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Farm-based organic variety trials network - CH0113

In organic farming, crop adaptation to the growing environment and resilience towards changing climate are key in ensuring a sustainable and profitable agriculture in the absence of external inputs like mineral fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. There are arable crops for which fitness and good productive and quality performance in organic farms are particularly difficult. Wheat is a striking example: despite being the largest arable crop in the UK by total acreage, its organic acreage has been constantly decreasing in the past decade. As a matter of fact, reduced use of, and access to, external inputs are increasingly challenging conventional cropping systems as well. Improving organic wheat cropping systems could therefore have high relevance to help ensure a smooth transition to more agroecological and less input-reliant cereal cropping systems in general.
Ensuring crop adaptation requires strengthening the evidence base of on-farm decision making. In the absence of external inputs, varietal choice is the major crop specific management decision organic farmers can make on a short-term basis to address this. Therefore, insufficient information on varieties can result in a low crop fitness to the environment and, consequently, suboptimal and fluctuating performance. Whilst the AHDB Recommended Lists provide essential information on varieties genetic potential, generated in plot-scale experiments with high use of fertilisers and herbicides, and either with or without fungicides, key variables such as weed competition and performance in lower fertility rotations are not covered. Research being conducted by the Organic Research Centre (ORC) as a participatory “collective experiment” focusing on real farm, field-scale trials in organic farms, has generated interim results that can offer an alternative, complementary basis for informed decisions.
This project, farm-based organic variety trials network, will build on the proof-of concept of a collective experiment currently developed by ORC, to sensibly increase its scope. We aim to firmly establish a network of farms and researchers committed to produce a critical mass of information, to enable a significant improvement in informed decision-making in the organic and conventional farming and supply chains, that will ultimately work towards delivery of more efficient and sustainable arable production systems. This project will involve 10 to 15 organic farms and generate datasets describing winter wheat varieties in terms of field performance during the growing season, with special emphasis on weed abundance and community composition, diseases symptoms and key yield components, productive performance and quality performance.
In cooperation with the AHDB, these datasets will be analysed and compared with relevant external data sources, including climatic and environmental data, to scope out how to enhance the decision support basis available to organic and conventional farmers. This will also inform breeding of future varieties adapted to both organic and conventional systems where low fertility and high weed burdens are important factors. Beyond providing information for a better winter wheat varietal choice, the project will improve and standardize experimental designs and protocols for on-farm participatory trials. This will enhance know-how of on-farm, field-scale trials management and, ultimately, allow on-farm data to complement plot-scale research and environmental information towards an integrated evidence base for better informed decisions at the farm and supply chain level, as well as for plant breeding.
Building on the outcomes of the H2020 funded Liveseed-EU project, the objectives of this project will be to:
1. Firmly establish a network of farmers and researchers, with broad stakeholders’ support, able to undertake on-farm experimentation and data collection to enable informed decision making for sustainable organic and low-input wheat production.
2. Collect key data and information about crop growth and development on-farm, including its interaction with the weed community, and on crop production and product quality which is relevant to farmers and stakeholders along the supply chain, e.g. millers and bakers and animal feed market.
3. Provide a detailed and robust statistical analysis of the data collected, integrating experimental data with external data sources, including research data and agro-environmental variables, to enable data-based decisional models developed to assist with farm business decisions.
4. Ensure visibility of the projects, its methodology and its results, towards organic and non-organic farmers, stakeholders, scientific community, policy makers and the wider public.
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2020

To: 2021

Cost: £165,000
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Organic Research Centre