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.