The EU is the second largest market for organic products globally, and demand for organically grown products all year round is increasing. However, the EU regulation of organic farming comprises no direct reference to greenhouse production and the production systems for organic greenhouse crops vary in cropping intensity. Increased cropping intensity may erode the environmental sustainability of these systems. Among producers, the lack of shared rules in Europe causes complaints for unfair competition and potentially negative effects on organic and biodynamic production as a whole. Among consumers, this sliding interpretation and implementation of organic greenhouse production systems might reduce trust in organic greenhouse production.
Nevertheless, the implementation of more resilient production systems, based on low energy consumption, appropriate crop rotation, use of agroecological service crops (ASCs) and local organic amendments, is possible at almost any latitude in Europe. The project GREENRESILIENT takes on the challenge to develop such innovative robust local systems for year- round production of high quality and tasty vegetables in unheated and low-energy greenhouses or poly-tunnels for different European areas during a 36-month-period. These innovative systems ought to be able (i) to guarantee year-round production of a diverse range of high-quality vegetables; ii) to improve the availability and synchronization of nutrients with plant demand throughout the year; iii) to improve the soil’s ability to reduce the impact of and withstand specific pathogens; iv) to reduce the impact of pests, diseases and weeds and; v) to improve environmental sustainability of European organic and biodynamic greenhouse production. The complexity of the research challenge must be met through a nested approach with interactions between different fields of expertise. The consortium consists of scientists with multidisciplinary competences (agronomy, agroecology, soil chemistry, entomology, plant pathology, weed science, ecology) from eight countries with relatively large areas of protected organic production.
The project follows a four-step approach:
Step 1 considers the design and study of robust agroecosystems for organic greenhouse production in different European regions, the Mediterranean (Italy, France), the Central European (Austria, Switzerland) and the Western and Northern European region (Belgium, Denmark). These regions face different challenges to obtain robust agroecosystems. For the Central and Western/Northern region, the shortage of temperature and light during autumn, winter and early spring are major hurdles whereas the high dependence on plant protection agents, such as copper, must be addressed in the Mediterranean region. Within the framework of step 1, the innovative cropping system (INN) prototypes are developed and compared to the locally common practice (business as usual, BAU).
Step 2 addresses the evaluation of the INN in comparison to BAU with respect to (i) crop yield, (ii) nutrient availability as well as leakage and soil fertility, (iii) soil health and functional biodiversity including pest and disease suppressiveness assays and weed biodiversity assessments. Step 2 gives an indication of the robustness of parameters decisive for the overall evaluation.
Step 3 compares the environmental and economic sustainability of the different cropping systems.
Step 4 is integrative and permeates the entire project by communicating results and insights to stakeholders such as growers and policy makers, but also through interaction and involvement of consumers adopting the ”Food citizenship”-concept.
The project will in short summary identify different innovative, robust agroecosystems for organic greenhouse production addressing the local challenges for different European regions, compare them on the basis of critical agronomic and sustainability parameters and evaluate their environmental and economic sustainability. The project aims at formulating solutions for the establishment of robust agroecosystems adapted to local hurdles and conditions in different European areas and involves various categories of stakeholders along the value chain.
The project is funded by: EU-Core Organic/Formas
Duration of the project: 2018-2020
Principal Investigator: Fabio Tittarelli, IT
Other contributors: SE: Beatrix Alsanius, Anna Karin Rosberg (SLU)
Consiglio per la ricerca in agricoltura e l’analisi dell’economia agrarian, IT
Vegetable Research Centre Kruishoutem, BE
Institute for Agri-cultural and Fisheries Research, BE
Groupe de Recherche en Agriculture Biologique, FR
Aarhus University, Department of Food Science, DK
Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, NL
Wageningen Plant Research, NL