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.
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.
A big part of our work on Organic-PLUS is to aid dialogue between scientists, farmers, other stakeholders and members of the public about contentious inputs in organic agriculture. In December 2019, Coventry University’s Organic-PLUS team (project manager Judith Conroy, project coordinator Ulrich Schmutz, workpackage 2 lead Adrian Evans and Researcher Rosa van Kesteren) attended a seminar on involving citizens in deliberative processes at Oslo Met University. The seminar was organised by Gunnar Vittersø and Hanne Torjusen (Consumption Research Norway-SIFO and Organic-PLUS partner) and was funded by an additional grant from the Norwegian Research Council.
Coventry University’s presentation concerned citizen juries: Enhancing our understanding of animal welfare and organic farming through science-society dialogues.
Further presentations were: Cathrine Hasse, Aarhus University: Reeler Outreach: Minipublics Simon Burall, The Involve Foundation: The UK experience of deliberative processes Virginie Amilien, Consumption Research Norway (SIFO): Hybrid Forums Erik Thorstensen, Work Research Institute (AFI): Engaging Older Adults through World Cafés. Pål Strandbakken & Harald-Throne Holst, Consumption Research Norway (SIFO): 3rd Generation Deliberations
After the presentations, there was a “world café” – a session where participants from different projects shared a range of learning experiences. The following day, this led to some very constructive and lively conversations, shaping the future of our citizen jury research on contentious inputs within the Organic-PLUS project: in Norway, the United Kingdom and Italy.
On 18th September Organic-PLUS partner the Soil Association ran a workshop to examine the future of growing potatoes in the UK following uncertainty around the reauthorisation of copper-based fungicide Cuprokylt. The sell-out event was attended by a wide range of stakeholders, indicative of significant interest in the topic. The first half of the workshop comprised a series of presentations examining key areas. The Soil Association gave an overview of the legislative background, providing insight on how the current lack of copper authorisation arose. A variety of solution-based talks followed including: examining blight-resistant potatoes from Agrico, biostimulant opportunities from Itaka, hands on experience of growing copper free with host Joe Rolfe and an insight into Organic-PLUS which aims to phase out contentious inputs in organic agriculture such as copper.
The workshop culminated in an open discussion road-mapping possible future pathways in the copper debate. Opinions were divided with some growers preferring temporary licensing as a priority. The majority, however, strongly supported working quickly towards managing without copper. Four key actions were identified – 1) growers seeking temporary licensing should approach AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board); 2) the Soil Association’s Innovative Farmers scheme will collaborate with AHDB in setting up field trials to investigate potential solutions; 3) more needs to be done with retailers and packers to improve the market for blight-resistant varieties; 4) participants were invited to be involved in a working group to progress this important issue.
To find out more about the next steps, visit the Soil Association’s news feed and for more information on agroecological approaches to tackling potato blight read here.
On 4th October, Judith Conroy and Dr Francis Rayns of Organic-PLUS partner Coventry University attended a meeting organised by the University of Glasgow to address the use of ‘Plastics In Agricultural Settings’ (PIAS) in the UK. Organic-PLUS is focusing on potential replacements for the fossil-fuel derived film mulches used by many organic growers but it is important that we consider the full extent of plastic use in agriculture, for example: silage tarp, twine, plant labels and clips, tree guards etc. so we will be interested to see how this work engaging growers, manufacturers, government bodies, academics and NGOs develops.
The Catania team presented again at the 5th International Conference on Microbial Diversity (MD2019) in Catania, Italy, from 25th-27th September 2019. In the poster, “Evaluation of the efficacy of biocontrol agents and cardoon plant extracts to contain green mold of citrus fruit”, promising results from the first 20 months of the Organic-PLUS project were presented.
Members of the public were able to see the ongoing work of Organic-PLUS and other projects in the greenhouse facilities of the University of Thessaly, Greece on 18th September 2019. The Open Access Day was part of the pan-European communication campaign Europe in My Region 2019 (#EUinMyRegion). Associate Professor, Nikolaos Katsoulas, (director of the Laboratory of Agricultural Constructions and Environmental Control) and his colleagues guided visitors through the facilities including a new pilot greenhouse.
A variety of farmers, researchers, professionals, teachers and other interested people attended. There was an emphasis on farm diversification within the framework of the circular economy and the benefits of sharing good practice to encourage networking and dialogue.
The farm is in the Valestino area, near the national road which runs from Athens to Thessaloniki and covers an area of 25 ha serving the research and educational needs of the members of the Department of Agriculture. A significant area of about 0.35 ha are covered by greenhouses.
Czestochowa University of Technology (CUT), our consortium partner in Poland has now launched a Polish language Organic-PLUS website. After talking to farmers and growers, it emerged that there was the need for a resource that explained the project and the activities of the CUT team in the local language. To follow the project in Polish, you can visit https://organic-plus.is.pcz.pl/pl/o-projekcie-organic.
There were several short presentations on topics including the overall use of plastics in agriculture/horticulture and Organic-PLUS’s 2019 field trials – Francis Rayns and Judith Conroy have been working alongside 5 Acre Community Farm, trialing a number of mulch films including: two fossil fuel derived plastics, two biodegradable films currently available to growers and two novel materials developed by project partner the Częstochowa University of Technology. As well as measuring the effectiveness of the mulches and subsequent yield, soil samples are being analysed to find out whether substances such as phthalates have leached from the mulches.
The day concluded with a tour of 5 Acre Community Farm to see the Organic-PLUS onion and cabbage trial plots, and to find out more about 5 Acre’s experiences of using biodegradable mulch films over the past few years. There will be a further Innovative Farmers meeting in the next few weeks which it is hoped will lead to on-farm trials in 2020.
Danuta’s poster “Potentials of fish pond sediment composts as organic fertiliser” was very well received, coming 3rd out of 202 posters that were presented. As this research progresses, we will making our findings available by producing reports, articles and by publishing scientific papers.
From 26th-30th August 2019, the 70th Annual Meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP) took place in Ghent, Belgium. The EAAP is one of the largest animal science congresses in the world and the main theme of this year’s meeting was “animal farming for a healthy world”. Dr Mauro Penasa (of DAFNAE, University of Padova) presented the poster “Organic livestock farming contentious inputs in France: preliminary results”, which summarised the initial findings of the French part of the recent Europe-wide livestock Organic-PLUS livestock survey conducted in France by the Organic-PLUS livestock team.
One of the primary aims of Organic-PLUS’s IMPACT work package (WP2), is to explore citizens’ views and concerns about organic agriculture. In the first half of this year, six focus groups were carried out in the UK, Italy and Norway. Within each country we undertook one focus group of regular consumers of organic food and another group consisting of less frequent consumers of organic food. Topics addressed within the focus groups included shopping and eating habits, understandings and definitions of organic, impressions of different organic foods and an evaluation of the importance of the various contentious inputs within organic agriculture (including the use of copper, antibiotics and plastics).
During the sessions, participants also received a 20 minute presentation from a natural scientist explaining the different contentious issues in more detail so that they were able to make more informed decisions. Initial results show that participants identified a far broader range of ‘contentious’ issues than those currently addressed by Organic-PLUS (e.g. issues of seasonality, over-commercialisation of organic, labour conditions). Of the specific contentious inputs identified by the project, focus group participants believed that antibiotic use, plastic mulches and the use of mineral oils were the most pressing to address, although many felt that all the issues were similarly important. Results from the focus group are now being used to help inform the design of a questionnaire of 14,000 respondents across 7 European countries.
As part of the Horizon 2020 project Organic-PLUS, the Laboratory of Agricultural Constructions and Environmental Control of the University of Thessaly, is organising an open day for the public. The event will take place at the University’s experimental farm in Velestino, on 18th September 2019 from 10:00am to 15:00pm.
There will also be the opportunity to visit the Innovative Greenhouse, including a presentation of the new pilot greenhouse of the Laboratory of Agricultural Constructions and Environmental Control of the University of Thessaly, where most of the above mentioned projects are implemented.
The Open Access Day (OPEN DAY) event is part of the pan-European communication campaign Europe in My Region 2019 (#EUinMyRegion).
The Organic-PLUS (O+) livestock team presented first results from the project as posters on on two international conferences one at the ASPA 2019 (Sorrento, Italy) lead by Dr. Mauro Penasa (DAFNAE, University of Padova) on ‘Organic livestock production: a bibliometric analysis’ (first picture below). www.aspasorrento2019.org/index.php/sorrento
The second poster was presented at the ADSA 2019 (Cincinnati, Ohio, USA) by Dr. Carmen L. Manuelian (DAFNAE, University of Padova) on ‘Survey about the use of allopathic treatments and sources of information for organic livestock farms in France’. Dr. Luciana da Costa from Ohio State University is also shown as she has cooperated with the O+ team on the livestock survey (second picture below). www.adsa.org/Meetings/2019-Annual-Meeting
At NORSØK (Norwegian Centre for Organic Agriculture) in Tingvoll, Norway, two Organic-PLUS field trials recently featured prominently on Norwegian television (www.tv.nrk.no):
The first trial is examining the effects of treating seed potatoes and potato leaves with ozone (O3)water to reduce infection of late blight. Ozone is highly toxic to fungal spores and bacteria, but then rapidly decomposes to oxygen (O2). Norwegian regional television visited the trail (31-05-2019) and reported on the ongoing research work; Please click this link to watch.
The second trial studies the effect of marine fertilisers. Fish bones and residues of seaweed (extracted for production of commercial fertiliser) are used alone or in combination, and compared with dried poultry manure. Early results indicate that fish bones result in more rapid plant growth than manure and a positive effect is observed when combining it with seaweed residues. Norwegian regional television visited the trail (24-06-2019) and broadcast the following report; Please click this link to watch.
In May 2019, Dr Ulrich Schmutz represented Organic-PLUS at the 4th World Agroforestry Congress in Montpellier, France – the first time this congress has been held in Europe. The congress has put Agroforestry firmly on the map, in Europe and the EU. New areas were explored such as the link between Agroforestry and Agroecology, and the idea of using only certified organic methods within Agroforestry. The contribution of Agroforestry to achieving ‘Drawdown’ (the capture of greenhouse gas pollutants from the atmosphere) was a major part of the keynote discussions.
Significantly at the congress, the Montpellier Declaration was passed stating: “we, the 1200 delegates from 100 countries, agree that the massive degradation of our world’s biodiversity documented in the recent IPBES report is principally due to poor agricultural practices. Agroforestry offers a key solution to remedy the situation…” Read the full document here.
Organic grower Iain Tolhurst (Tolly) phased out the use of peat on his vegetable farm several years ago. Here, he talks to the Organic-PLUS team about the growing media he produces from on-farm from wood waste, fulfilling all of his plant propagation requirements (clip 18 on the Organic-PLUS playlist).
Organic-PLUS team members Dr Stéphane Bellon (INRA, France) and Dr Ulrich Schmutz (Coventry University, UK) brought critical input to the discussion, reflecting on the research results of long-term farming system comparisons (organic versus conventional) in Kenya, India, Bolivia, Ghana and Uganda. A major part of the discussion was around modelling scenarios to radically change food and farming systems based on a recent Nature paper by FiBL’s Muller et al. “Strategies for feeding the world more sustainably with organic agriculture”.
Scaling-up agroecology from the perspective of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (Carolina Starr) and EU parliament (Maria Heubuch, MEP) was another focus. One conclusion was that 100% organic could comfortably feed the world in a 2050 ‘peak population’ scenario and contribute more to SDGs than current systems. However, besides major social and political challenges there are still multiple research needs such as achieving full yield potential in organic systems and fulfilling the world’s fuel and fibre needs in a bio-economy (globally, non-organic cotton accounts for 16% of all insecticide use despite comprising just 2.4% of the total cultivated area).
Dr Francis Rayns of Coventry University’s CAWR attended the Annual General Meeting of the Organic Growers Alliance (OGA), on 16th and 17th March 2019 . The OGA is a network of growers, farmers and horticulturists across the UK, and an associate partner of Organic-PLUS. The OGA organises regular events concerned with practical organic fruit and vegetable production, and publishes a quarterly organic horticultural journal. In the Organic-PLUS project we are collaborating with several OGA members and disseminating our findings via their networks. The meeting was held at Rhos Market Garden in Knighton on the Welsh side of the England/Wales border and included a farm tour which focused on polytunnel production and discussion around the use of contentious inputs.
The English Organic Forum (EOF) has opened a new chapter by discussing its Terms of Reference at a meeting at the Soil Association‘s Bristol headquarters on Friday 15th March 2019. There was consensus on all issues discussed, with Garden Organic voted interim-secretary organisation for 2019 and Dr Christopher Stopes (former IFOAM EU President) the interim-chair. It is hoped that with the new terms of reference, the public voice of the Organic Movement in Englandwill be significantly strengthened.
Membership of the English Organic Forum is open to organisations and individuals with an interest in and experience of organic food, farming and growing. Organic-PLUS partner Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilienceis a member.
On Friday, 8th March Coventry University held its second focus group investigating perceptions of contentious inputs in organic agriculture. This time it was a selection of people who are already committed organic consumers. There was lively discussion and in addition to antibiotics and plastic (which were previously raised as concerns by a mixed consumer group), the role of supermarkets and perceptions of organic as a ‘fashion trend’ were scrutinised. With similar focus groups in Norway and Italy also underway we hope to gain a more detailed picture of perceptions of contentious inputs on which to base a larger Europe-wide survey.
Innovative technique: wooden studs inoculated with Trichoderma fungi to suppress pathogens.
“In this EIP Operational Group, we want to test the antagonistic activity of Trichoderma fungal species, applying in pruning wounds as usual, but also through its inoculation in the base of the trunk. The aim is to demonstrate the efficiency of this innovative practice. The test field for our Operational Group is located at the Godeval Winery in Xagoaza, Galicia. José Luis Bartolomé from the Godeval Winery tells us: “The inoculation of these fungi by wooden studs sounded a very promising technique for us. Due to the fact that this technique was earlier tested in our winery and because of the experience that we already had, it was a logical choice to continue this research in our winery.”
Biocyclic vegan agriculture is a form of organic farming that uses only plant-based inputs. Since November 2017, the Biocyclic Vegan Standard has been available worldwide as a global standard for vegan organic farming accredited by IFOAM. This is in-line with Organic-PLUS’s aim to phase-out the use of conventional (non-organic) manure in organic systems. Biocyclic vegan agriculture does, however, permit fertility sources from conventionally raised plants. For example, fertiliser derived from conventional sugar-beet waste.
On Wednesday 12th December 2018, Sustain(‘the alliance for better food and farming’), which is an associate partner of Organic-PLUS, met for their AGM and Annual Gathering at the Canal Museum, King’s Cross, London. Dr Ulrich Schmutz and Judith Conroy represented Organic-PLUS and also the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, whose membership was officially ratified at the meeting.
Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, to improve the working and living environment, enrich society and culture, and promote equity. The alliance represents around 100 national public interest organisations working at international, national, regional and local level.
The conference attracts a wide range of delegates including farmers, researchers and retailers, so we took the opportunity to speak to people and collect their views on contentious inputs such as copper fungicides, peat and plastic mulches as well as the potential alternatives.
The ‘Organic Innovation Days’ events have become a late November tradition, aiming to inform and grow networks between stakeholders in the organic sector. This year, Anne-Kristin Løes (NORSØK, Norway) and Alev Kir (MFAL, Turkey) both partners in Organic-PLUS attended.
Arranged by TP Organics, the event was held in Brussels, 27th – 29th November 2018 and incorporated the Global Sustainable Technology & Innovation Conferences (G-STIC). The work of Organic-PLUS and its sister project RELACS was highlighted a number of times in connection to reducing the use of contentious inputs such as copper in organic growing. Christian Huyghe, Scientific Director of INRA, France gave an enthusiastic lecture about post-pesticide agriculture, including the phase-out of those pesticides currently permitted in organic growing.
For the G-STIC event, agroecology as a driver for increased sustainability was the main headline. A range of success stories from around the world were presented, but with no mention of organic standards, certification, labeling or marketing as a route for realising agroecology in practice. Agroecology is a reminder to organic farming that we could make much better provision for biodiversity; for example, with new approaches to crop rotation (strip cropping has been tested with great success in the Netherlands). Though scientists involved in agroecology appreciate the practical efforts of the organic sector, there is still significant resistance to certified organic farming on the political side.
Organic-PLUS was represented at ICA2018, the 12th International Conference on Agrophysics: Soil, Plant & Climate in Lublin, Poland 17th – 19th September. Krystyna Malińska of Czestochowa University of technology and our SOIL workpackage delivered the keynote lecture on biochar and presented Organic-PLUS to the scientific community.
Also at the conference, Krystyna and colleague Danuta Dróżdż displayed a poster on “Fish pond sediment from aquaculture production – current practices and potentials for nutrient recovery” which has been submitted to the journal International Agrophysics as a review paper and is part of Organic-PLUS’s investigations of bioeconomy fertilisers.
The two sister EU-Horizon 2020 projects RELACS and Organic-PLUS organised a joined session and workshop at the 6th International Conference on Organic Agriculture Sciences (ICOAS 2018) held at the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria from 7 – 9 November 2018.
The presentations were followed by three parallel 30-min break-out groups to discuss contentions inputs in organic livestock, organic plant protection and organic soil/fertility management (peat, plastic and fertilisers). The project collected valuable feedback from the organic research experts community at the conference.
Thank you – to everyone at the workshop for the contributions made to the lively discussion on contentious inputs in organic agriculture!
Since the first Biocontrol Symposium in Darmstadt, Germany in 2005, these conferences have become a great opportunity to meet and discuss the latest research results and developments in the biological control of bacterial plant diseases. Biocontrol 2019 will focus on the main scientific, technical and political aspects relating to the management of the most serious bacterial plant diseases occurring worldwide.
Chaired by Prof. Giorgio M. Balestra, the symposium will provide researchers, students and professionals a chance to meet, exchange ideas and develop common activities in a warm and friendly environment. For more information, visit the Biocontrol 2019 website.
Organic-PLUS participated in the XIII Congress of the Spanish Society of Organic Agriculture (Sociedad Española de Agricultura Ecológica, SEAE) that took place in Logroño, La Rioja, Spain, from 14-17 November 2018. Dr Sara Burbi from Coventry University was invited to give a presentation about the project and engage with producers, policy-makers and NGOs that attend SEAE congresses. The event included workshops, roundtables, presentations and poster sessions. Organic-PLUS was included in the session on participatory work to highlight the transdisciplinarity of the project and present early results.
Copper use was considered one of the most contentious inputs by the audience, followed by antibiotics and antiparasitics use in livestock production.
The event was a good opportunity to engage with a variety of stakeholders, primarily from Spain, but also from France, Italy and delegations from Chile, Mexico, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, as several Latin American countries are embracing organic principles and aim to further promote sustainable farming practices, in particular, adopting the agroecological framework. Agroecology and organic principles held an important role in the congress, which focused on climate change, as well as the proposed changes to the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
During the conference, the state of play under the old EU regulation 1107/2009 and the re-approval of copper as active substance was discussed from the policy and industry perspective. In addition, the EU copper minimisation strategy for organic crops was presented and discussed.
For the Organic-PLUS project WP Plant leader Prof Dr Nikolaos Katsoulas from University of Thessaly, Greece and Lucas Knebl from Forschungsring e.V. Germany participated and presented the project to the IFOAM Conference.
The picture below shows Nikos together with the RELACS Co-ordinator Dr Lucius Tamm.
Dr Adrian Evans and Dr Ulrich Schmutz visited two research partners of Organic-PLUS in Norway. Firstly, NORSOK the Organic Research Centre and Organic Garden (see picture of garden) for Norway in Tingvoll on the Norwegian Fjord coast south of Trondheim. Secondly, in central Oslo the Consumer Research Institute (SIFO) at HIOA, University College of Applied Sciences in Oslo and Akerhus.
Both gave presentations on CAWR and the Organic-PLUS project at the two locations and exchanged ideas about research with a non-EU member country. It was interesting to find out how a non-EU country relates to EU regulation, e.g. the EU organic farming legislation. Within the next 4 years, the Organic-PLUS project will further investigate this. In addition, the research led by our partner SIFO is into understanding organic consumer attitudes to contentious inputs like peat, antibiotics and synthetic vitamins. But also asking now new diet trends, like Nordvegans, might affect organic consumption.
At the 30th International Horticulture Congress (12-16 August 2018, Istanbul, Turkey) organised by International Society for Horticultural Science (ISHS) Agroecology as a science got a big boost!
The 2nd International Symposium on “Organic Horticulture for Wellbeing of the Environment and Population” was held with a large audience. In addition, aShort Training Course on Organic Agriculture was hosted; a workshop onthe discussion of Soil and Soilless Organic Production Systems, and a workshop on Agroecology and Education: Socio-ecological Resilience to Climate Change. Prof. Dr Uygun Aksoy (Chair of the Scientific Committee of ISHS, and working for ETO a consortium partner within Organic-PLUS) organised them and helped to get agroecology science a bigger role in international horticulture research. With the election of Prof. Dr Yüksel Tüzel as next ISHS president the society has now a leader with deep understanding of organic horticulture.
To add to the growing role the current commission on ‘Organic Horticulture’ will be expanded and renamed ‘Agroecology and Organic Farming Systems’ (this is still within horticultural science) and more working groups on organic vegetables, organic temperate and tropical fruit and agroecology will be added to the existing working groups to respond to the rising academic and practical interest in this work.
Speakers at the Agroecology workshop are shown above (Left to right): Prof. Reza Ardakani (Iran), Dr. Ulrich Schmutz (United Kingdom), Prof. Beatrix Alsanius (Sweden), Prof. Martine Dorais (Canada), Prof. Uygun Aksoy (Turkey) and Prof. Maria Claudia Dussi (Argentina).
The Organic Research Centre (ORC) have joined the consortium of Organic-PLUS, the €4.1m CAWR-led EU Horizon 2020 project to phase out contentious inputs from organic agriculture led by Dr Ulrich Schmutz. The ORC is an independent research organisation for the development of organic and agroecological food production and land management approaches. As part of Organic-PLUS, ORC will be working on alternatives to synthetically derived vitamins and antibiotics given to livestock and also on replacements for the non-organic animal bedding often used in organic systems. A participatory research design with UK organic dairy farmers will be used.
Below Researchers from Organic-PLUS partners Coventry University (CU) and the Organic Research Centre – Elm Farm (ORC), enjoying the autumn sunshine at a recent meeting at Elm Farm.