No. 1 · May 2005

News on European research issues


Knowledge transfer and information exchange

Knowledge transfer and information exchange between organic actors is an important concern of the research management within the Federal Organic Farming Scheme of Germany.

For the team of the Federal Organic Farming Scheme (FOFS) one important goal is the availability of research results gained from the FOFS for all partners involved in organic agriculture along the added value chain. The investigation into research projects is only meaningful if the results reach the specifically targeted groups (farmers, processors, advisors, consumers etc.) and if they reduce distance between research and practice. This aim is followed parallel to the promotion and support of research projects as well as the evaluation of the already existing final reports.

At a symposium (Knowledge in an ivory tower - Research for whom?) moderated by the team of the FOFS at the 8th Organic Congress in Kassel, Germany 2005, barriers, existing possibilities and new ways to improve knowledge transfer were vividly discussed. One important subject e.g. was the systematic integration of journalistic expertise in the communication process between research and targeted groups. Within the FOFS this is already realised e.g. by the professional communication of project results through a journalist in various print mediaxs. Further, journalistic support was offered to organic networks in order to present their work and ambitions, make them well known and support the information flow between scientists, advisory service and practitioners.

Another point of discussion was the necessity to inform and involve target groups more intense into the process of running projects, not just communicating results. Since it is much more complicated to communicate complex research results after years of xsilentx research than considering questions and proposals from practitioners during the project phase. Finally it was discussed at the symposium to involve practitioners into the evaluation of project results and the modification of evaluation criteria for scientific output at the research sites themselves.

The overall impression after the workshop was the importance of bringing together concerned people with different professional backgrounds, which do not exchange their views frequently.

Challenges in animal health

At the 8th Organic Congress in Kassel, Germany 2005, the status of animal health in organic systems went for crucial discussion. Research results indicated deficiencies in animal health regarding e.g. mastitis and lameness of milking cows and hygienic aspects in pig production affecting diagnostic findings of the liver. The necessity for further investigations was clearly agreed upon. On European level only 15% of the funding is used for research about animal health and breeding in the organic context against 50% of the money being used for research in the field of organic plant production. The research results were taken as positive incentives for further investigations of scientists, organisations and farmers improving animal health and setting standards, maintaining the leading role of organic agriculture in the development of environmental friendly standards.

New University Programme: Organic Food Chain Managementx

As the market for organic products is a growing sector on a world wide scale, there is a need for experts providing knowledge on organic food chain management including primary food production, food technology and quality control. To meet this demand, the University of Hohenheim has developed the M. Sc. Programme xOrganic Food Chain Managementx. This programme will prepare people of all nationalities for these challenging tasks and offer them a competitive state-of-the-art training. (more )

First Organic Agriculture Programmes of Study received European accreditation at the University of Kassel

The faculty of Organic Agriculture at the University of Kassel-Witzenhausen offers, as the first and only German University so far, three programmes of study which are accredited according to European norms (following the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). Since 2002 an accredited two-year master course for xInternational Ecological Agriculturex is available in English. Today 30 students from 20 nations are involved in this master course.

More information including contact address

-Correspond to Ute Williges

Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (D)


New research organisation in organic food and farming

For research within organic farming in Norway, and important institutional change is under way. Three separate institutes are planning to merge and create a new and larger institute, with departments spread all over the country. The Norwegian Crop Research Institute, the Norwegian Centre for Soil and Environmental Research and Norwegian Centre for Ecological Agriculture (NORSØK) are the partners in the merger, which is planned to be launched on January 1st 2006. In the new institute, NORSØK will be responsible for the research within organic food and farming.

Trace elements in organic livestock farming

Recently, Espen Govasmark from Norwegian Centre for Ecological Agriculture (NORSØK) successfully defended his PhD thesis at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (formerly the Agricultural University of Norway, NLH). Espen has studied trace elements in roughage for ruminants in organic systems, and focussed especially on selenium. The title of the thesis is xTrace element status of soil and organically grown herbage in relation to animal requirementsx. To obtain a general picture of the herbage, we analysed zinc, iron, manganese, copper, molybdenum, cobalt and selenium concentrations in soil and herbage samples from 28 organic livestock farms from four regions in Norway. Animal blood Cu, Co, Se and vitamin E was also investigated. It was generally concluded that Zn, Fe, Mn, Cu and Mo did not limit plant growth. Based on the herbage trace element concentration it is highly recommended to use trace element mixtures and/or concentrates fortified with Cu, Co, Se and vitamin E on Norwegian organic livestock farms to fulfil the trace element dietary needs of the animals. So far, 3 papers have been accepted in Acta Agricultureae Scandinavica, Section A Animal Science (Cu, Mo, Co), (Se, vitamin E) and Section B Soil and Plant Science (Zn, Fe, Mn). One paper describing a new and safe method for detection of Se has been accepted by Journal of AOAC International. Please contact Espen Govasmark for further information.

-Correspond to Anne-Kristin Løes
Norwegian Centre for Ecological Agriculture (NO)

United Kingdom

New research priorities at Defra

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) works for the essentials of life - food, air, land, water, people, animals and plants. Defra R&D programmes are going through a period of fundamental change, informed by the Research Priorities Group (RPG). For organic farming R&D, one of the projects involves a series of regional workshops to identify stakeholder issues and aspirations to inform the definition of research priorities for the organic sector. This will also provide valuable input into the work in CORE as Defra leads the work package 6: identifying research priorities around Europe.

The Defra Organic Farming R&D Programme started in 1991. The purpose is to ensure the knowledge required for the growth of the organic sector is available to the sector. The research supports policy development and decision-making. It also supports decisions made by producers. Over the last decade expenditure on organic farming R&D has increased 5-fold, and currently stands at around 3 million Euros per annum.

More information

For general information about Defra:

For the research and development programmes within Defra, including the organic farming R&D programme:

For details about ACOS (Advisory Committee Organic Standards) and the Action Plan:

For details related to research projects commissioned by Defra and the Research Priority Group (our science/useful link):

-Correspond to Flavie Salaun

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (UK)


More biodiversity with organic farming

In a meta-analysis of published data it was shown that organically managed plots, fields and farms on average had 30% more species and the population were 50% higher. However, the effect differed between organism groups and it also seemed to differ between landscape types. In mosaic landscapes the positive effect of organic management was less obvious. Predatory insects were often more abundant in organic than in conventional farming systems, while pest species were not.

The study confirms that organic farming often will promote biodiversity in the agricultural landscape. However, there are indications that measures to preserve and enhance biodiversity should be more landscape- or farm-specific than is presently the case. It is also suggested that more attention should be paid to the farmers' interests and knowledge when designing conservation measures in agro ecosystems.

The study was published in the May issue of Journal of Applied Ecology. The analysis was carried out by Jan Bengtsson, Johan Ahnström and Ann-Christin Weibull at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Correspond to Karin Ullvén

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SE)


New research programme in organic food and farming

In 2004 a majority in the Danish parliament agreed on the initiation of a new Action Plan for the Aquatic Environment. As part of the compromise, 30 million EURO was set-aside for a new research programme in organic food and farming to be conducted in 2005 - 2009. The Danish Research Centre for Organic Food and Farming (DARCOF) was asked to initiate the new programme, and as it is the consecutive programme it was named DARCOF III.

The initiation of the new programme has departed in DARCOF's strategy, meaning that the new research programme should cover widely in the food system. This is in relation to the development of food quality, health and food safety, but also in relation to processing, marketing and (fair) trade with organic products. Furthermore – according to the DARCOF strategy - there is a need for research, which investigate which possibilities organic farming have in order to contribute to common objectives within environmental protection, development of bio energy, and rural development. Finally, the strategy suggests investigations on how research in organic food and farming can contribute to the development of global issues.

In order to initiate research project a call for expression of interests was issued in June 2004. In the autumn the DARCOF board prioritized these and on the bases of the prioritised research topics, the research communities were asked to prepare full-scale proposals. International reviewers appointed by the Danish Research Council are presently scrutinizing the proposals. The first projects are expected to start in September.

-Correspond to Claus Bo Andreasen

Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming (DK)


Swiss Coordination Group on Organic Agriculture Research

The Research Institute of Organic Farming (FiBL) and the six Swiss Federal Research Stations Agroscope meet at a regular base in order to coordinate their research. The main task is to identify research needs together with farmers and other interested groups and to support the implementation of research projects. Once a year a specific meeting is organized.

The 2005 meeting gave an overview of current research carried by the institutions involved with a special emphasis on European projects. It also reflected the results of the Q-LIF Conference held in January 2005 in Newcastle (UK) as well as those of the Scientific Conference of the German language region, held in March 2005 in Kassel, Germany.

The presentations of the papers held at this years’ and at last years’ conference are available via the Organic Eprints archive ( and

Fredi Strasser, Agroscope FAL Reckenholz, Eidg. Forschungsanstalt für Agrarökologie und Landbau, Biologischer Landbau – Forschungszusammenarbeit, Reckenholzstrasse 191, CH - 8046 Zürich, Switzerland, Tel. +41 1 3777-539. Fax +41 1 3777-201

Thomas Alföldi, Forschungsinstitut für biologischen Landbau (FiBL), Kommunikation, Ackerstrasse, CH - 5070 Frick, Switzerland, Tel. +41 62 865-7-272, Fax +41 62 8657-273

Related Links
Homepage of the Swiss coordination group organic farming research:

Homepage of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL:

Homepage of the 8th Scientific Conference in the German Language Region:

Swiss entries in the Organic Eprints Archive:

Correspond to Helga Willer, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (CH)