with and providing technical support to farmers who are conducting their own trials of alternative materials and methods. Organic-PLUS partners Coventry University and Soil Association in the UK, are working with the Innovative Farmers scheme which is open to both organic and non-organic farmers, encouraging them to come together to solve common problems.
On 2nd July 2020, Judith Conroy, Organic-PLUS project manager and researcher in the project’s SOIL workpackage visited grower Ben Coode Adams at Coggeshall Hall Farm in Essex, South-East England. Ben is a participant in the Innovative Farmers’ Alternatives to Plastic Film Mulch field lab and planted hundreds of blackcurrant cuttings in the spring through a variety of mulches. It was the day before harvest was due to start, but today’s job was to assess the young plants: heights, percentage weed cover and number of losses were the main measurements recorded.
Mulches being trialled by Ben include a biodegradable film and chipped wood from the farm (some newly chipped and some left for 1 year before use) as well as an unmulched control. It will be interesting to see the results and we are particularly excited to see how the fresh and 1 year old chipped woods perform as on-site sourced farm ‘systems solutions’ to replace plastic mulch.
Also at the farm were the Soil Association’s Dan Iles and Rebecca Swinn, making a film about the Innovative Farmers programme and the benefits of collaboration between researchers and farmers – we look forward to sharing the film once it is complete.
Organic-PLUS seeks to phase-out the use of fertilisers derived from non-organic livestock systems. Hugh Blogg from project partner the Soil Association visited Tree of Life Veganics, an organic farm free of all animal inputs; a model which is proving its resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You can read Hugh’s account of the farm which features as an Organic-PLUS case study here. In the wider Organic-PLUS project, we are investigating the use of both vegan-organic fertility sources and alternative materials that would otherwise go to waste such as fish pond sediments in Poland and marine waste in Norway. The work on vegan-organic fertilisers focuses on plant-derived feeds that could be grown on-farm, contributing to more self sustaining farming systems. These include Russian comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum), nettle (Urtica dioica) and legume meal which are being used to feed polytunnel tomatoes at Coventry University – updates will follow as this trial progresses over summer 2020.
Two new deliveries are available on the Organic-PLUS website: www.organic-plus.net/resources/deliverables. They are researching very different solutions for organic livestock and organic horticulture, but have a common thread researching bio-economy, based-plant products as alternatives to currently used contentious inputs.
The livestock research is aimed at phasing out antibiotics, antiparasitics and synthetic vitamins and comprised of trials on: (1) essential oils and nature identical compounds testing as antimicrobials, (2) plant extract testing as antiparasitic, and (3) chemical analysis of essential oils, essential oils active compounds and antioxidant/immunostimulants.
The research for horticulture is aimed at phasing out peat as growing media in horticulture and comprised of trials testing extruded ligoncellulosic materials from across Europe (e.g. from agroforestry, forests or orchards) for their suitability as fibres in peat substitutes especially to replace lighter materials still added to wood-based peat compost like vermiculite (a mined product mostly imported from the USA, Brazil, South-Africa and China; today mines are regularly tested for asbestos contamination and the USA/Montana mine at Libby with asbestos contamination has been closed in the 1990s). More on on-farm wood-based compost see this Grower videos: Wood innovation to phase-out peat.
On April 3rd 2020, as a result of work conducted within the Organic-PLUS project, the review article ‘Organic livestock production: a bibliometric review’ was published in the peer-reviewed academic journal ‘Animals’. Led by Dr Carmen L. Manuelian from O+ parter University of Padova, the review presents a bibliometric approach to organic livestock production and provides an overview of the research conducted on this topic. It highlights tendencies, identifies the countries involved in organic livestock production research and the scientific interaction between countries and authors, and maps the keywords of the published papers. These are all important aspects to bear in mind when embarking upon a new research area or writing a research proposal.
The review reveals an increasing interest in organic livestock production, which can be scientifically measured by the number of projects funded by governmental organisations and the number of published papers. Countries with a long-tradition in organic farming (German-speaking and English-speaking countries, and France) are still the predominant countries in organic livestock research. Collaborations among countries are still scarce, and probably triggered by geographical and historical relationships and languages. Some limitations of the search (e.g. database used, keywords, software for the analysis, language of the documents) and metadata linked to the documents (e.g. type of document, total citations) have to be accounted for when interpreting the results. Therefore, a bibliometric review is an interesting and reliable method when approaching a specific topic for the first time.
‘Animals’ is a peer-reviewed open access journal (ISSN 2076-2615; Q1 journal in the category ‘Agriculture, Dairy & Animal Science’) and the paper is open access and free to view here – www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/10/4/618.
Although, Organic-PLUS works mainly with commercial organic farmers and growers, plastic mulch is also a big issue for home gardens and allotments, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic to increase resilience in food supply. A big plastic-mulch citizen science experiment in the UK has just started in April 2020.
Organic-PLUS Associated Partner Garden Organic has done Members’ Experiments ever since the founder Lawrence Hills initiated them 60 years ago, and this year more than 300 gardens and allotments across the UK are taking part. The ‘Alternatives to plastic mulch experiment’ designed by Dr Anton Rosenfeld (Garden Organic, Members’ Experiments Coordinator) uses 50 onion sets and 5 treatments: 1. control – no mulch, 2. woven plastic mulch, 3. biodegradable mulch, 4. paper mulch and 5. own much choice (grass clippings in this case). It is not replicated on one site, but rather on 300 locations where soil and climate conditions are known from the postcodes of the members. Regular data recording (growth, pests, weeds, time input, yields, condition of mulch) will happen during the season.
Our 2020 Consortium Meeting and AGA (Annual General Assembly of the project) were scheduled to take place in Volos, Greece but as the impact and necessary restrictions due to COVID-19 became apparent, we had to change our plans. As a large project comprising 25 institutions in 12 countries, we are all familiar with video conferencing, but this is usually in much smaller groups of around 10 people. In the past few weeks, we have all been adapting to new, remote ways of working and after only minor teething problems, 49 individual people were able to participate in the day.
The main topic of the AGA was the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our work. We are hoping that much of our field work can continue and are considering contingencies for those operations that are more affected such as access to laboratories.
During the Consortium Meeting, each of our Work Packages updated the rest of the project on their progress (presentations were shared beforehand, allowing more time for discussion on the day). As the work of Organic-PLUS advances, collaboration between the Work Packages is increasingly important – a large part of our work is to ensure that any inputs or methods we are investigating are genuine alternatives to the contentious inputs they are designed to replace in terms of: environmental impact, practicality and cost.
Although the online meeting was more cumbersome than a face to face gathering, we were able to communicate more effectively than most of us had expected and had a very productive day.
Organic-PLUS researchers at Coventry University in the UK recently hosted a second meeting of the Innovative Farmers group concerned with phasing out the use of plastic mulches. During the session, Dr Francis Rayns and Judith Conroy discussed with growers what data they would like to collect and the practicalities of conducting field trials in the 2020 growing season.
These farmer-led trials will be complementary to the work of Organic-PLUS which is investigating alternatives to the fossil-fuel derived plastic sheeting widely used in crop production to suppress weeds. A diverse range of growers are participating in the trial of alternatives which include biodegradable films and loose mulches such as chipped wood. Working alongside farmers in this way also provides the opportunity to discover any issues with the alternatives and investigate any barriers to their uptake, which is an important aspect of Organic-PLUS.
Having reached the 18 month milestone, the Organic-PLUS executive board attended a review meeting at the EU Commission’s Research Executive Agency in Brussels on 16th January 2020. The meeting was an opportunity to showcase the work of the project so far and look ahead to what is still to come.
The following day, the team enjoyed a very interesting session organised by Gregg Jones (Director of Coventry University’s Brussels office). First reflecting on the work of Organic-PLUS facilitated by the LIAISON project team (Jekaterina Markow and Susanne von Münchhausen, www.LIAISON2020.eu) who are examining interactions between researchers and actors in agriculture. We then looked forward to future research opportunities in the new 100 billion ‘Horizon Europe’ programme, together with Hans-Joerg Lutzeyer (Senior Research Policy Officer at DG Research & Innovation, Unit C2 Bioeconomy and Food Systems at the European Commission), and Jon Brookes (European Adviser, UK Research Office, UKRO).
The Organic-PLUS team of the Danish Agriculture and Food Council (Landbrug & Fødevarer) has been investigating the use of plant extracts which could be used in place of zinc to ensure that piglets do not develop diarrhoea. Following trials, the team has decided to switch their focus to creating a checklist on how to manage weaned piglets without zinc and antibiotics.
A test group of lactating sows, suckling pigs and weaned pigs had the plant extract phenol included in their feed at a rate of 0.2 % (as recommended by the producer). The weaned pigs were not given zinc. Phenol is an anti-infective compound which in this case was derived from pine trees. It was hoped that it would eliminate the need for supplementation of the diet with zinc.
In a control group, lactating sows, suckling pigs and weaned pigs did not have any phenol included in their feed. The weaned pigs were fed a high level of zinc (2500 mg/kg).
The pigs in the test group developed diarrhoea after one week, so it was necessary to give them zinc again. Tove Serup, project manager of the test explains, “this result demonstrates that phenol, in this particular instance, could not replace zinc as a remedy for diarrhoea in weaned piglets.” As an alternative, the Danish team is now developing a checklist to ensure weaned piglets are cared for in a way that does not require zinc or antibiotics. “We doubt that we can find one single product that will solve the problem of diarrhoea in weaned piglets. The solution, rather, is to implement a number of management initiatives, particularly those that ensure piglets do not become stressed during weaning”.
A big part of our work on Organic-PLUS is to aid dialogue between scientists, farmers, other stakeholders and members of the public about contentious inputs in organic agriculture. In December 2019, Coventry University’s Organic-PLUS team (project manager Judith Conroy, project coordinator Ulrich Schmutz, workpackage 2 lead Adrian Evans and Researcher Rosa van Kesteren) attended a seminar on involving citizens in deliberative processes at Oslo Met University. The seminar was organised by Gunnar Vittersø and Hanne Torjusen (Consumption Research Norway-SIFO and Organic-PLUS partner) and was funded by an additional grant from the Norwegian Research Council.
Coventry University’s presentation concerned citizen juries: Enhancing our understanding of animal welfare and organic farming through science-society dialogues.
Further presentations were: Cathrine Hasse, Aarhus University: Reeler Outreach: Minipublics Simon Burall, The Involve Foundation: The UK experience of deliberative processes Virginie Amilien, Consumption Research Norway (SIFO): Hybrid Forums Erik Thorstensen, Work Research Institute (AFI): Engaging Older Adults through World Cafés. Pål Strandbakken & Harald-Throne Holst, Consumption Research Norway (SIFO): 3rd Generation Deliberations
After the presentations, there was a “world café” – a session where participants from different projects shared a range of learning experiences. The following day, this led to some very constructive and lively conversations, shaping the future of our citizen jury research on contentious inputs within the Organic-PLUS project: in Norway, the United Kingdom and Italy.
On 18th September Organic-PLUS partner the Soil Association ran a workshop to examine the future of growing potatoes in the UK following uncertainty around the reauthorisation of copper-based fungicide Cuprokylt. The sell-out event was attended by a wide range of stakeholders, indicative of significant interest in the topic. The first half of the workshop comprised a series of presentations examining key areas. The Soil Association gave an overview of the legislative background, providing insight on how the current lack of copper authorisation arose. A variety of solution-based talks followed including: examining blight-resistant potatoes from Agrico, biostimulant opportunities from Itaka, hands on experience of growing copper free with host Joe Rolfe and an insight into Organic-PLUS which aims to phase out contentious inputs in organic agriculture such as copper.
The workshop culminated in an open discussion road-mapping possible future pathways in the copper debate. Opinions were divided with some growers preferring temporary licensing as a priority. The majority, however, strongly supported working quickly towards managing without copper. Four key actions were identified – 1) growers seeking temporary licensing should approach AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board); 2) the Soil Association’s Innovative Farmers scheme will collaborate with AHDB in setting up field trials to investigate potential solutions; 3) more needs to be done with retailers and packers to improve the market for blight-resistant varieties; 4) participants were invited to be involved in a working group to progress this important issue.
To find out more about the next steps, visit the Soil Association’s news feed and for more information on agroecological approaches to tackling potato blight read here.
Organic-PLUS partner ABioDoc (Le Centre National de Ressouces en Agriculture Biologique) manages a database called Biobase which specialises in French publications relating to organic agriculture. Through the Organic-PLUS project, ABioDoc has collaborated with Organic eprints the international open access archive, to document and translate titles of publications concerned with alternatives to contentious inputs in organic farming into the English language. We are pleased that through this collaboration important work in French will now also be available to a wider audience in English.
There are 7 detailed PDF-documents (more then 200 pages together) available for download with recent research and knowledge on alternatives to: 1 COPPER, 2 PEST CONTROL, 3 MASTITIS ANTIBIOTICS, 4 ANIMAL HEALTH, 5 BEDDING, 6 PEAT and 7 PLASTIC MULCHING. The documents are also found in the ‘Resources’ section of the Organic-PLUS website under ‘ABioDoc French Documents’ www.organic-plus.net/abiodoc-french-documents.
On 4th October, Judith Conroy and Dr Francis Rayns of Organic-PLUS partner Coventry University attended a meeting organised by the University of Glasgow to address the use of ‘Plastics In Agricultural Settings’ (PIAS) in the UK. Organic-PLUS is focusing on potential replacements for the fossil-fuel derived film mulches used by many organic growers but it is important that we consider the full extent of plastic use in agriculture, for example: silage tarp, twine, plant labels and clips, tree guards etc. so we will be interested to see how this work engaging growers, manufacturers, government bodies, academics and NGOs develops.
The Catania team presented again at the 5th International Conference on Microbial Diversity (MD2019) in Catania, Italy, from 25th-27th September 2019. In the poster, “Evaluation of the efficacy of biocontrol agents and cardoon plant extracts to contain green mold of citrus fruit”, promising results from the first 20 months of the Organic-PLUS project were presented.
Members of the public were able to see the ongoing work of Organic-PLUS and other projects in the greenhouse facilities of the University of Thessaly, Greece on 18th September 2019. The Open Access Day was part of the pan-European communication campaign Europe in My Region 2019 (#EUinMyRegion). Associate Professor, Nikolaos Katsoulas, (director of the Laboratory of Agricultural Constructions and Environmental Control) and his colleagues guided visitors through the facilities including a new pilot greenhouse.
A variety of farmers, researchers, professionals, teachers and other interested people attended. There was an emphasis on farm diversification within the framework of the circular economy and the benefits of sharing good practice to encourage networking and dialogue.
The farm is in the Valestino area, near the national road which runs from Athens to Thessaloniki and covers an area of 25 ha serving the research and educational needs of the members of the Department of Agriculture. A significant area of about 0.35 ha are covered by greenhouses.
Czestochowa University of Technology (CUT), our consortium partner in Poland has now launched a Polish language Organic-PLUS website. After talking to farmers and growers, it emerged that there was the need for a resource that explained the project and the activities of the CUT team in the local language. To follow the project in Polish, you can visit https://organic-plus.is.pcz.pl/pl/o-projekcie-organic.
There were several short presentations on topics including the overall use of plastics in agriculture/horticulture and Organic-PLUS’s 2019 field trials – Francis Rayns and Judith Conroy have been working alongside 5 Acre Community Farm, trialing a number of mulch films including: two fossil fuel derived plastics, two biodegradable films currently available to growers and two novel materials developed by project partner the Częstochowa University of Technology. As well as measuring the effectiveness of the mulches and subsequent yield, soil samples are being analysed to find out whether substances such as phthalates have leached from the mulches.
The day concluded with a tour of 5 Acre Community Farm to see the Organic-PLUS onion and cabbage trial plots, and to find out more about 5 Acre’s experiences of using biodegradable mulch films over the past few years. There will be a further Innovative Farmers meeting in the next few weeks which it is hoped will lead to on-farm trials in 2020.
Danuta’s poster “Potentials of fish pond sediment composts as organic fertiliser” was very well received, coming 3rd out of 202 posters that were presented. As this research progresses, we will making our findings available by producing reports, articles and by publishing scientific papers.
From 26th-30th August 2019, the 70th Annual Meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP) took place in Ghent, Belgium. The EAAP is one of the largest animal science congresses in the world and the main theme of this year’s meeting was “animal farming for a healthy world”. Dr Mauro Penasa (of DAFNAE, University of Padova) presented the poster “Organic livestock farming contentious inputs in France: preliminary results”, which summarised the initial findings of the French part of the recent Europe-wide livestock Organic-PLUS livestock survey conducted in France by the Organic-PLUS livestock team.
One of the primary aims of Organic-PLUS’s IMPACT work package (WP2), is to explore citizens’ views and concerns about organic agriculture. In the first half of this year, six focus groups were carried out in the UK, Italy and Norway. Within each country we undertook one focus group of regular consumers of organic food and another group consisting of less frequent consumers of organic food. Topics addressed within the focus groups included shopping and eating habits, understandings and definitions of organic, impressions of different organic foods and an evaluation of the importance of the various contentious inputs within organic agriculture (including the use of copper, antibiotics and plastics).
During the sessions, participants also received a 20 minute presentation from a natural scientist explaining the different contentious issues in more detail so that they were able to make more informed decisions. Initial results show that participants identified a far broader range of ‘contentious’ issues than those currently addressed by Organic-PLUS (e.g. issues of seasonality, over-commercialisation of organic, labour conditions). Of the specific contentious inputs identified by the project, focus group participants believed that antibiotic use, plastic mulches and the use of mineral oils were the most pressing to address, although many felt that all the issues were similarly important. Results from the focus group are now being used to help inform the design of a questionnaire of 14,000 respondents across 7 European countries.
As part of the Horizon 2020 project Organic-PLUS, the Laboratory of Agricultural Constructions and Environmental Control of the University of Thessaly, is organising an open day for the public. The event will take place at the University’s experimental farm in Velestino, on 18th September 2019 from 10:00am to 15:00pm.
There will also be the opportunity to visit the Innovative Greenhouse, including a presentation of the new pilot greenhouse of the Laboratory of Agricultural Constructions and Environmental Control of the University of Thessaly, where most of the above mentioned projects are implemented.
The Open Access Day (OPEN DAY) event is part of the pan-European communication campaign Europe in My Region 2019 (#EUinMyRegion).
The Organic-PLUS (O+) livestock team presented first results from the project as posters on on two international conferences one at the ASPA 2019 (Sorrento, Italy) lead by Dr. Mauro Penasa (DAFNAE, University of Padova) on ‘Organic livestock production: a bibliometric analysis’ (first picture below). www.aspasorrento2019.org/index.php/sorrento
The second poster was presented at the ADSA 2019 (Cincinnati, Ohio, USA) by Dr. Carmen L. Manuelian (DAFNAE, University of Padova) on ‘Survey about the use of allopathic treatments and sources of information for organic livestock farms in France’. Dr. Luciana da Costa from Ohio State University is also shown as she has cooperated with the O+ team on the livestock survey (second picture below). www.adsa.org/Meetings/2019-Annual-Meeting
At NORSØK (Norwegian Centre for Organic Agriculture) in Tingvoll, Norway, two Organic-PLUS field trials recently featured prominently on Norwegian television (www.tv.nrk.no):
The first trial is examining the effects of treating seed potatoes and potato leaves with ozone (O3)water to reduce infection of late blight. Ozone is highly toxic to fungal spores and bacteria, but then rapidly decomposes to oxygen (O2). Norwegian regional television visited the trail (31-05-2019) and reported on the ongoing research work; Please click this link to watch.
The second trial studies the effect of marine fertilisers. Fish bones and residues of seaweed (extracted for production of commercial fertiliser) are used alone or in combination, and compared with dried poultry manure. Early results indicate that fish bones result in more rapid plant growth than manure and a positive effect is observed when combining it with seaweed residues. Norwegian regional television visited the trail (24-06-2019) and broadcast the following report; Please click this link to watch.
Wednesday 26thJune – Arrival day 18.00 City walk. Meet at Aarhus Central Station (rail) in front of the main entrance towards the town. 19.00 Dinner at the organic restaurant, Langhoff & Juul in Aarhus.
Thursday 27thJune 8:00 Arrival and coffee at SEGES Agro Food Park, AFP 15
In May 2019, Dr Ulrich Schmutz represented Organic-PLUS at the 4th World Agroforestry Congress in Montpellier, France – the first time this congress has been held in Europe. The congress has put Agroforestry firmly on the map, in Europe and the EU. New areas were explored such as the link between Agroforestry and Agroecology, and the idea of using only certified organic methods within Agroforestry. The contribution of Agroforestry to achieving ‘Drawdown’ (the capture of greenhouse gas pollutants from the atmosphere) was a major part of the keynote discussions.
Significantly at the congress, the Montpellier Declaration was passed stating: “we, the 1200 delegates from 100 countries, agree that the massive degradation of our world’s biodiversity documented in the recent IPBES report is principally due to poor agricultural practices. Agroforestry offers a key solution to remedy the situation…” Read the full document here.
Organic grower Iain Tolhurst (Tolly) phased out the use of peat on his vegetable farm several years ago. Here, he talks to the Organic-PLUS team about the growing media he produces from on-farm from wood waste, fulfilling all of his plant propagation requirements (clip 18 on the Organic-PLUS playlist).
Organic-PLUS team members Dr Stéphane Bellon (INRA, France) and Dr Ulrich Schmutz (Coventry University, UK) brought critical input to the discussion, reflecting on the research results of long-term farming system comparisons (organic versus conventional) in Kenya, India, Bolivia, Ghana and Uganda. A major part of the discussion was around modelling scenarios to radically change food and farming systems based on a recent Nature paper by FiBL’s Muller et al. “Strategies for feeding the world more sustainably with organic agriculture”.
Scaling-up agroecology from the perspective of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (Carolina Starr) and EU parliament (Maria Heubuch, MEP) was another focus. One conclusion was that 100% organic could comfortably feed the world in a 2050 ‘peak population’ scenario and contribute more to SDGs than current systems. However, besides major social and political challenges there are still multiple research needs such as achieving full yield potential in organic systems and fulfilling the world’s fuel and fibre needs in a bio-economy (globally, non-organic cotton accounts for 16% of all insecticide use despite comprising just 2.4% of the total cultivated area).
Dr Francis Rayns of Coventry University’s CAWR attended the Annual General Meeting of the Organic Growers Alliance (OGA), on 16th and 17th March 2019 . The OGA is a network of growers, farmers and horticulturists across the UK, and an associate partner of Organic-PLUS. The OGA organises regular events concerned with practical organic fruit and vegetable production, and publishes a quarterly organic horticultural journal. In the Organic-PLUS project we are collaborating with several OGA members and disseminating our findings via their networks. The meeting was held at Rhos Market Garden in Knighton on the Welsh side of the England/Wales border and included a farm tour which focused on polytunnel production and discussion around the use of contentious inputs.
The English Organic Forum (EOF) has opened a new chapter by discussing its Terms of Reference at a meeting at the Soil Association‘s Bristol headquarters on Friday 15th March 2019. There was consensus on all issues discussed, with Garden Organic voted interim-secretary organisation for 2019 and Dr Christopher Stopes (former IFOAM EU President) the interim-chair. It is hoped that with the new terms of reference, the public voice of the Organic Movement in Englandwill be significantly strengthened.
Membership of the English Organic Forum is open to organisations and individuals with an interest in and experience of organic food, farming and growing. Organic-PLUS partner Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilienceis a member.
On Friday, 8th March Coventry University held its second focus group investigating perceptions of contentious inputs in organic agriculture. This time it was a selection of people who are already committed organic consumers. There was lively discussion and in addition to antibiotics and plastic (which were previously raised as concerns by a mixed consumer group), the role of supermarkets and perceptions of organic as a ‘fashion trend’ were scrutinised. With similar focus groups in Norway and Italy also underway we hope to gain a more detailed picture of perceptions of contentious inputs on which to base a larger Europe-wide survey.
Innovative technique: wooden studs inoculated with Trichoderma fungi to suppress pathogens.
“In this EIP Operational Group, we want to test the antagonistic activity of Trichoderma fungal species, applying in pruning wounds as usual, but also through its inoculation in the base of the trunk. The aim is to demonstrate the efficiency of this innovative practice. The test field for our Operational Group is located at the Godeval Winery in Xagoaza, Galicia. José Luis Bartolomé from the Godeval Winery tells us: “The inoculation of these fungi by wooden studs sounded a very promising technique for us. Due to the fact that this technique was earlier tested in our winery and because of the experience that we already had, it was a logical choice to continue this research in our winery.”
Biocyclic vegan agriculture is a form of organic farming that uses only plant-based inputs. Since November 2017, the Biocyclic Vegan Standard has been available worldwide as a global standard for vegan organic farming accredited by IFOAM. This is in-line with Organic-PLUS’s aim to phase-out the use of conventional (non-organic) manure in organic systems. Biocyclic vegan agriculture does, however, permit fertility sources from conventionally raised plants. For example, fertiliser derived from conventional sugar-beet waste.
On Wednesday 12th December 2018, Sustain(‘the alliance for better food and farming’), which is an associate partner of Organic-PLUS, met for their AGM and Annual Gathering at the Canal Museum, King’s Cross, London. Dr Ulrich Schmutz and Judith Conroy represented Organic-PLUS and also the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, whose membership was officially ratified at the meeting.
Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, to improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture, and promote equity. The alliance represents around 100 national public interest organisations working at international, national, regional and local level.
The conference attracts a wide range of delegates including farmers, researchers and retailers, so we took the opportunity to speak to people and collect their views on contentious inputs such as copper fungicides, peat and plastic mulches as well as the potential alternatives.
The ‘Organic Innovation Days’ events have become a late November tradition, aiming to inform and grow networks between stakeholders in the organic sector. This year, Anne-Kristin Løes (NORSØK, Norway) and Alev Kir (MFAL, Turkey) both partners in Organic-PLUS attended.
Arranged by TP Organics, the event was held in Brussels, 27th – 29th November 2018 and incorporated the Global Sustainable Technology & Innovation Conferences (G-STIC). The work of Organic-PLUS and its sister project RELACS was highlighted a number of times in connection to reducing the use of contentious inputs such as copper in organic growing. Christian Huyghe, Scientific Director of INRA, France gave an enthusiastic lecture about post-pesticide agriculture, including the phase-out of those pesticides currently permitted in organic growing.
For the G-STIC event, agroecology as a driver for increased sustainability was the main headline. A range of success stories from around the world were presented, but with no mention of organic standards, certification, labeling or marketing as a route for realising agroecology in practice. Agroecology is a reminder to organic farming that we could make much better provision for biodiversity; for example, with new approaches to crop rotation (strip cropping has been tested with great success in the Netherlands). Though scientists involved in agroecology appreciate the practical efforts of the organic sector, there is still significant resistance to certified organic farming on the political side.
Organic-PLUS was represented at ICA2018, the 12th International Conference on Agrophysics: Soil, Plant & Climate in Lublin, Poland 17th – 19th September. Krystyna Malińska of Czestochowa University of technology and our SOIL workpackage delivered the keynote lecture on biochar and presented Organic-PLUS to the scientific community.
Also at the conference, Krystyna and colleague Danuta Dróżdż displayed a poster on “Fish pond sediment from aquaculture production – current practices and potentials for nutrient recovery” which has been submitted to the journal International Agrophysics as a review paper and is part of Organic-PLUS’s investigations of bioeconomy fertilisers.
The two sister EU-Horizon 2020 projects RELACS and Organic-PLUS organised a joined session and workshop at the 6th International Conference on Organic Agriculture Sciences (ICOAS 2018) held at the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria from 7 – 9 November 2018.
The presentations were followed by three parallel 30-min break-out groups to discuss contentions inputs in organic livestock, organic plant protection and organic soil/fertility management (peat, plastic and fertilisers). The project collected valuable feedback from the organic research experts community at the conference.
Thank you – to everyone at the workshop for the contributions made to the lively discussion on contentious inputs in organic agriculture!
Since the first Biocontrol Symposium in Darmstadt, Germany in 2005, these conferences have become a great opportunity to meet and discuss the latest research results and developments in the biological control of bacterial plant diseases. Biocontrol 2019 will focus on the main scientific, technical and political aspects relating to the management of the most serious bacterial plant diseases occurring worldwide.
Chaired by Prof. Giorgio M. Balestra, the symposium will provide researchers, students and professionals a chance to meet, exchange ideas and develop common activities in a warm and friendly environment. For more information, visit the Biocontrol 2019 website.
Organic-PLUS participated in the XIII Congress of the Spanish Society of Organic Agriculture (Sociedad Española de Agricultura Ecológica, SEAE) that took place in Logroño, La Rioja, Spain, from 14-17 November 2018. Dr Sara Burbi from Coventry University was invited to give a presentation about the project and engage with producers, policy-makers and NGOs that attend SEAE congresses. The event included workshops, roundtables, presentations and poster sessions. Organic-PLUS was included in the session on participatory work to highlight the transdisciplinarity of the project and present early results.
Copper use was considered one of the most contentious inputs by the audience, followed by antibiotics and antiparasitics use in livestock production.
The event was a good opportunity to engage with a variety of stakeholders, primarily from Spain, but also from France, Italy and delegations from Chile, Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, as several Latin American countries are embracing organic principles and aim to further promote sustainable farming practices, in particular, adopting the agroecological framework. Agroecology and organic principles held an important role in the congress, which focused on climate change, as well as the proposed changes to the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
During the conference, the state of play under the old EU regulation 1107/2009 and the re-approval of copper as active substance was discussed from the policy and industry perspective. In addition, the EU copper minimisation strategy for organic crops was presented and discussed.
For the Organic-PLUS project WP Plant leader Prof Dr Nikolaos Katsoulas from University of Thessaly, Greece and Lucas Knebl from Forschungsring e.V. Germany participated and presented the project to the IFOAM Conference.
The picture below shows Nikos together with the RELACS Co-ordinator Dr Lucius Tamm.
Calling all organic livestock farmers across Europe… the Organic-PLUS survey for mapping contentious inputs in organic livestock farming is now online and we are keen to hear from you.
Please click the link in your language to find further explanation and instructions. For other countries (e.g. Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Greece…) please use the English version. In the English survey version you can use the auto-translate option to narrow down the meaning, but it is not a perfect translation.
Dr Adrian Evans and Dr Ulrich Schmutz visited two research partners of Organic-PLUS in Norway. Firstly, NORSOK the Organic Research Centre and Organic Garden (see picture of garden) for Norway in Tingvoll on the Norwegian Fjord coast south of Trondheim. Secondly, in central Oslo the Consumer Research Institute (SIFO) at HIOA, University College of Applied Sciences in Oslo and Akerhus.
Both gave presentations on CAWR and the Organic-PLUS project at the two locations and exchanged ideas about research with a non-EU member country. It was interesting to find out how a non-EU country relates to EU regulation, e.g. the EU organic farming legislation. Within the next 4 years, the Organic-PLUS project will further investigate this. In addition, the research led by our partner SIFO is into understanding organic consumer attitudes to contentious inputs like peat, antibiotics and synthetic vitamins. But also asking now new diet trends, like Nordvegans, might affect organic consumption.
At the 30th International Horticulture Congress (12-16 August 2018, Istanbul, Turkey) organised by International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) Agroecology as a science got a big boost!
The 2nd International Symposium on “Organic Horticulture for Wellbeing of the Environment and Population” was held with a large audience. In addition, aShort Training Course on Organic Agriculture was hosted; a workshop onthe discussion of Soil and Soilless Organic Production Systems, and a workshop on Agroecology and Education: Socio-ecological Resilience to Climate Change. Prof. Dr Uygun Aksoy (Chair of the Scientific Committee of ISHS, and working for ETO a consortium partner within Organic-PLUS) organised them and helped to get agroecology science a bigger role in international horticulture research. With the election of Prof. Dr Yüksel Tüzel as next ISHS president the society has now a leader with deep understanding of organic horticulture.
To add to the growing role the current commission on ‘Organic Horticulture’ will be expanded and renamed ‘Agroecology and Organic Farming Systems’ (this is still within horticultural science) and more working groups on organic vegetables, organic temperate and tropical fruit and agroecology will be added to the existing working groups to respond to the rising academic and practical interest in this work.
Speakers at the Agroecology workshop are shown above (Left to right): Prof. Reza Ardakani (Iran), Dr. Ulrich Schmutz (United Kingdom), Prof. Beatrix Alsanius (Sweden), Prof. Martine Dorais (Canada), Prof. Uygun Aksoy (Turkey) and Prof. Maria Claudia Dussi (Argentina).
The Organic Research Centre (ORC) have joined the consortium of Organic-PLUS, the €4.1m CAWR-led EU Horizon 2020 project to phase out contentious inputs from organic agriculture led by Dr Ulrich Schmutz. The ORC is an independent research organisation for the development of organic and agroecological food production and land management approaches. As part of Organic-PLUS, ORC will be working on alternatives to synthetically derived vitamins and antibiotics given to livestock and also on replacements for the non-organic animal bedding often used in organic systems. A participatory research design with UK organic dairy farmers will be used.
Below Researchers from Organic-PLUS partners Coventry University (CU) and the Organic Research Centre – Elm Farm (ORC), enjoying the autumn sunshine at a recent meeting at Elm Farm.
In June 2018, the Organic-PLUS project held a successful 3-day kick-off meeting in Padova. 45 participants attended from across Europe (Norway to Turkey) as well as members of the international advisory board from America, Africa and Asia. It was a fruitful three days where we came together to put the project into action, meeting as a group and also in smaller clusters for more specific discussion.
Our partners from the University of Padova organised farm visits including an organic dairy farm, producing Parmigiano cheese and a vegan organic vineyard.