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.
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.
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 translate 24 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.
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.