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Ensuring sustainable use of agricultural waste, co-products and by-products

Specific challenge: Agriculture generates co-products, by-products and waste streams that are currently not properly taken care of both in environmental and economic terms.

In plant production (e.g. from arable, horticulture, fruit, wine, grassland sectors and agro-forestry systems), losses take place at the farm and post-harvest levels and also down the chain at the level of the retail sector. Co-products or by-products are generated, for instance in the wine sector, which require sustainable use. Straw has been given significant attention in the last years as biomass feedstock and potential trade-offs with its relevance for soil improvement need to be considered.

In livestock production, manure, litter and other effluents management are a challenge, in particular in industrial production systems. While these effluents can be used as fertiliser, they can also be sources of bio-energy or valuable bio-products. The impacts on the environment, with emissions to the air, soil and water need to be evaluated. It is important to consider the whole effluent chain to avoid pollution swapping and health issues, due to possible transmission of pathogens.

Beyond reduction and recycling of agricultural waste, co-products and by-products, there may be opportunities for new processes enabling innovative uses of these materials, also outside the agricultural sector.

Scope: Proposals should evaluate existing techniques and develop new and innovative approaches for efficient use of agricultural waste, co-products and by-products, thereby contributing to the creation of sustainable value chains in the farming and processing sectors (including the organic sector). A range of sector-specific case studies (in terms of sources of waste and uses as well as geographic coverage) should serve to test and take up proposed approaches and technologies. Research and innovation efforts should address crop co-products/by-products/waste as well as manure/effluents.

On straw and other crop residues (including in mixture with manure), proposals should develop environmental safeguards such as sustainable extraction rates as well as guidance on optimal use of crop residues (in particular straw) for soil improvement, taking into account the need to maintain soil organic matter levels, and on farming practices to harvest and handle crop residues for alternative purposes.

As regards manure and effluents, proposals should address some or all of the following areas:

  • nutrient, energy and biochemical recovery from manure and other effluents;
  • improved knowledge on the environmental impact of manure and other effluents, further developing measurements and good manufacturing practices, minimising impacts on water and air quality (emissions and odours);
  • sanitary implications of pathogens that can be transmitted from manure and possible control options;
  • management chains, from processing to transport and application.

Involvement of industry (including strong participation from SMEs) should be ensured and pilot and/or demonstration activities should be performed. Knowledge platforms should be established. In line with the objectives of the EU’s strategy for international cooperation in research and innovation and in particular with the implementation of the EU-China dialogue, proposals are encouraged to include third country participants, especially those established in China[1]. Proposals should fall under the concept of 'multi-actor approach'[2]. This action allows for the provision of financial support to third parties in line with conditions set out in Part K of the General Annexes.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the range of EUR 7 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Proposals are requested to foresee close interaction with the other proposals selected for funding through creation of a joint stakeholder platform and other joint structures.

Expected impact:

  • Increased awareness and dialogue across sectors on availability, needs and options for smart use of agricultural waste, by-and co-products through creation of joint stakeholders platform and other joint structures.
  • Improved resource efficiency through reduction of waste and improved waste management in primary production.
  • Increased opportunities for valorisation of waste, by-and co-products resulting in environmental and economic benefits for the farming sector (e.g. development of new products and processes).
  • Enhanced competitiveness through more varied and/or new types of sources for bio-products and bio-energy in the agro-food (conventional and organic) and bioeconomy sectors.
  • Improved soil quality and crop productivity – through an optimal use of crop waste (taking into account the need to maintain soil organic matter levels) and nutrient recovery.
  • Improved water quality – reducing pollution and eutrophication of ground waters, and thus indirectly marine waters.
  • Improved air quality – by reducing livestock emissions.
  • Progress towards regulatory and standard development, in particular with respect to environmental protection and food safety.

Type of action: Research and innovation actions

[1]     This is without prejudice to the general rules on the funding of legal entities from third-countries, as set in part A of the General Annex.

[2] The multi-actor approach aims at more demand-driven innovation through the genuine and sufficient involvement of various actors (end-users such as farmers/farmers' groups, advisors, enterprises,  etc.) all along the project from participation in the planning of work and experiments, their execution up until the dissemination of results and the possible demonstration phase. The adequate choice of key actors with complementary types of knowledge (scientific and practical) should be reflected in the description of the project proposals and result in a broad implementation of project results. The multi-actor approach is more than a strong dissemination requirement or what a broad range of stakeholders can deliver: it should be illustrated with a sufficient quantity and quality of knowledge exchange activities and a clear role for the different actors in the work. This should generate innovative solutions that are more likely to be applied thanks to the cross-fertilisation of ideas between actors, the co-creation and the generation of co-ownership for eventual results. A multi-actor project needs to take into account how the objectives and planning of the project proposal are targeted to needs/problems and opportunities of end-users, as well as complementarity with existing research. Facilitation between actors and openness to involving additional players/groups of players during the project, for instance relevant EIP operational groups, is strongly recommended.