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Organic Farming Research - Denmark

Development of organic research

Since the late 1980s, development of organic production has been integrated into Danish agricultural policy. Organic farming has first and foremost been considered to represent a more environmentally friendly agricultural production method than conventional agriculture in relation to food quality, food safety, and animal health and welfare. It has also been recognised that organic farming represents possible answers to some of the problems in the conventional farming systems, e.g. climate. Therefore, the government started mapping research needs and developing legislation for organic farming, leading to the launch of two national action plans for developing organic farming and three national organic research programmes. 

Time line for development of Danish research in organic food and farming:

  • 1983 Mapping research needs of organic farms begins
  • 1987 World's first legislation on organic production set into force
  • 1988 Study shows 27 ongoing organic research projects at 14 different institutions
  • 1993 First central research programme in organic farming begins
  • 1995 Implementation of first Danish action plan for organic farming
  • 1996 Establishment of Forskningscenter for Økologisk Jordbrug (FØJO) /Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming (DARCOF)
  • 1996 The first coordinated Danish Research Programme in Organic Food and Farming systems (1996-2000 (DARCOF I) begins
  • 1999 Implementation of second Danish action plan for organic farming
  • 2000 Second coordinated Danish Research Programme in Organic Food and Farming systems 2000-2005(DARCOF II) begins
  • 2006 Third coordinated Danish Research Programme in Organic Food and Farming systems 2005-2010 (DARCOF III) begins
  • 2008 Expansion of DARCOF into ICROFS (The International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems)
  • 2010 Organic RDD (Research, Development, and Demonstration) programme is prepared and will run in 2011-2011

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Development of organic farming and market

The early development of organic farming in Denmark was inspired by alternative growing systems developed early in the 20th century in Germany, England, Switzerland, and the USA. However, it was the problems of the 1970s and 1980s related to the industrialised agricultural production methods that sparked a more weighty interest in alternative production.

During the 1990s, organic farming and food production became an increasingly important sector in Danish agriculture. Both production and consumption of organic products rose significantly during this decade, mainly due to an increased consumer demand for organic products.

The number of organic farms in Denmark peaked at 3,714 farms in 2002, after which there was a decrease to 2,689 farms in 2009 corresponding to 6.5 percent of all farms. The organic area (including conversion area) was in 2009 about 180,000 hectares in 2009, corresponding to 7 percent of the total cultivated area. Denmark has one of the world's highest consumption rates of organic products. Of all food products sold in Denmark, about 7 percent are organic and between 2005-2009, the sale of organic products increased 5.7 percent despite the financial crisis in 2009. The sale of organic products in 2009 was 4.9 billion Danish Kroner, roughly 660 million Euros (Organic Denmark press statement, May 2010, www.organicdenmark.dk).

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Key Activities

The International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS) was founded in 2008 by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. The centre is an expansion of the former Danish Agricultural Research Centre for Organic Farming (DARCOF), which was established in 1996.

ICROFS has an international mandate and an international board. In legal and administrative matters, ICROFS is part of the University of Aarhus, but it has its own budget allocation from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, which is administered by the Danish Food Industry Agency (http://ferv.fvm.dk).  

At the national level ICROFS is a "centre without walls," which means that ICROFS on behalf of the Danish Food Industry Agency coordinates and administers the Danish Research Programmes on Organic Food and Farming Systems, where research is performed in interdisciplinary collaboration between research groups in different institutions and universities. More information on the participants can be found at www.icrofs.org/darcofiii.

The Centre contributes to the coordination, management, and performance of strategic and user oriented, high quality research at the national as well as the international level, on the basis of organic principles and issues.

ICROFS was the coordinator of the FP6 ERA-net, CORE-Organic (Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming) with 11 European funding bodies and administrators from 9 countries running in the period 2004-2007. As a result of this project, a call for transnational research projects was launched in late 2006 and eight transnational CORE projects, running between 2007-2010, were funded by the CORE Organic consortium with 8.3 million Euros.

Internationally, ICROFS participates in EU Framework research projects, and it was coordinator of the following EU projects under FP5, FP6, and FP7:

  • FP7: ERA-net: Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming II (CORE Organic II): 2010-2013;
  • FP6: ERA-net: Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming (CORE Organic): 2004-2007;
  • STREP-project: Research to Support Revision of the EU Regulation on Organic Agriculture EEC 2092/91 Revision): 2004-2007;
  • FP5: Concerted action: Harmonised and Standardised Procedures for Evaluation of Plant Protection Products, Fertilizers and Soil Conditioners for Use in Organic Agriculture (Organic Inputs Evaluation): 2003-2005.

Despite the fact that ICROFS (as DARCOF) has been a partner in European research since 2003, it was only in 2008 that the centre was mandated to collaborate and initiate activities outside Europe. ICROFS is currently developing research activities in Africa and has collaboration with partners in China and Brazil.

ICROFS implements international as well as national research through researchers at universities and/or other research organizations at international level as well as national level.

In addition to the participation of Danish universities in the National research programme coordinated by ICROFS, several of the universities, particularly Copenhagen University and Aalborg University (the Faculty of Engineering and Science) undertake research related to organic food systems, for example, funded by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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Research programmes and key research themes

The content and volume of the Danish research programmes in organic food and farming is presented below. As the programmes carried out before 2005 are mainly of historical interest, only the most recent programmes are described:

Organic Research, Development and Demonstration programme,

In the summer 2010, The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries called for applications to the Organic Research, Development and Demonstration Programme (Organic RDD), which will run between 2011-2013. This is part of an organic effort under the Green Development and Demonstration Programme (GDDP), and is a step towards the specific goal of the Government to promote market-based organic food production and support a market-based doubling of the area with organic agriculture in Denmark in 2020.

  • Title of programme:  Organic Research, Development and Demonstration Programme
  • Duration:  2011-2013
  • Budget:  12.3 million Euros
  • Three cross-cutting main themes: Growth, Credibility, and Robust systems
  • Six focus areas:
  1. New high-value food products
  2. Focused development of organic farming systems for nature and environmental protection and rural development
  3. Robust plant production
  4. Increased production of fruit and berries and their sustainable protected production
  5. Future robust ruminant production
  6. Future production of fish, pigs, and poultry

According to the Green Growth policy, research and development are central instruments in meeting this target. The political parties behind Green Growth have agreed to allocate 5.3 million Euros annually from the ordinary National Budget during a three year period to the Green Development and Demonstration Programme (GDDP) for a total organic RDD effort of 16 million Euros. However, this amount includes Danish funding of transnational research projects under the ERA-net CORE Organic II as well as funding for the coordination of the research programmes CORE Organic II and Organic RDD, which is undertaken by ICROFS.

The Green Development and Demonstration Programme Board (GDDP Board) will evaluate the applications submitted to the Organic RDD programme. This programme has a total budget of 12.3 million Euros (of the 16 million Euros).

Overall, the Organic Research, Development and Demonstration programme focuses on three cross-cutting main themes: growth, robustness, and credibility in organic farming and food systems.

The call text is publicly available here.

DARCOF III: International research cooperation and organic integrity, 2006-2010

The research programme, DARCOF III (2006-2010), consists of 15 research projects. DARCOF III encompasses the entire organic food chain – from farmer to consumer. The aim is to provide more knowledge on the potential contribution of organic farming to a sustainable development of society.
Key figures for DARCOF III

  • Title of programme: International research cooperation and organic integrity
  • Duration: 2006-2010
  • Budget: 23 million Euros
  • Number of participating institutions: 20
  • Number of projects: 15 national projects (transnational projects are expected)
  • Project Publications at Organic Eprints: http://orgprints.org/view/projects/dk-darcof3.html

Funds for the programme were allocated as part of a parliamentary decision in 2004 on the so-called "Water Environment Plan III." The programme was initiated in continuation of the DARCOF strategy from 2003, which called for research supporting eight specific areas. Within the following eight main areas, 15 large research projects were carried out:

  1. Nutrition, health and food safety
  2. Processing, quality and consumption of organic products
  3. Development of an efficient primary organic production
  4. Organic integrity
  5. Different production systems significance for sustainable development
  6. Bio energy as a complement to organic food production
  7. Regulation and trade
  8. Organic farming in a global perspective

The aim of research programme DARCOF III:

  • To initiate and coordinate research, which on the basis of the organic principles develops integrity and efficiency in the organic food chain "from farmer to consumer";
  • To provide more knowledge on the potential contribution of organic farming to a sustainable development of society;
  • To ensure a high international level of research quality and maximum utilization of the allocated research resources to strengthen European and international collaboration on research and research education in organic farming and food production;
  • To ensure relevance and application of the research through communication and cooperation with research users and research communities.

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Research dissemination and communication

Dissemination of the research results is a central activity of ICROFS. Communication and dissemination of organic research is achieved mainly through web-based media, such as public homepages, video presentations from field activities, platforms for corporate work, web portals, and newsletters. There are about 4,000 subscribers to newsletters issued by ICROFS as part of its dissemination activities (October 2010).

Also, for corporate project management, internal newsletters are issued and intranet sites are provided based on specific project management software.

Besides the web-based activities, ICROFS has long-term experience in organization of field days for farmers and stakeholders, thematic workshops, and organic congresses. ICROFS also contributes to organic researcher conferences internationally such as the Organic World Conference of IFOAM/ISOFAR, Biofach, and regional conferences.

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Scientific education

Post-graduate research school in organic farming

In the spring of 2001 the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (KVL), (now LIFE, Copenhagen University) in cooperation with DARCOF established a post-graduate research school in organic food and farming. The purpose of The Research School for Organic Agriculture and Food Systems (SOAR) is to strengthen the quality of research education in organic farming.

The school offers scientific courses as well as a network environment for post-graduate students in organic agriculture. The students are encouraged to participate in interdisciplinary work and the school aims to reinforce the cooperation of students and supervisors in and across institutions.

SOAR is organised with a Steering Committee, a Head of School, a Secretariat and a Scientific Panel. The Steering Committee is formed by one member of each of the three core partner institutions: Faculty of Life Sciences (LIFE) at Copenhagen University, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at Aarhus University, and ICROFS.

Training of researchers

A wide variety of Bachelor, Master, and PhD studies are included in ICROFS’ research projects. To further strengthen the education of researchers with qualifications in organic farming, ICROFS offers supplementary funding of PhD students in relevant areas. In DARCOF III the 15 projects attracted 9 PhD students (October 2010).

Scientific workshops

Under the auspices of ICROFS, scientific workshops on a variety of technical aspects of organic farming are taking place. These workshops have different objectives, but generally, the focus is on the presentation and discussion of pressing problems and the formulation of research strategies in order to make progress in these areas.

Bachelor and Master of Science programmes

The Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Copenhagen (LIFE) offers a wide range of possibilities for scientific education within agriculture, horticulture, and related topics. However, there are neither Bachelor nor Master of Science programmes aimed specifically at organic food and farming. Likewise, a professorship established in 1996 as a supplement to DARCOF I was abolished in 2000. Instead, students are offered the possibility of joining courses within specific areas of organic food and farming.

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Organic Eprints

Organic Eprints (www.orgprints.org) is an open on-line archive for research in organic agriculture with over 8,000 publications – and is growing rapidly. Use of the archive is free of charge. There are 10,000 registered users of Organic Eprints, and the archive has more than 100,000 visitors each month. The archive contains scientific and popular articles, reports, presentations, project descriptions, books, and other research publications.

The Organic Eprints archive has been developed and maintained by ICROFS, (previously DARCOF) since 2002. In 2003 the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, FiBL, joined the project as its first international partner with editorial responsibilities for the German language region and responsibility for the German language version of Organic Eprints. The third partner with responsibilities of running the archive is Bundesprogram Ökologischer Landbau, BÖL.

The Organic Eprints archive is a tool to further develop research in organic agriculture. The main objectives are to facilitate the communication of research papers and proposals, to improve the dissemination and impact of research findings, and to document the research effort. In accordance with these objectives, the archive is designed to facilitate international use and cooperation.

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