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”.