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Replacement of Contentious Inputs in organic farming Systems

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - RELACS (Replacement of Contentious Inputs in organic farming Systems)

Período documentado: 2021-05-01 hasta 2022-04-30

The overall objective of RELACS was 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 aimed to:
1. Provide a comprehensive overview of the current use of and a 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.
Surveys on use of copper, mineral oil, fertilizers, anthelmintics, antibiotics, and synthetic vitamins in organic farming were carried out in 10-16 European countries, quantifying the current regional dependency on those inputs and the need for alternative tools and techniques.
Five copper alternatives were further developed and pilot products provided promising protection levels in a wide range of crops and pedo-climatic conditions, either as stand-alone application, or in strategies combining alternatives and low copper doses. Copper use can be reduced on the lead target crops grapevine, apple and and in greenhouse vegetables in the next decade provided that the alternatives can be authorized. However, the supply with sufficient quantities of alternatives at an economically feasible price remains an extraordinary challenge. Two mineral oil alternatives against citrus and greenhouse key pests were successfully evaluated and progress was made in the development of vibrational disruption. A substantial reduction of mineral oils by less problematic products and innovative techniques seems feasible in the near future.
The current use of and need for external nutrient inputs on organic farms in Europe was evaluated in 8 case study regions. In many areas, additional N inputs to organic agriculture are needed to increase productivity, while inputs of P and K are required to prevent soil mining. The data show that the importance of nutrient supply in organic farming has been underestimated so far. Reducing the dependence of organic farms on conventional manure and external nutrients from non-renewable sources is nevertheless possible in the medium term by recycling societal waste streams.
Two alternative strategies to reduce anthelmintic use in small ruminants were explored: a bioactive forage (heather) and a biocontrol agent (Duddingtonia flagrans). A comparative analysis of the anthelmintic activity of heather confirmed considerable efficacy against endoparasites in vitro. The biocontrol agent was successfully evaluated under various conditions, confirming the potential to reduce anthelmintic use by 30-50% in organic cattle, sheep and goat production.
Two alternative strategies to reduce antibiotic use in organic dairy cows were explored: an animal health and welfare planning protocol (AHWP) combining detailed farm specific data with Farmer Field Schools (FFS) and the use of Essential Oils (EO) to control light to moderate mastitis. Both approaches are promising for the reduction of antibiotics as no difference in (mild or moderate) clinical mastitis cure between EO and antibiotic treatment was observed nor were any negative impacts on milk quality or animal health and welfare observed.
The potential for reduction of synthetic Vitamins E and B2 supplementation in livestock diets was assessed and adapted diets were proposed and validated in dairy cows and poultry. In both cases, adapted (reduced) vitamin supply had no negative impact on animals nor on milk or meat quality. The reduction of synthetic vitamins in diets will therefore reduce the use of synthetic vitamins at farm level. The identification of a GMO-free yeast strain overproducing riboflavin opens up an option for alternative GMO-free and non-synthetic production. However, this riboflavin producing yeast wildtype has TRL4 and its economic feasibility needs to be confirmed.
The socio-economic and environmental impact assessments for the alternatives to contentious inputs were conducted and comprehensive dossiers incorporating information on environmental impact, acceptability and scalability of each of the alternatives were developed. In a series of national and European workshops, roadmaps for reduction of contentious inputs were developed taking into account various constraints and needs for supportive policy actions for implementation. Overall, the majority of alternative strategies tested are more expensive to use but also more environmentally friendly compared to currently used contentious inputs. Results of RELACS were made available to farmers, advisors, the scientific community and policy makers via established channels (i.e. practice-oriented publications, policy briefs, and peer reviewed publications) but also via specific farmer reunions, farmer field schools, videos and social media.
The objectives of the European farm to fork strategy add the necessity not only to replace problematic practices but also to provide widely accessible and cost-efficient alternatives in sufficient quantities. While the tools and technologies explored in RELACS fulfilled the expectations to a large extent with respect to efficacy, we also encountered major challenges with respect to the duration until alternatives may be used legally by farmers (i.e. authorization of inputs). Furthermore, many alternatives will be more expensive than the standard options thus necessitating policy support and their adoption by farmers will necessitate instruction and training.
RELACS provided the scientific information needed to identify feasible and cost-effective solutions and the way forward to implementation but also identified bottlenecks at various levels along the value chain. It has also become clear that relevant EU policies will need to be tailor-made in order to address the various issues, depending on the input type that needs to be addressed. Roadmaps for fair, reliable and implementable rules for contentious inputs addressed in the project were developed. As expected, immediate phasing out of the contentious input 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. It is/was essential to involve all relevant stakeholders to reach joint conclusions regarding the technical feasibility of solutions in the various pedo-climatic and socio-cultural situations of Europe.