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Organic Knowledge Network Arable

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - OK-Net Arable (Organic Knowledge Network Arable)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-02-28

OK-Net Arable - Exchange knowledge, enhance organic farming

The complexity of organic farming requires farmers to have a very high level of knowledge and skills. But exchange on organic farming techniques remains limited. OK-Net Arable promoted the exchange of knowledge among farmers, farm advisers and scientists to increase productivity and quality in organic arable cropping all over Europe.

The project had three objectives:
1. Synthesise existing knowledge about organic arable farming and identify the best ways for exchanging this knowledge. Based on this, advisory material that is easy to use was collected.
2. Create a European network of farmers to exchange experiences and discuss the selected advisory material.
3. Create an online platform (farmknowledge.org) to make the advisory material available for a wide audience of farmers and advisers and facilitate farmer-to-farmer learning across Europe.


Context of the project:
Organic farming in the EU has recorded substantial growth over the last decade. The organic area in the EU has almost doubled since 2004. In 2016, 6.7% of EU agricultural land was under organic management. Organics farmers rely on biological processes for building soil fertility and controlling pests and diseases. They use multiple and diverse crops and work to close systems and minimise use of external inputs. This allows organic farmers not to use synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, which means greater biodiversity of insects, plants and birds; less pollution entering groundwater and watercourses; better ecosystem and soil health. Organic farmers try to strike a balance between productivity and care for the environment. Yields are on average around 20 per cent lower on organic than on conventional farms for crops such as cereals, legumes and oil seeds. Organic farmers do not have to accept this gap: Crop yields on organic farms vary depending on the farmer’s knowledge and experience. Evidence shows that the more experienced the farmer is, the higher the yield. Organic farmers have to refer multiple observations of their farming system (soils, climates, crops and livestock) when developing a sound management plan, without being able to use quick fixes such as pesticides. But knowledge about organic agriculture practices on soil fertility, nutrient management, and weed, pest and disease control is not widely available and time-consuming to acquire. Also, the knowledge gap between organic farmers across Europe is considerable. By spreading knowledge and good practice and supporting exchange through the farmknowledge platform, OK-Net Arable is helping organic farmers across Europe to improve yields, both in terms of productivity and quality.
"Following results have been achieved:

Scientific analysis of constraints in organic arable cropping
Based on most recent scientific literature, OK-Net Arable identified barriers preventing productivity increases in organic arable farming as well as levers that farmers can deploy to address these in the area of soil fertility and nutrient management, weed control and pest and disease control.

Farmer innovation groups share common challenges
OK-Net Arable worked with 14 farmer innovation groups, located in 10 countries distributed throughout Europe. These are groups of organic arable farmers engaged in research and innovation. Data from the farmer innovation groups showed a wide range of crop yields. This indicates there is need, but also a clear possibility to improve farm yields. OK-Net Arable brought together common challenges and solutions identified by the groups. Farmer innovation groups evaluated some of these solutions in practice. Their experiences have been documented in videos and practice abstracts. Farmer groups also received a translation budget, which they used to translate 28 materials that were relevant to them into their own language.


Tools for learning and knowledge exchange
OK-Net Arable has analysed how farmers and farm advisers access information. The findings show that the use of printed media is still wide-spread and that physical meetings (e.g. field days) are preferred to anonymous online courses. Yet, it was found that social media is changing the way information is spread. In particular online videos play an important role in the exchange of knowledge across borders. Common characteristics of tools preferred by the farmers include the use of visual information, and practical recommendations. The opportunity to learn from other farmers experiences was highly regarded. Understanding how certain practices have been applied in different contexts, the impact on yields and farm economics are all details which farmers expressed were valuable and are lacking in many of the tools. Moreover, honest accounts of negative impacts, what didn’t work and why, was also considered to be very useful and felt to be somewhat missing from existing knowledge exchange tools.


Farmknowledge platform
OK-Net Arable launched an online platform (farmknowledge.org) aimed at filling the gap in the exchange of information between farmers. Based on scientific literature and input from the farmer innovation groups, more than 150 materials with practical solutions have been brought together. Farmers and farm advisers can now use the farmknowledge platform to find practical organic solutions, and at the same time discuss how it works on the field. The platform is available in 10 languages (English, Bulgarian, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian) and the solutions are divided according to the most relevant topics in organic arable farming.

Online courses
A course ""Challenges of Organic Arable Farming"" was developed which links the main barriers in organic arable farming to solutions presented on the farmknowledge platform. The course is now available as a self-learning course on the platform."
OK-Net Arable took a very innovative approach in that in all stages of the project, farmers played a prominent role. Much more than being asked for advice, farmers contributed to a process of co-creation of knowledge throughout the project. In order to facilitate exchanges among farmers, farm advisers and scientists, OK-Net Arable has built the farmknowledge platform with more than 150 materials, where farmers can find practical organic solutions. Members of the farmer innovation groups are demonstrating a proactive and dynamic approach to their farming systems and are continually observing and experimenting in response to their environment as well as external factors. This has resulted in a number of specific innovations, some of which were tested in practice. Finally, OK-Net Arable has made a comprehensive scientific analysis of the factors determining productivity in organic arable farming and based on this has made 34 recommendations addressing soil fertility management, availability and uptake of nutrients, crop-weed competition, control of diseases and pests, and the social context of innovation on organic farms.