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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.