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Organic Knowledge Network Arable

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - OK-Net Arable (Organic Knowledge Network Arable)

Reporting period: 2015-03-01 to 2016-08-31

OK-Net Arable - for more knowledge exchange in 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. The OK-Net Arable project aims to facilitate co-creation of knowledge by farmers, farm advisers and scientists to increase productivity and quality in organic arable cropping all over Europe.

OK-Net Arable has three objectives:
1) The project will synthesise the scientific and practical knowledge available about organic arable farming and identify the best methodologies for exchanging this knowledge. Based on this easily understandable advisory material will be collected and developed.
2) It will create a European network of farmers to exchange experiences and discuss content and format of advisory materials.
3) Finally, the project will create an online platform offering evidence-based advisory materials as well as facilitating farmer-to-farmer learning. This platform will be a virtual meeting place for farmers, advisers and researchers that would otherwise not be able to meet.

OK-Net Arable takes a very innovative approach in that in all stages of the project, farmers play a prominent role. Much more than being asked for advice, farmers contribute to a process of co-creation of knowledge throughout the project.

Context of the project:
Organic farming in the EU has recorded substantial growth over the last decade, both in terms of production and market demand. The organic area in the EU has almost doubled since 2004; 5.7% of EU agricultural land is now under organic management. Organic farming combines food production with care for the environment. However, concerns have been raised whether organic farming is also productive enough. On average, organic yields are 20-25% lower than yields of conventional farms. In addition, organic yields vary a lot compared to yields in conventional farming. This is often due to the level of knowledge of the farmer. Evidence shows that the more experienced the farmer is, the smaller the yield difference with conventional farms. Indeed, organic agriculture works as a complex system which requires a very high level of knowledge. But knowledge exchange between organic farmers and technicians remains limited. Also the knowledge gap on organic farming among countries across the EU is considerable. By promoting co-creation and exchange of knowledge, OK-Net Arable therefore has significant potential to increase productivity in organic farming.
OK-Net Arable promotes exchange of knowledge among farmers, farm advisers and scientists with the aim to increase productivity and quality in organic arable cropping in Europe. Since the start of the project in March 2015, the following has 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 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 works with 14 farmer innovation groups, located in 10 countries distributed throughout Europe. These are groups of organic arable farmers engaged in research and innovation. OK-Net Arable brought together the common challenges identified by the groups in a report. These include weed management, soil fertility, and pest and disease control. Data from the farmer innovation groups show a wide range of crop yields. This indicates there is need, but also a clear possibility to improve farm yields. The report gives a good overview of challenges faced by organic arable farmers in Europe and presents solutions that the farmer innovation groups have been working on. All those working on this topic may be interested.

Best methods 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.

New platform for farmers to find organic solutions and exchange knowledge
OK-Net Arable launched a new online platform ( aimed at filling the gap in the exchange of information between farmers across Europe. 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.
Farmers and farm associations can now use the OK-Net Arable platform to find practical organic solutions, and at the same time discuss how it works on the field, in their geographic and climatic conditions. This should enable farmers to give feedback on the solutions, improve them and, in the end, to increase productivity and quality in organic arable cropping all over Europe.
Farmer’s needs were taken into account at every stage of development in order to make it easy for them to use. 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: Soil quality and fertility, nutrient management, pest and disease control, weed management and solutions for specific crops. Not only can farmers find solutions and engage with each other via this platform, they can also propose 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 that were mentioned by the groups and have been summarised in a report. There are likely to be numerous other ‘innovations’ by the groups that were not reported. There is certainly scope for further innovation, particularly in terms of increased interactions between farmer knowledge and scientific research results, farmer-to-farmer collaborations such as arrangements between arable and livestock producers, exchanges between experienced farmers and new entrants that build on different expertise. A range of specialist equipment is being used by the groups; information could be shared between groups with the view to identifying appropriate equipment for different contexts and highlighting potential adaptations that could be made.

In order to facilitate exchanges among farmers, farm advisers and scientists, OK-Net Arable has built a new online knowledge platform, where farmers can find practical organic solutions, and at the same time discuss how they work on the field. In addition to that, OK-Net Arable has made a comprehensive and unprecedented scientific analysis of the factors determining productivity in organic arable farminng 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.