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Organic Farming Research - Germany

Research on organic farming has a long tradition in Germany, going as far back as the 1920s. At that time the first – mainly biodynamic – pioneers started to carry out research on their farms. Organic farming research has recently gained strong momentum in Germany: schools of higher education as well as state research centres are opening and funding from the Federal Organic Farming Scheme BÖL (Bundesprogramm Ökologischer Landbau) has substantially strengthened organic farming research. This report summarizes the article by Lange et al. from 2006, published by BLE (see right). Some updates have been included.

History

University of Kassel, Witzenhausen: Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences.
University of Kassel, Witzenhausen: Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences. Here the first chair on organic agriculture was established. Picture: Uni-Kassel.de

Research on organic farming has a long tradition in Germany, going as far back as the twenties of the last century. At that time the first – mainly biodynamic – pioneers started to carry out research on their farms. The Institute for Biodynamic Research (IBDF) founded in 1950, was one of the first private organic research institutions in the world. Germany also acquired the first university chair for organic agriculture, where until today more specific professorships exist than in any other country. Since the beginning of the nineties, the status quo of research in organic farming is regularly documented through the scientific conference on organic farming, which is coordinated by the Foundation Ecology & Agriculture (SÖL). Further, in the context of EU projects, contacts to research colleagues outside of Germany were intensified. Several public bodies with research divisions got involved in organic farming. Through funding within the Federal Organic Farming Scheme BÖL organic research experienced a major upswing since 2002.

Germany has also played an important role in the development of international organic farming research. In 1984, the 5th International Scientific Conference of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) took place in Witzenhausen. In 2003, the International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR) was founded in Berlin. It promotes and supports research in all areas of organic agriculture by facilitating global cooperation in research, methodological development, education and knowledge exchange. ISOFAR supports individual researchers through membership services, publications, and events, as well as integrating stakeholders in the research process.

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Key institutions

In Germany, organic farming research is carried out by private institutions, universities, state research centres, and agencies.

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Support for organic farming research

The total funding for organic agricultural research in Germany includes funds for the financing of specific projects and institutional funding of research institutions. Research in organic farming is therefore funded as follows:

  • Institutional support on governmental level (e.g. state research institutes, Leibniz-Institutes etc.);
  • Institutional support on the level of federal states (“Bundeslaender”), e.g. universities, state research institutes, chambers of agriculture, etc.;
  • Project financing on governmental level by the Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food BLE (under the jurisdiction of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection BMELV) and the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation BfN and the Federal Environmental Agency UBA (under the jurisdiction of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety BMU);
  • Project financing by further public and private sponsors (e.g. private foundations, associations, German Federal Environmental Foundation DBU).

In general, there are three main funding pools of the BMELV to support organic farming research projects. One of these, a temporary funding source (2002-2015), is the Federal Organic Farming Scheme (BÖL).

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Research programme: The Federal Organic Farming Scheme BÖL

Logo of the Federal Organic Farming Scheme BOEL

Germany's Federal Organic Farming Scheme (Bundesprogramm Ökologischer Landbau BÖL) launched in 2002 and is expected to run until 2015. Under this scheme the whole organic sector is supported, including research. The Federal Organic Farming Scheme (BÖL) is a temporary funding source initiated to support the whole organic farming sector in Germany. The organic production system is recognised as giving high priority to environmental protection measures and covering goals of sustainability set by the government. Since 2007, the annual budget has been 16 million Euros (for all measures). In 2008, 8.3 million Euros were spent for research measures.

Within the Federal Organic Farming Scheme (BÖL), the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection BMELV developed a programme to support research and development projects and measures for the transfer of technology and knowledge in the organic farming sector. Under this programme, in the first phase (2002 – 2003), research contracts were awarded for specific topics, which would help meet special needs for extension and decision-making support for the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection BMELV. Many status-quo-analyses were carried out. In the second phase (2004 - 2006), a consultation among stakeholders was carried out, and new research areas were identified. In the current phase (since 2006), the focus is on interdisiciplinary research and the results of the previous project phases, as well as stakeholder information. The relevance to agricultural practice is also important. 

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Key research themes & project lists

Currently, most of the organic farming research in Germany is carried out under the Federal Organic Farming Scheme BOEL, though universities and research centres also carry out organic farming research using their own funds. 

Information on each research project carried out as well as the final reports is available in the Organic Eprints Archive (summaries are available in English).

The key topics of the BOEL are: 1) training/knowledge transfer, 2) food, 3) crops, 4) animals, 5) certification and inspection, 6) economic questions.

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General

Projects

Publications

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Priority setting and involvement of end users

Currently the Federal Organic Farming Scheme BOEL is the main funding source for research in organic food and farming in Germany.

For the second phase of the Federal Organic Farming Scheme BOEL, the team in charge of the research management within the Office of the BOEL started a broadly spread process to identify the most relevant future research topics. This was organised as a participative process to involve the main stakeholders (scientists, extensionists, practitioners, representatives from associations, etc.) as much as possible. The stakeholder involvement took place at workshops and consultations during scientific congresses or during separate meetings. It was very important to identify the main research deficits and gaps on behalf of the improvement of the whole organic food chain from agricultural production to consumer demands. Furthermore, this procedure was very important to integrate practical partners with their specific farming experience.

The selection criteria and evaluation procedures for projects of the Federal Organic Farming Scheme are described by Lange et al. 2006. 

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Platforms and coordination

Logo of the scientific conference on organic farming

Research conferences on organic agriculture in the German-speaking region

Since the early nineties, the Foundation Ecology & Agriculture (SOEL) has been coordinating a series of scientific conferences on organic agriculture (Wissenschaftstagungen). Each conference is organised in cooperation with a university or research institute active in organic research. These conferences provide an opportunity for researchers from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and other European countries to present their activities and results. Scientists, students, farmers, as well as members of scientific and agricultural institutions are invited to attend the conferences. The next conference will be held in March 2011 in Giessen.

For the eighth conference, held in 2005 at the Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences at the University of Kassel in Witzenhausen, the Organic Eprints Archive was used for submitting the conference papers for the first time. After the conference, these papers (more than 200) were made available publicly. The archive was also used for the conferences in 2007 (Stuttgart-Hohenheim) and 2009 (Zürich, Switzerland). Together with the final reports of the Federal Organic Farming Scheme, Organic Eprints now gives a near-complete overview of current organic farming research in Germany.

Links

Logo of the internet platform forschung.oekolandbau.de
Logo of the internet platform forschung.oekolandbau.de

Communicating the results of BOEL among the research and expert community

The research results are communicated via the research platform of the central internet portal forschung.oekolandbau.de. This platform, funded under the Federal Organic Farming Scheme, informs with brief texts about new results, and it provides access to the full reports. These are all archived at Organic Eprints, where they are publicly accessible. Furthermore, this site informs about relevant events and has links to internet sites of relevance to the project. The platform maintains a monthly e-mail newsletter to which almost a thousand users have subscribed.

During the first project phase of the research platform project (2002-2003), it was decided to use Organic Eprints for documenting final reports of the Federal Organic Farming Scheme. During this phase, the German language version of the archive was implemented.

Links

Logo Bundesprogramm ökologischer Landbau

Networks funded under the Federal Organic Farming Scheme

Under the Federal Organic Farming Scheme, several networks have been established that meet regularly. These networks unite researchers, research managers, advisors, and practitioners to discuss current themes, identify research needs and help implement research results from the Federal Organic Farming Scheme into agricultural practice. The following networks are funded:

  • Forum Plant Protection in Organic Agriculture
  • Network Animal Breeding in Organic Agriculture
  • Network for the Trials of Organic Medicinal and Herbal Plant Cultivation
  • Network for the Advancement of Cultivation Concepts in Organic Agriculture
  • Network Food Processing and Food Quality
  • Communication Network Organic Meat and Organic Wheat
  • Network in Organic Vegetable Cultivation
  • Feed Cultivation and Animal Nutrition in Organic Agriculture
  • Transnational Network for Organic Animal Breeding; Cooperation between Germany and Poland
Logo International Society of Organic Agriculture Research ISOFAR

International Society of Organic Agriculture Research ISOFAR

The International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR) promotes and supports research in all areas of organic agriculture by facilitating global cooperation in research, methodological development, education, and knowledge exchange and by supporting individual researchers through membership services, publications, events, and integrating stakeholders in the research process.

The International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR) was founded on June 20, 2003 in Berlin, Germany.

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Dissemination

Making BOEL results available for agricultural practice

Apart from the networks mentioned above, which play a major role for the dissemination of the research results of the Federal Organic Farming Scheme BOEL into agricultural practice, a number of further activities take place. These include, for instance, attractive leaflets for farmers containing the relevant information for agricultural practice. Furthermore, results from projects that are relevant for agricultural practice are processed and adapted to the needs of farmers and presented at the central internet portal for organic farming of the Federal Ministry www.oekolandbau.de.

Implementation of practical research results at federal state level

At many federal state research stations, a lot of research targeting the needs of agricultural practice is carried out, much of this funded under the Federal Organic Farming Scheme. In most cases, there is a close link with the organic advisory service, which guarantees that the research is practice oriented and that the results are transferred to the farmers. The results of these trials are also documented in the Organic Eprints Archive.

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Scientific education

All German universities and universities of applied sciences with a chair / coordinator for organic farming offer organic farming courses (see links below). Also, most other faculties of agriculture or environmental studies are involved in research and teaching and offer courses about organic farming or agroecology. There are also several dedicated Bachelor and Master Courses in organic farming.

Under the Federal Organic Farming Scheme, a trainee programme for graduate students is offered and the participants are trained to work in the organic sector, be it in advisory services, trading companies, or with publishers.

Furthermore most organic producer and other sector organisations as well as some agricultural schools provide training on organic farming. At the central internet portal on organic farming www.oekolandbau.de, all events including short trainings are listed.

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Sources and further reading

Organic farming research in 11 European countries

Cover Lange et al. 2006

Lange, Stefan; Williges, Ute; Saxena, Shilpi and Willer, Helga ( Eds. ) (2006) Research in Organic Food and Farming. Reports on organisation and conduction of research programmes in 11 European countries. Federal Agency for Agriculture and Food BLE, Bonn, Germany.