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Replacement of Contentious Inputs in organic farming Systems

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RELACS (Replacement of Contentious Inputs in organic farming Systems)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-10-31

The overall objective of RELACS is to foster development and facilitate adoption of cost-efficient and environmentally safe tools and technologies to phase out the dependency on and use of contentious inputs in organic farming systems. RELACS will reduce the use of copper and mineral oil, manure from conventional farms, provide alternatives to excessive use of anthelmintics in small ruminants, reduce antibiotic use in dairy cattle and moderate reliance on synthetic vitamins in cattle and poultry production. RELACS aims to:
1. Provide a comprehensive overview of the current use of and critical evaluation of the need for external inputs in organic plant and animal production.
2. Bring far developed alternatives to copper, mineral oils, and anthelmintics closer to the market.
3. Extend the use of farmer-driven techniques to reduce antibiotics to a wider range of EU regions.
4. Develop and explore innovative approaches to reduce synthetic vitamin use and propose acceptable vitamin and plant nutrition sources, based on thorough systems analysis and R&D.
5. Evaluate the products and management practices in different pedo-climatic and farming conditions in the EU and Mediterranean third countries.
6. Develop implementation roadmaps by analysis of the socio-economic conditions required for acceptance and adoption of alternatives and provide scientific support for relevant EU policies to develop fair, reliable and implementable rules.
7. Provide rapid dissemination and adoption of techniques along the food value chain.
EU-wide surveys on use of copper, mineral oil, fertilizers, anthelmintics, antibiotics, and synthetic vitamins in organic farming were carried out. All four copper alternatives included in RELACS provided promising protection levels against one or several key diseases tested on a broad variety of crops, including grapevine, apple, cucumber, tomato, roses and raspberries in field and greenhouse trials. Two mineral oil alternatives against citrus mealybug, California red scale and Orange spiny whitefly were successfully evaluated. Progress was also made in the understanding of the greenhouse whiteflies behaviour and their vibrational signals providing the key elements for innovative pest control technologies. Contentious fertilizers include manure from conventional farms, implying an indirect acceptance of conventional animal and plant production, and rock phosphate as a finite resource imported from outside Europe and frequently contaminated with potentially toxic elements. The assessment of current use of and need for external nutrient inputs on organic farms in Europe was started in 8 case study regions and a meta-analysis of nutrient budgets on organic farms in Europe was performed. Two alternative strategies to reduce anthelmintic use in small ruminants are explored: the use of a bioactive forage (heather) and a biocontrol agent (Duddingtonia flagrans). A comparative analysis of the anthelmintic activity of heather (Calluna vulgaris) is under way. First results confirmed that heather has considerable efficacy against endoparasites in vitro. First results also confirmed that the administration of D. flagrans spores reduce larval development from faecal cultures. The survey on antibiotic use in organic livestock production in 16 European countries revealed large country-specific differences in the level of antibiotic use. Two alternative strategies to reduce antibiotic use in organic dairy cows were explored: a health and welfare protocol combining detailed farm specific data with the advising method of Farmer Field Schools (FFS) and the use of Essential Oils (EO) to control light to moderate mastitis cases. Activities to review the basis for riboflavin requirement definitions in organic poultry nutrition are ongoing. In parallel, wild type strains of yeast were screened for their riboflavin production properties and candidate isolates were identified as potential high-yield riboflavin producers.
To facilitate a favourable science-practice-policy dialogue, a policy brief was developed explaining the organic approach to the use of inputs and related acceptability criteria in close collaboration with farmer organisations. There is a high societal interest to replace contentious inputs in organic farming but also to go further and upscale organic farming areas. The availability of approved inputs is crucial to such a transition. However, there is a range of hurdles that hinder progress towards a scenario with higher proportion of organic farming. The policy brief identified those obstacles and proposed improvements in the legal framework in order to facilitate a smooth transition towards organic farming and the adoption of agro-ecological practices. In total, the policy brief listed 28 specific recommendations to facilitate rapid access of the organic farming sector to safe inputs.
A Plan for the Exploitation and Dissemination of Results (PEDR) was prepared and updated. The RELACS website ( has been set up and is gradually updated to communicate research results. RELACS has established a close cooperation with the Organic Farm Knowledge platform to boost outreach to stakeholders.
The continued usage of contentious inputs increasingly becomes a limitation in upscaling organic farming. Apart from the detrimental impact on the environment, usage of controversial inputs is also publicly criticized and presents a major risk for the further development of the organic sector. Phasing out controversial practices is thus a priority strategy to safeguard the achievements and investments of the actors and to ensure the future development of the organic farming sector.
The following results and impacts are expected:
A comprehensive overview of the current use of and need for external inputs in various types of organic plant and animal farming systems.
Alternative plant protection products to reduce or gradually phase out copper.
Substantial progress in reducing the dependency on mineral oils by locally adapting elements of functional biodiversity and further development of 2-3 low/no mineral oil strategies.
Opening pathways to alternative sources of plant nutrition needed to reduce the dependency on contentious fertilizers and manures in plant production.
Development of two complementary techniques to reduce excessive application of anthelmintics in livestock production.
Evaluation of strategies to reduce antibiotic use in dairy production by adapting preventive herd health management tools to local conditions and by developing new options for mastitis treatment using EO.
Two strategies to reduce usage of synthetic B and E vitamins in livestock production by adapting diets based on updated quantitative data on vitamin requirements of today’s organic livestock and by developing competitive non-GM high-yield yeast production strains.
Provision of realistic assessments of the technical value of the most advanced alternative tools and techniques in relation to regional socio-economic contexts. The reality check will be based on scientific evidence produced in close collaboration with the relevant actors in the respective field and discussed in established workshop formats. We expect that immediate phasing out of the contentious inputs would create unbearable risks and costs to the sector, whereas a smart roadmap with tiered transition phases may lead to rapid and successful change of agricultural practice.