Reducing parasites in sheep

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?

(The interview is in Norwegian -19 minutes 12 seconds in.)

RELACS and Organic-PLUS collaborate to reduce contentious inputs

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.

Some of the webinar participants in the ‘conference hall’!

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.

Clover as a source of fertility in stockless organic systems

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.

Trial of cabbage crop with different treatments including clover pellets and wastes such as tofu whey

New paper about organic livestock farming in Spain

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.

A summary of the paper is available in Spanish and in English.

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.

Organic-PLUS partner recognised for research contribution

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.

Alev’s previous certificate – she will receive her latest award in March 2021

Biofach India 31-Oct-2020

Organic-PLUS co-ordinator Ulrich Schmutz presented the project “Phasing out contentious inputs from agriculture in Europe – and beyond?”  during Biofach INDIA’s  International Science Conference on “Organic Farming Research, Technologies and Extension”,  31 October 2020.
You can download the conference proceedings here:
International Science Conference Biofach-India 31-10-20.pdf
and follow the online presentation or the full session now using these video links: (presentation) and (full session).

Online presentation – willingness to pay for Zero-Copper products

Presentation to advisers and stakeholders in France

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.

Organic-PLUS in Catalonia: webinar on peat alternatives

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. 

Northern Real Farming Conference

On Tuesday 6th October, researchers from Coventry University’s Organic-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.

Farmers Wanted!

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).

New Organic-PLUS paper in the journal, Organic Agriculture

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 document here.

Copper is frequently used in organic tomato production

Organic-PLUS webinar, 21st October 2020

Researchers from our PLANT and SOIL workpackages will be hosting a webinar on Wednesday 21st October 2020. 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!

Ground preparation for our alternative mulch trials in Turkey

Organic Animal Husbandry systems – challenges, performance and potentials (IAHA)

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.

Main organisers with contact persons 

IFOAM Animal Husbandry Alliance (IAHA)
Contact: Otto Schmid, Chair of IFOAM Animal Husbandry Alliance,  

FiBL Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (Switzerland)
Contact: Barbara Früh 

ITAB & INRA (France) as Organic World Congress organisers
Contact: Frédéric Rey 

EU-Core Organic Projects
Project GrazyDaiSy – Dairy cattle meet their natural needs through grazing, dam-rearing and health support 
Contact: Mette Vaarst, project coordinator GrazyDaiSy, DK, 

Project ProYoungStock – Promoting young stock and cow health and welfare by natural feeding systems, Contacts: Anet Spengler and Anna Bieber, FiBL, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, CH,, 

Project MIX-ENABLE – MIXEd livestock farming for improved sustaiNABiLity and robustnEss of organic livestock
Contacts: Guillaume Martin INRA, France, , Marc Benoit INRA, France, 

Project POWER – Power to strengthen welfare and resilience in organic pig pro-duction 
Contact: Anne Grete Kongsted, Aarhus University, Denmark, 

EU-Projects under Horizon 2020 Programme
Organic-PLUS – Pathways to phase-out contentious inputs from organic agriculture in Europe
Contact: Ulrich Schmutz, Coventry University, UK, 

RELACS – ‘Replacement of Contentious Inputs in Organic Farming Systems’,
Contact: Lucius Tamm, FiBL, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, CH, 


Working with farmers to phase out plastic mulch

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.

Ben Coode Adams taking measurements of young blackcurrant plants

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.

Blackcurrant cuttings grown through chipped wood

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.

Vegan-organic growing and the COVID-19 pandemic

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.

Tree of Life Veganics, Kent, UK

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.

Our 2020 Consortium Meeting and Annual General Assembly

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.

2020 online consortium meeting 1-4-20
To save bandwidth, we minimised our use of video but we had a quick “hello!”

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 project review meeting in Brussels

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.

Group photo Brussels Jan 2020
Organic-PLUS executive board at the European Commission check-in: Claus Aage Grøn Sørensen (WP6, Denmark), Ulrich Schmutz (PI WP1, UK), Adrian Evans (WP2, UK), Judith Conroy (PM, UK) Massimo de Marchi (WP4, Italy), Anne-Kristin Løes (WP5, Norway) and Nikolaos Katsoulas (WP3, Greece).

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, 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).

Danish livestock team works to reduce antibiotics and zinc for pigs

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”.

Seminar on involving citizens in deliberative processes

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.

Adrian in Norway.jpg
Adrian Evans presenting on citizen jury research

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.

Organic-PLUS brings together European organic databases

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’


Biobase org eprints

Aarhus, Denmark 2nd O+ Consortium meeting

The second Organic-PLUS (O+) consortium meeting and annual general assembly is held in Aarhus, Denmark from Thursday 27th  to Friday 28th June 2019.

Venue: SEGES, Agro Food Park 15, 8200 Aarhus, Denmark and the nearby
Horisont conference centre.

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

Please download full programme here:

O+ Aarhus Denmark 27-28 June 2019 programme.pdf

Horisont conference centre (

2018 UK Organic Congress

On 15th-16th November, the 2018 UK Organic Congress took place in Rugby, UK, close to Ryton Organic Gardens, the home of Organic-PLUS’s lead, the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resiliance (CAWR).  As well as researchers from CAWR, the conference was attended by other UK partners the Organic Research Centre, Soil Association and Royal Horticultural Society.


The O+ box
Collecting views of contentious inputs in the Organic-PLUS box

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.

Our kick-off meeting in Padova

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.


Kick off meeting Padova hosted by WP4 LIVESTOCK
Kick off Organic+ FINAL PROGRAM1