Widely accessible and cost-efficient alternatives to contentious inputs in organic farming
Organic-PLUS will develop both alternative inputs and systems solutions and rigorously test them under commercial conditions in order to facilitate their uptake. These will include new products for plant disease control, anti-infective and immuno-stimulatory feed additives, novel animal bedding materials, peat-free growing media, fertilisers based on plants rather than animal by-products and mulches not made from fossil fuel-derived plastics. We will aim to publish at least 25 scientific papers in international peer-reviewed journals, which outline the project results. In addition to advancing natural scientific knowledge, we will also aim to greatly increase farmer awareness and uptake of alternatives to contentious inputs. This impact will be achieved through farmer-focused knowledge brokerage including expert workshops, practical demonstrations and training. We will also draw on our extensive network of over 50 associate project partners (see annex 2) and their members to disseminate this information to key stakeholders in organic agriculture. On-farm demonstrations will provide hands-on interactive experience of the proposed alternatives to contentious inputs. These demonstrations will be linked with the on-farm field trials in the ‘topical’ WPs. Each project partner who is involved in a field trial will organise at least 3 demonstration activities. We will evaluate the impact of the workshops with follow-up questionnaires to establish whether the famers who attended changed their behaviours. We will aim for at least 35% of farmers to adopt innovations based on what they learnt during the demonstrations. Teaching and training materials will also be developed regarding alternatives to contentious inputs in organic farming. We will also establish a dedicated YouTube channel to disseminate visual resources, including case studies and demonstrations of alternatives to contentious inputs.
Better knowledge of alternatives will also allow for reduced inputs in conventional agriculture
The scientific knowledge generated in Organic-PLUS will be of great interest to conventional producers. This will be particularly true for certain inputs such as peat, which are equally contentious in conventional agriculture. In our dissemination, we will emphasise the adoption of agroecological farming practices, many of which could also be adopted by non-organic farmers. All project dissemination activities will incorporate conventional as well as organic producers and stakeholders. At an early stage in the project we will develop a database of key stakeholders, which will include a range of targeted conventional producers. This database will then be used in the dissemination of newsletters, factsheets and appropriate scientific reports. Conventional producers will equally be invited to attend all expert workshops and stakeholder conferences and our media strategy will include all farming media.
Enhanced organic production, quality and stability
The scientific research conducted in Organic-PLUS will contribute to increased yields and enhanced product quality, sustainability and resilience both in the organic sector and in conventional agriculture. In particular, the project research will have a positive impact on managing plant disease, on improving farm animal health and welfare and on improving the sustainability and climate impact of fertilisers and mulches. As well as addressing supply-side issues in organic production this project will go further by undertaking social scientific research to establish both the public perception of contentious inputs in organic farming and to understand the changing nature of consumer demand for and expectations about organic produce. To gain a better understanding of consumer concerns about contentious inputs in organic agriculture we will undertake a statistically representative online survey of public opinion regarding contentious inputs across 7 European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Spain and the UK). We will also undertake citizen juries in at least three study countries (Italy, Norway and the UK). This research will enable us to gain a deeper understanding of consumer concerns and it will provide the opportunity for members of the public to evaluate and feedback on the project results. This will help to build trust amongst consumers and give long-term stability to grow EU organic land from currently 6% to 12% and 24% within the next 10-20 years.
Reduced environmental impact of organic and low-input farming systems
Replacing non-renewable inputs with renewables should reduce the environmental impact of organic farming systems, although there may be unintended consequences. The LCA of alternatives will provide a more comprehensive assessment and compare the magnitude input-substitution can achieve compared to other options to reduce the environmental impact. Combing modelling methods S-LCA, RISE and SROI will provide a much more comprehensive overview of sustainability impact of phase-outs than ever achieved before. Integrating forestry and agroforestry products for animal bedding and peat replacements in value chains will reduce environmental impact not only in agriculture. The same is true for plant based animal feed supplements and veterinary products. More animal-free (vegan) products used as nutrient sources support the transition to legumes based farming systems and sustainable diets.
Fair, reliable and implementable rules on the use of inputs in organic production
Fair, reliable and implementable rules and regulations have been at the heart of the organic growth story since the first EU regulation in 1991. It is still important to develop the “creative mix’’ of private standards (developing organic further) and official, legal standards (giving a clear baseline and safety net). For this research, we adopt this successful mixture and include both private standards and national/EU policy makers, bearing in mind that organic farming was developed bottom-up from successful farm innovation to private and later national and EU wide standards. To ensure fair, reliable and implementable rules and regulations we will undertake consultation with key stakeholders from a wide range of both EU and non-EU countries. As a key part of the expert workshops and dissemination/integration events organised in the ‘topical’ WPs there will be a sustained discussion of the best ways to implement the project proposals and ultimately the best ways to ensure the replacement or reduction of contentious inputs in organic agriculture. This will include scenario exercises where alternative forms of standard setting will be evaluated. In addition to these stakeholder consultations we will also organise dedicated policy workshops to discuss phase-out scenarios and implications for organic standards and EU policies regarding standards. Based on the results of these activities and on scientific research conducted in the project we will provide expert policy briefings to at least 3 private standard bodies and to the EU, this will further enhance the impact of the project.
Provision of scientific support for relevant EU policies.
The Organic-PLUS policy workshops and additional expert panels, together with the advisory boards, will give solid scientific decision support. We will address EU policy making with a large stakeholder conference in Strasbourg but in addition we will also support national (Member states) and regional organic policies. Specific regional policy support within an EU framework is important to achieve impact. By regional we mean devolved authorities or federal states (e.g. Wales, Catalonia) each having policies and programmes supporting the phase-out of contentious inputs and the “phase-in” of a true Bio-economy.