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Research in Arable Farming Systems in Europe Acquired and New Stakes - C. DAVID


Recently, the development of organic farming has been made possible by livestock production (Baars, 1998). As a result, the most common organic farming system in Europe was based on a large share of fodder crops in rotation, in combination with animal production (Olesen et al, 1998).

Nonetheless, the large demand on organic cereals (Sylvander, 1992), associated with both the development of organic production, thanks to their image of being environmentally friendly practices and the setting up of a public compensation payment system (Lampkin, 1996) create a favourable context to promote an arable farming system. Consequently, conversion to a specialized arable farming system is expected to increase.

Arable farming systems (AFS) will be faced with technical problems such as nitrogen management (David, 1997) and weed control (Thomas et al, 1994), which affect economic viability. Therefore, there seems to be a need for further research, concepts and tools, to enhance conversion and develop a sustainable system.

After a rapid description of arable farming systems in Europe, this introductive paper raises again a state-of-the-art in research on organic arable farming. Finally, the research methodologies will be discussed.


Over the last ten years, the fast growing market for organic cereals has created a favourable situation for specialized arable farming systems.

The earliest organic cereals have been produced by mixed farms. However, the use of imported fertilizers led to further intensification and specialization and induced development of arable farming systems.

In order to respond to the large demand of organic cereals, arable farming systems were recently converted into organic farming systems. Nonetheless, this recent development was divided between country and region, because of climate conditions and agricultural context. Thus, four AFS could be identified.

Table 1. Main characteristics of arable farming systems in Europe





Input Use

% Green Manure or leguminous

Nitrogen Input

Mixed Farming Systems

- 50% Leguminous, Fodder crops
- 50% Cereals


40 - 50%


North, European Arable Farming Systems

- 40% Cereals
- 20% Potatoes, Sugar beet



Yes 0 - 80 u N/ha

Mediterranean Arable Farming Systems

- < 30% Annual leguminous
- Cereals



Yes 0 - 150 u N/ha

Large-scale Arable Farming Systems

- 40% Cereals
- 20% Potatoes, Sugar beet



Yes 0-50 u N/ha

in David et al, 1998

Mixed Farming Systems

Usually developed in a temperate climate [Western Europe i.e. United Kingdom], these systems are based on a large share of fodder crops (more than 40 percent of the area) in combination with cereals. Within a long rotation (i.e. eight to ten years), cereals are grown after preceding crops such as leguminous, fertilized with farmyard manure. Animal production is reduced (lower than 20 livestock units), composed of dairy, beef or sheep production. The economic viability is ensured by a low level of inputs, self sufficiency and insertion of farm in viable processing and marketing networks thanks to links with livestock farming.

North European Arable Farming Systems

Mostly represented in the North European countries (i.e. Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands), this farming system had followed up the intensification and specialization observed in conventional agriculture. This specialization process has been possible thanks to the flexible norms for organic farming, particularly with regard to manure inputs and the external cultivation of roughage and concentrates (Baars, 1998).

In theses farms, there is currently a move towards high profit crops (i.e. potatoes, sugar beet) grown in short rotations (i.e. three to four years), without any place for Nitrogen fixing and soil improving crops as clover grass. All compensation for mineral off-take and/or loss of organic soil matter, takes place in the form of manure inputs derived from livestock organic farms.

The impact of nitrogen into organic farms in the form of artificial fertilizer is prohibited or restricted by organic production standards (EC Ref. 2092/91). Nonetheless, off-farm organic fertilizers (i.e. guano-vinasse) are used to some extent despite large fertilization costs (Von Fragstein et al, 1998).

Mediterranean Arable Farming Systems

Based on the use of irrigation, cereals (i.e. winter wheat, maize, sunflower) and grain legumes (i.e. soya bean, chick peas) are grown on farms. The maintenance of adequate levels of plant production and soil organic nitrogen sources largely depends on both ‘fertility building’ by nitrogen fixing leguminous and off-farm nitrogen sources (farm yard manure, organic fertilizers). The appearance of these systems has been made possible thanks to public funds from CAP Reform (direct payment on cereals and oilseed crops) and conversion aid with the accompanying measures (Lampkin and Padel, 1994) completed with interesting sale price levels.

Large-scale Western Arable Farming System

Recently, new arable farming systems have been set up on a large scale in areas with available land. Mostly represented in Eastern European countries, these systems are based on restrictive use of inputs, low fix costs and extensive crop production. Therefore, the use of farm yard manure from conventional livestock farms will make possible further intensification (Kovac et al, 1998).

Due to the appearance of novel arable farming systems, it can be expected that technical problems could appear, thereby affecting the profitability of such specialized systems. Faced with new questions, it is important to focus on the role of research and determine the needs of increased research attention with special emphasis on research methodologies.


Despite diversity within arable farming systems, these systems are faced with various agronomic problems.

Nitrogen Management (Von Fragstein, 1998; David, 1997)

In arable farming, farmers extended or even fully substituted the use of farm yard manure and leguminous by manufactured fertilizers, in spite of large fertilization costs. Thus, the amount of N required often exceeds the amount of N imported, resulting in a negative N budget for the crop (Patriquin, 1986). Consequently, nitrogen deficiencies affect yields and quality.

Weed Control

Effective weed control is difficult in arable farming (Rasmussen, 1996). By a low share of forage crops and short rotation, perennial weeds are spread over time (Bulson et al, 1997) which induces, in the long-term, a decreasing yield.

Soil Degradation

A low proportion of soil improving crops, the existence of intensive cropping practices (e.g. on maize, sugar beet, potatoes) and the low use of farm yard manure, lead to significant soil degradation, particularly in sandy soil and clay soil.

Plant Protection

Pests and diseases in cereals are facilitated by short rotation, intensive nitrogen input and sparse crop architecture. Moreover, the large build up of predatory beetles and spiders that occurs in permanent perennial legumes is reduced (Clements and Donaldson, 1998). Pests and diseases should be controlled through preventive methods as mixing varieties, long-term rotations, row spacing and insertion of break crops.

Water Resource Availability

Besides climatic growth factors, water is essential for plant growth and development (Elhers, 1997). In the conditions of restricted water supply, the competitive strength of organic farming to conventional farming will be increased with respect to yield and water use efficiency. However, the viability of Mediterranean AFS depends on water and fertilization use efficiency which is influenced by cultural intensity and farmer practices.

Economic Viability

Organic farming is usually considered to be a risky alternative method of agriculture. In an arable farming system, farmers should take into account non-profit crops and rarely low harvest thanks to technical problems. As a consequence, such systems require economic viability, provided by high selling prices and the strength of the processing and marketing network. Moreover, on arable farms, adaptations are necessary to achieve collaboration among arable and livestock farming systems.

In order to solve technical and economic problems and ensure sustainability, research and advisory systems have to give further solutions and develop novel methods to encourage knowledge transfer.


Agronomic Problems and Solutions - A Need for Further Resources

Höök (in Wynen, 1997) mentions that in the 1980s the emphasis was on solving short-term production problems. Historically, organic farming has been a bottom-up movement driven by farmers and later on stimulated by state support and market forces. Therefore, applied technical research has been and still is, favoured by farmers (Niggli and Lockeretz, 1996).

For the last 30 years, research and extension activities in organic farming have been carried out by specialized research teams amongst whom private research stations, founded in Northern European Countries (Wynen, 1997) played a large role. Research has mostly been developed over a long-term period (i.e. Oberwill & Rodale experiments).

Researchers mainly concentrated on livestock and mixed farming systems. As a result, research has been directed to:

- determine ecological advantages of organic farming;

- improve soil fertility by the introduction of farm yard manure and forage crops in crop rotation.

Nevertheless, recent research on arable farming has been carried out. The main themes which were investigated are:

- nitrogen management on arable farming systems (Von Fragstein et al, 1997, Granstedt et al, 1996)

Research is mostly concentrated on soil aspects. The most common approach to it has been to manage a mixed farm as closely as possible to a closed system (Köpke, 1993). As a result, many studies have tried to improve the recycling of forage crops and fertilization with composting manure;

- weed control on cereals (Schenke et al, 1994, David, 1996)

Weed problems have also been of inconsiderable interest, where crop rotations and mechanical control methods have been investigated a lot;

- pests and diseases were generally considered to be directly connected with soil availability and therefore received less attention;

- the analysis of the conversion process, recognized as a risky period for a number of reasons, including the need to develop new management skills, investment requirements and marketing possibilities.

Specific problems such as the control of perennial species in crop rotation with a high proportion of cereals and soil degradation, have not been developed recently.

Little attention has been paid to improving nitrogen management on cereals by the introduction of off-farm sources. Recommendations restricting the use of off-farm sources have been introduced to minimize nitrogen fluxes to the hydrological environment (Kristensen et al, 1995). Hence, organic cereals obtained a low baking quality thanks to nitrogen deficiency (Peltonen, 1993).

Wynen’s report (Expert roundtable FAO, Braunschweig 1997) focused on the need for further research. As a conclusion, this requirement could be reinforced with need for specific references adapted to arable farming systems.

Basic and Applied Research: Conflicts or Complementary

Applied research is generally carried out by those who have producers as their clients, for example, farmers’ organizations, private research stations. Basic research can be carried out in places such as universities, where there is relatively little direct contact with farmers and often better equipment and research facilities. (From Wynen’s Report “Expert Roundtable”, FAO, Braunschweig 1997).

Basic research is partly considered as a means to enhance the researchers’ reputations among their peers (Niggli and Lockeretz, 1996).

Wynen underlined conflict between basic and applied research. Niggli and Lockeretz criticized the role of basic research and recommended the development of holistic approach. Nonetheless, a subject such as plant protection needs further basic knowledge, which requires experiments.

In conclusion, researchers have to precisely analyse the needs of basic research and to establish a top-down approach which allows rapid transfer of technology.


At present, resources are allocated to fund experimental research in organic farming. Nonetheless, new methods were recently built up to facilitate the transfer of knowledge between researchers and farmers, by a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up process.

Role of On-farm Research

On-farm survey has been developed in England, France and The Netherlands. For example in France, ISARA has set up a research programme on arable farming:

- to follow-up conversion and identify sociological, economic and technical barriers; and

- to identify and solve main agronomic problems arising from conversion

A survey has been carried out in organic and converted farms. In the same way, on-farm trials were set up on selected fields (selected in each farm according to their semi-permanent characteristics (soil-cropping system practices) (David et al, 1996) to improve:

- nitrogen management on winter wheat; and
- weed control under rotation, mainly made up with cereals.

As a result, the combination of agronomic monitoring and multifarious/multicoated trials was of undeniable interests. It made it possible to detect relevant practices and testing feasibility of such practices under diverse soil and climate conditions. Furthermore, farm diagnosis and follow-up made it possible to evaluate the feasibility to integrate on the farm new, but already tested management skills.

Role of the Participatory Approach

Organic farming development is qualified as a bottom-up movement thanks to the role of ‘pioneer’ organic farmers in the establishment and dissemination of new management skills and techniques. As a result, researchers should rely on farmers’ needs and develop dialogue.

In France, The Netherlands and Spain, testing of the participatory approach has begun. Farmers’ participation cannot be limited to providing information and to verifying the suitability of scientists’ technologies or development projects. Researchers have to participate in the project of farmers, in a symmetric manner in order to spread active learning methods and make them widely available.


In spite of the need of a holistic approach (Niggli and Lockeretz, 1996), there is a certain risk that with the complex and often time-consuming approach one loses ones way in a research project. Researchers still have to define main objectives and issues to facilitate technical and economic viability. In this workshop, actors should establish future collaboration among scientists on integrating and harmonizing current research methods in organic farming. Cooperation and discussion between researchers, farmers and politics should then be enhanced.


BAARS, T. (1998): “Modern solutions for mixed systems in organic farming”. Mixed farming systems in Europe, Workshop Proceedings, Dronten, The Netherlands, 23-30 pp.

BULSON, H., WELSH, J., STOPES, C. and WOODWARD, L. (1996): “Weed control in organic cereal crops”. EU contract AIR CT93-0852, 135 pp.

CLEMENTS, R.O. and DONALDSON, G. (1998): “A clover-cereal whole crop silage system for mixed farming”. Mixed farming systems in Europe, Workshop Proceedings, Dronten, The Netherlands, 91-94 pp.

DAVID, C., FABRE, B. and GAUTRONNEAU, Y. (1996): “Towards modelling the conversion of stockless farming systems to organic farming - On-farm research in the South East of France”, IFOAM Conference: New research in organic agriculture, Copenhagen, 23-27 pp.

DAVID, C. (1996): “Influence of cropping systems and mechanical weed control on weed population in winter wheat: Research on stockless systems in conversion to organic farming”, 2nd ENOF Workshop, Barcelona, 35-44 pp.

DAVID, C. (1997): “Nitrogen management in organic farming, Nutrient requirement and fertilization efficiency of winter wheat”, 11th World Fertilizer Congress of CIEC Fertilization.

DAVID, C., CORMACK, B., KÖPKE, U., OOMEN, G.J.M., PALLUTT, B. and PHILLIPS, L. (1998): “Research in organic arable farming systems: Key notes”, 4th ENOF Congress, Edinburgh (in press).

ELHERS, W. (1997): “Influence of cultural intensity on water use and water use efficiency - Basic considerations and deductions for organic farming”, 5th ENOF Workshop, Resource use in organic farming, 7-21 pp.

GRANDSTEDT, A. and KJELLENBERG, L. (1996): “Long term field experiment in Sweden. Effects of organic and inorganic fertilizers on soils and crops”, IFOAM Conference: New research in organic agriculture, Copenhagen, 28-34 pp.

KÖPKE, U. (1992): “Nitrogen utilization in organic farming systems: losses by leaching and symbiotic fixation”, Potentials and limits of organic farming EU Workshop, Louvain la Neuve, 130-137 pp.

KOVAC, K., LACKO-BARTOSOVA, M., KIMEKOVA, M. and MUDROCH, J. (1998): “Ecological farming in the Slovak Republic”, 5th congress European Society of Agronomy, Nitra, 39-40 pp.

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LAMPKIN, N. (1996): “Impact of EC Regulation 2078/92 on the development of organic farming in the European Union”. Working paper n°7 - Welsh Institute of Rural Studies, 30 pp.

NIGGLI, U. and LOCKERETZ, W. (1996): “Development of Research in Organic Farming”, IFOAM Conference, Copenhagen, 25 p.

OLESEN, J.E., ASKEGAARD, M. and RASMUSSEN, I.A. (1998): “Organic crop rotations for grain production”, Mixed farming systems in Europe, Workshop Proceedings, Dronten, The Netherlands, 63-70 pp.

PATRIQUIN, D.G. (1986): “Biological husbandry and the nitrogen problem”, Biological Agriculture and Horticulture, 3: 167-189 pp.

PELTONEN, J. (1993): “Grain yield of high and low protein wheat cultivars as influenced by timing of nitrogen application during vegetative development”, Field Crops Research, 33: 385-397 pp.

RASMUSSEN, J. (1996): “Mechanical weed management”, Proceedings of the Second International Weed Control Congress, 943-948 pp.

SCHENKE, H. and KOEPKE, U. (1994): “Cultivation methods for the control of weeds in winter wheat crops grown in an organic farming system”, Zeitschrift für Pflanzenkrankheiten und Pflanzenschutz, 333-342 pp.

SYLVANDER, B. (1992): “L’évolution du marché des produits biologiques: Tendances et perspectives”, Courrier de la cellule de l’environnement de l’INRA n°18, 7-21 pp.

THOMAS, J.M. et al (1994): “Non chemical weed control”, 4th IFOAM Conference, Dijon, France, 393 pp.

VON FRAGSTEIN, P., SCHMIDT, H., KALBURTJI, K., GAUTRONNEAU, Y., DAVID, C. and STOPES, C.E. (1997): “On-farm development and evaluation of organic farming systems: the role of livestock and agroforestry”, Final report EU project AIR3 CT93-0852.

VON FRAGSTEIN, P., SCHMIDT, H., KALBURTJI, K., GAUTRONNEAU, Y., DAVID, C. and STOPES, C.E. (1998): “N-management in ecological arable farming systems”, 5th Congress European Society of Agronomy, Nitra, 17-18 pp.

WYNEN, E. (1997): “Biological Farming Research in Europe”, REU Technical Series No.54. Krell R. (Ed.), 73 pp.

Research in Organic Farming in the Nordic Countries with Specific Focus on Methodological Problems - V. LUND


Presently some 400 research projects related to organic farming (OF) are performed in the Nordic Region. Most projects are component oriented, using reductionistic methods, but there are also some innovative projects with holistic, multiperspective approaches. In order to create agricultural systems that comply with the holistic views of OF, new research methodology needs to be developed. How this should be done is now debated in the Nordic countries.


The aim of this paper is to review the current state of research in organic farming (OF) in the Nordic countries, focusing on the discussion regarding research methodologies for OF. A brief background of the Nordic situation is given and the methodological problems arising from basing research on the concept of OF are discussed. This paper is only dealing with the situation in the Nordic countries, that is Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. It should be noted that OF is called “ecological agriculture” in the Nordic countries. The paper is based on personal observations, interviews with one or two key persons in each of the Nordic countries (see list of “Personal communications” at the end of this paper) and a literature study. All interviewed persons have responded very kindly. However, all viewpoints and any mistakes in this text are the full responsibility of the author.


The Nordic Region has a population of about 24 million and 8 306 000 ha of arable land (Nordic Statistical Yearbook 1997; Table 1). The area shares a common cultural and historical background. In Denmark, Sweden and Norway the languages are similar enough to allow the inhabitants to understand each other. Agro-eco zones and growing conditions are mainly determined by latitude and altitude, causing big differences between north and south in the Region rather than between countries. Livestock farming systems are generally favoured by climatic and geographic conditions in the Region. In certain areas it is difficult to harvest matured grain, due to very high yearly precipitation (as in the western parts of Norway and in Iceland) or to short growing season (as in the northern parts of the Scandinavian Peninsula, especially inland and in Iceland). Ley production is however, feasible almost everywhere, making livestock and particularly milk production (based on clover-grass hay or silage) the most important type of production in large areas since ancient times.

Livestock farms are generally facing fewer problems while converting to OF as compared to other production systems. The difference between organic and conventional livestock farming is usually relatively small, at least in those areas where grain can be harvested. A great increase in farming intensity has taken place in the Region during the last four decades, causing a wide range of environmental problems facing agriculture today.

Table 1. Population and arable land in the Nordic countries (Nordic Statistical Yearbook, 1997)







Total population 1/1 1997, (1 000s)

5 275

5 132


4 393

8 845

23 913

Total arable land, 1 000 ha

2 332

2 125




8 306

* 1/1 1996

There are also differences between the countries. For example, Denmark generally has more favourable soils and climate for arable farming. In contrast to the other Nordic countries the food and agricultural sector is important for Danish export, contributing to 24 percent of the export income in 1996 (Agricultural Council of Denmark, 1998). Politically, Norway and Iceland are not members of the European Union, however, they are members of the European Economic Area (EEA). Finland and Norway have had a comparatively protectionistic agricultural policy for a number of years, while Denmark and Sweden have tried to adapt to world market prices. Environmental issues have been more debated in Denmark and Sweden than in the other countries. Farm animal welfare has been another issue of great concern to the public in these countries.


Biodynamic agriculture was practised in the Nordic Region already in the 1930s. The biodynamic research group “Nordisk Forskningsring” first started research in OF in 1949. Their most well known research project is a 32-year (1958-1990) field trial regarding effects of different manuring systems on product quality (Pettersson et al., 1992).

In the 1970s the present concept of ecological agriculture started to develop (MAF, 1995). The big increase in number of farms converting to ecological agriculture started in the 1980s, especially in Denmark and Sweden, mainly out of environmental concern. Today, OF is generally accepted by all sectors of society as a viable alternative to conventional farming. In Denmark and Sweden organic food producers are at the moment having difficulties satisfying consumer demand for organic certified products. In Finland and Norway the development has been slower. In Norway there was early political support for OF, resulting in the establishment of the Norwegian Centre of Ecological Agriculture in 1986 with the aim to promote OF research (Saether, 1997). In Iceland the idea of OF has been generally accepted only during the last few years. Still a big scale conversion (20 percent of farms) has been politically debated in the Parliament of Iceland. An increasing international demand for organic mutton has accelerated Icelandic farmers’ interest in OF (Thorsson, pers. comm.).


The Nordic agricultural universities have generally been slow in accepting the idea of OF as a research field, as compared to the widespread acceptance of the phenomenon in other sectors of society (e.g. among politicians and consumers). Its acceptance in universities has generally followed a pattern supporting the theories of a paradigm shift (see e.g. Wynen, 1998). The first chair in Ecological agriculture was introduced at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in 1990 (financed directly through the Council for Forestry and Agricultural Research rather than by the university itself). Today the following six chairs have been established in the Nordic Region: two in organic plant production, three in agro-ecology and one in ecological animal husbandry. In addition there are two associate professors.

During the last decade and estimated in round figures, more than US$100 million have been dedicated to OF research and development projects in the Region. In addition, some OF projects have received funding from “conventional” sources. It is estimated that about 400 projects of varying size are presently on-going in the Nordic Region.

A problem is to make a clear distinction of what to classify as “organic” projects. Many projects are of great interest both for organic and conventional farming. Another difficult distinction is that between research and development projects. One should be aware that these distinctions might vary between countries, making comparisons of figures in the following overview difficult. Also, while the number of projects is reviewed, the size of the individual projects may vary considerably.


In Denmark a big research agenda was launched in 1996 following a government decision on a US$17.5 million funding of OF research. Three big research programmes were started, all coordinated by the Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming. Later more projects have been added, so that a total of six programmes are now coordinated by the Centre (Table 2).

There are also OF research projects headed by other Danish research institutions. The Danish “Økoguide” (Borgen, 1997) lists 47 such on-going projects. An estimated 4-8 percent of the total agricultural research budget is allocated to research in OF (Kristensen, pers. comm.).

Table 2. Research projects coordinated by the Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming (Research Centre for Organic Farming 1997)


US$ Million

Time period

Project distribution


Strategic and basic research in OF emphasizing biological and environmental aspects



4 in plant production
2 in animal husbandry
2 in enterprise and environment


Production oriented research and development projects in OF



3 in plant production
2 in vegetable, fruit and berry production
2 in animal husbandry
2 in enterprises and environment


Development and research activities in organic plant production



7 in plant production
2 in vegetable production


Organic crop husbandry




Production and sale of organic pork



2 projects


Interdisciplinary synthesis of knowledge and education programme for researchers



2 projects


In 1995 a two-year research programme for OF was launched, comprising some 50 projects in nine areas (Table 3). The programme has been extended for another three years. It now includes 77 projects: 39 of these are classified as “pure” organic and 38 as “supporting” organic research (Seuri, pers. comm.).

Table 3. Overview of the Finnish OF research programme 1995-97 (Höök, 1996)

Research area

Number of projects

Number of annual work units

Plant nutrition



Natural resources, economy and society



Plant protection, environment and landscape



Animal husbandry



Vegetable, fruit and berry production



Labour technique and machinery



Food quality



Plant breeding, seeds and variety trials


(no information)

Food processing and distribution


(no information)


There is currently no official OF research programme in Iceland. During the last years a few projects have received small grants from the Icelandic Research Council and through a project run by the Farmers’ Association. This also includes support for marketing and for farmers converting to OF. In 1997 about US$50 000 were used for research projects, however, not all can be considered organic (Thorsson, pers. comm.).


The Norwegian Research Council for Ecological Agriculture is in the process of publishing a catalogue of on-going OF research and development projects (Serikstad, in print). It lists about 40 such projects.


A catalogue published at the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (af Geijerstam, 1998) lists 161 on-going research and development projects at this university considered to be directly related to OF. In addition, it lists another 53 projects performed at other Swedish universities and research institutions. The Swedish Board of Agriculture (1998) has published a similar review of OF research projects, including both completed and on-going projects. This catalogue lists 281 projects: 66 in plant nutrition, 35 in plant protection, 24 in weed control, 66 in crop production, 14 in plant husbandry techniques/cropping systems, 14 “systems comprehensive” projects, one in energy supply, two in economy and 59 in animal husbandry.


To be able to discuss methodological problems related to OF research, it is necessary to have a definition of what is included in the concept. A joint Nordic definition of OF (“ecological agriculture”) was made by the Nordic IFOAM group in 1989. This manifesto is called The Nordic Platform for Ecological Agriculture. It has since been further elaborated, e.g. by the Swedish Council for Forestry and Agricultural Research which in 1996 published a report on the present state of knowledge and need for future OF research (Höök, 1996). It includes an exhaustive definition of “ecological agriculture” used when distributing research funding allocated for OF.

Also the national standards are of importance when discussing the concept of OF. There is one certification organization in each country issuing national standards (based on the IFOAM basic standards). Iceland forms the exception having two certification organizations. In Denmark there are also national standards set by the Government in 1987 (however, somewhat less strict than those issued by the Danish Certification Organization). Denmark passed a law in 1987 on OF production.


The Nordic platform consists of a definition of OF, a description of the conceptual background, stated aims and practical applications (Granstedt et al., 1998).

Definition and background: OF is defined as a self reliant, sustainable agro-ecosystem, based on local and renewable resources. It is stated that OF is based on a holistic view where nature is considered as a whole with an intrinsic value of its own. Further, humankind is to take moral responsibility regarding the ecological, economical and social aspects of agricultural production.

Aims: The aims form human duties aimed at humans and farm animals as well as nature. The aims are presented in Table 4.

Practical applications: The basis for the plant production is the respect for soil structure and fertility and a balanced crop rotation. Soil fertility is to be maintained through recirculation of organic material. Farming should be carried out with respect to curative actions against pests and weeds. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not allowed. A balance is necessary between the number of animals on the farm and the acreage. This means that the animals as far as possible should be fed from that farm’s production and that manuring should cause a minimum of environmental impact.

Table 4. Aims of OF according to the Nordic Platform


Human duties/aims


To produce high quality food in sufficient amounts with fair and equal distribution between humans, locally as well as globally. To take social responsibility for the farmer,i.e. providing a reasonable income, a safe working environment and a meaningful job. To create good and close relations between farmers and consumers.

Farm animals

To safeguard farm animal well-being, including the possibility to perform natural behaviour.

Nature (the cultural landscape, natural resources)

To create a cultural landscape with a diversity of species as well as genetic diversity within species and in which the development potentialities of all living organisms are safeguarded. To create recirculation of nutrients between urban areas and the surrounding landscape through the integration of urban areas, agro-ecosystems and natural ecosystems. To economize with the natural resources and minimize the environmental impact. To safeguard the long-term fertility of the soil.


The statement that ecological agriculture is to be based on a holistic view has consequences on how to perform OF research. This view is based on the concept that a system is more than the sum of its parts, for example, that to gain information about the system you cannot only study its parts but you must also include a study of the system itself (Lübcke, 1983). The ambition of OF research to grasp a rich picture of a complex system puts new and challenging requirements on the methodology used. It calls for a multiperspective approach in research.

The Danish authors Fjelsted Alrøe and Kristensen (1998) argued that the necessity for OF research to develop a holistic view implies that:

- it is not possible for researchers to disregard any relations within the system, including future ones (although this is very difficult to handle methodologically!);

- research must take on multiple viewpoints, looking at the system both from within (the researcher being a subjective “actor”) and from the outside (the researcher taking the role of an objective observer).

As a consequence, research must also include all the practical elements of the agricultural system and here OF has a great strength in that it is actually a viable alternative that already functions in practice. Since the system aims at self-sustainability, research must focus on self-sustainable units. This means that the whole spectrum must be included; in some cases the perspective must be global but in other cases a local or regional perspective will do. The following methodological approaches are presently discussed in the Nordic Region as relevant to OF.

Systems Approach

The broad understanding of the OF concept demonstrated in the Nordic platform, together with the complexity of livestock farming calls for a systems approach (e.g. Ebbersten, S., 1990; Helander, C.A., 1997; Kristensen and Halberg, 1997). The systems view is argued by all interviewed persons as one needed characteristic of OF research.

A major problem is that there are presently few techniques developed to analyse farming systems and the emergent properties of such systems. Most of the systems research performed today consists of analysing subsystems rather than the system as such. (Lieblein pers. comm.). There is a need for more synthesizing research methods. Two methods of systems research have drawn particular attention in the Nordic Region:

a) The ideas of systems ecology and energy analysis introduced by H.T. Odum (1988). The analysed systems are here regarded as open and interactive with their surroundings. The uniqueness of this method is that both the environment and human activities can be incorporated and measured in the same analysis, since resource flow is measured on the same basis. The method is measuring the value of nature for the economical system, according to the premise that the value of a resource is proportional to the amount of energy used to generate that resource, irrespective of geological, biological or economical origin.

b) Farming as a human activity system. This view has been inspired by Checkland’s soft systems methodology (Checkland, 1981) and the farming systems research developed by Bawden (e.g. Bawden, 1995) among others. The farming system is not only seen as a production process but as a human activity system (e.g. Kristensen and Halberg, 1997). The researcher becomes an actor in the system, rather than an objective outside observer. The view automatically also brings in the qualitative “soft systems” aspect into research (see below).

It was noted that the first four Nordic postgraduate courses in OF (held in 1995-98) were about systems research in this notion (e.g. Lieblein, 1997). One of the co-workers in the Bawden research group, Nadarajah Sriskanderaja, has spent about six months at the Agricultural University of Norway where he contributed spreading the ideas of farming as a human activity system. In addition the American professor Charles Francis was appointed in 1998-99, the first Visiting Professor of the Agro-ecology in Nordic Forestry, Veterinary and Agricultural University (NOVA). He has extensive experience from system design and participatory learning processes and will contribute to the Nordic development in these fields, e.g. through the design of a comprehensive MSc degree programme in ecological production systems.

Participatory research has emerged out of the view of farming as a human activity system. Here the researcher joins with the farmer, the advisor and other concerned parties and each participant contributes with his/her experience and knowledge both in formulating the research questions and in performing the research. Participatory research also provides an excellent method of finding the key issues for future OF research.

Qualitative Aspect

a) Soft systems methodology. In order to include human activities in research, much more attention must be paid to soft systems methodology. Qualitative research is common in the social sciences and there is a need for interdisciplinary exchange. The natural sciences have to learn qualitative research from a systems perspective.

b) Ethical aspects. Ethics is the qualitative aspect dealing with human values and morals. In a recent article Fjelsted Alrøe and Kristensen (1998) concluded that to analyse the complexity of a livestock based farming system, a systemic view is a first step in research. The second step is to move beyond the limits for what is conventionally considered as scientific, to also include the values and the ethical context of which the research is a part.

Multiperspective Approach

The Nordic platform takes a multiperspective approach which is also necessary in OF research. All the above-mentioned perspectives (and more) must be included for a fully holistic view. A key characteristic of real life oriented and thus relevant systems research, is that it transcends natural sciences with their often quantitative methods and social sciences with their often qualitative methods. As such, the systems researcher aims to deal with both natural as well as human processes in agriculture and to relate those processes to the real life situation as a whole (the systems perspective) (Lieblein pers. comm.).

A recent interesting discussion regards the role of intuition in research (Borgen, 1998). Since a holistic view calls for including all possible factors, human intuition could be a superior tool in the evaluation process. Thus, it is needed to develop tools for the use of human intuition in research.


Looking at a research project as a three-step process (Figure 1), an alternative perspective may be taken either in parts of the process or during the whole process.

A project with an altogether “alternative” approach would pose the research question from a holistic perspective, then use an alternative scientific methodology in the second step to answer the question and finally make the evaluation and synthesis of results again from a holistic perspective.

However, all interviewed persons agree that an altogether “alternative” approach is not always necessary. “Holistic” research questions may well be answered through the use of conventional methodology. The crucial point is to have a holistic approach when drafting the research question, as well as when discussing the results.

The majority of the Nordic research projects are component oriented, solving the problems on a component rather than systemic level. The interviewed persons estimated that more than 90 percent of the present research projects have a conventional design, using reductionistic methods. Several projects show little of holistic approach, thus taking the same perspective as conventional agriculture, only suggesting techniques with less environmental impact as solutions to the problem. That is, a lack of holistic perspective may lead to reductionistic answers not leading much further in developing a sustainable agricultural system.

One reason for the strong component orientation is probably that it has been difficult enough to get the Nordic universities and funding bodies to accept OF as a research field, even with “conventional” research design. Projects also including alternative methodology have had marginal chances to be funded. This is probably also a reason why there has not been much development of alternative research methodologies in OF research. The alternative methodology is usually developed within other areas of science. This is true fore example, for farming systems research and multivariate statistical analysis.

Another reason why there has been little development of holistic methodology is that it usually requires some kind of interdisciplinary studies, e.g. between natural and social/humanistic sciences. Such border crossings are not favoured by the academic system by which researchers qualify themselves for future advancement. In addition, it is more difficult to receive funding for such studies (Wynen, 1997).

Figure 1. The research project as a three step process

Methodology questions are presently a “hot issue” in Nordic countries. For example, in Autumn (1998), seminars were arranged on this topic in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Thus, one can anticipate an interesting development of innovative methodology resulting in an increased number of research projects taking holistic approaches.


Below some examples of Nordic projects that may be considered to have an innovative approach in some respect are listed[7].

Systems research: The Swedish Council for Forestry and Agricultural Research has financed a “Research School in Ecological Land Use” (ReS-ELU), starting in 1998. It is headed by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and four Swedish universities participate. There will also be close cooperation with other Nordic research schools. The research area is defined as OF in a dynamic interaction with surrounding society and nature. Humans and nature are viewed as integrated parts of a single system. The starting point and focus will be agricultural sub-systems[8] and the importance of the interfaces between society, agriculture and the environment (Figure 2). The approach will emphasize interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and synthesis. Nine PhD positions are integrated in interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary projects. Five major interrelated research themes are identified as the core programme of the school:

  1. internal processes of OF;
  2. processes and interactions between agriculture, societal metabolism[9] and environment;
  3. interactions between agriculture and socio-economic frameworks;
  4. how ecological knowledge is created and shared in relation to agriculture;
  5. strategic options for the processes of change toward ecological agriculture.

A holistic approach is taken in a group of projects at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. These are trying to apply the systems thinking of H.T. Odum on agricultural systems. One example is the project “The role of agriculture in a sustainable society” where emergy analysis is used for measuring agriculture’s biophysical dependency on the surrounding world.

Another interesting group of projects at the same university deals with the development of long-term self-sustainable animal husbandry systems. Grazing animals (also pigs and poultry) are included in the crop rotation and the animals’ natural behaviours are utilized for productive labour, e.g. rooting pigs are used for breaking the ley.

In Finland a project is planned for studying the question whether environmental quality of organic grain could be increased by local production (the whole food chain taken into consideration) rather than by a global grain production system. This is a multidisciplinary study integrated with food systems research.

Figure 2. Proposed Research School will highlight the interfaces between society, agriculture and the environment.

On-farm research: In Norway a large scale case study and on-farm research including 30 farms was performed in 1989-92 at the Norwegian Centre for Ecological Agriculture. This project was continued with 13 of the farms in 1993-96. The projects mostly consisted of on-farm data collection but also included some development of new methodology. In the same institute a three year on-farm project was made studying the impact of heavy traffic in ley, including an alternative statistical design.

Also in Denmark there is a big on-farm project administered by the Danish Institute for Agricultural Sciences. Data collection is made on the farms while they also function as demonstration farms and a basis for other research projects.

Participatory research: In Finland, a five year participatory research project started in 1995 as a cooperation between Helsinki University and Partala Research Station for Ecological Agriculture. It is focused on organic vegetable farms.

In Sweden a participatory research project has just started. Six farmers, one farm manager, one adviser and three researchers will work together focusing on leguminous plant production and green manuring. The aim is to extend the participatory research to more projects.

The project “Developing ecological agriculture in typical field crop areas in Norway” aims to develop knowledge to support farmers in conversion to OF, in areas presently dominated by monoculture grain cropping. The project is systems oriented, studying the areas in-between soil- and crop sciences and animal sciences and also between the natural sciences and the social sciences. The results are presented in conventional terms. The project focuses on studies of real life farms and applies participatory methodologies as an integral part of the scientific process.

A very interesting form for participatory research is the “Grass Root Research” in Denmark. In 1998-2001 the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will provide US$3.2 million for innovative research to be initiated by farmers and other citizens wanting to do “down to earth-research” in organic farming. It is not necessary that results are reproducible according to scientific practice. The aim is to create a dialogue with established researchers and that the grass root research will provide new ideas for future scientific work. This research programme was initiated by the Danish Association for Organic Farming.

Projects including the study of values and ethics: At the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences a project “The interplay between agricultural production, values and regulations in organic farming” was performed in 1993-97. It included three sub-projects: “The degree of sustainability and ethical accounting in organic farming”, “Farmers’ non-economical values” and “Farmers’ non-economical values in relation to distribution, authorities, research and advisory organizations”.

In Sweden two interdisciplinary projects studying ethics in OF are performed: a three year project “Environmental ethics in sustainable agriculture” and a four year project “Values and ethics in animal husbandry within OF”.

Two Danish projects have focused on the philosophy of OF. One project is performed at the Aalborg University Center, focusing on the transition and change between OF and the establishment, including philosophical and historical aspects and looking into other cultures. Another project “Nature ethics as a practical concept” has been performed at the Technical University of Denmark. It is a case study, based on qualitative interviews with six farmers. Values and ethics expressed by the farmers are compared with their ways of farming in practice. Interdisciplinary methodology is used on a phenomenological and anthropological basis.

A four year phenomenological study of farmers in conversion to OF, “The basis for decision-making in organic farming” has recently been completed at the Agricultural University of Norway.

A project at the Danish Research Centre for OF, “Farm management in relation to the values of environment and nature” is studying a Multi-objective Decision Support System. It is trying to operationalize an ethical accounting system for animal husbandry and for farm impact on landscape ecology.

Studies in “scientifically controversial” topics: A few projects deal with scientifically controversial topics, such as homeopathy or biodynamic preparations. In 1998 a four year project, “Alternative veterinary medicine and biological plant protection” was started. It includes a study of homeopathic treatment of infectious diseases in farm animals at the Norwegian College of Veterinary Medicine and a study of holistic methods for plant protection at the Norwegian Centre for Ecological Agriculture. In Denmark a literature study regarding homeopathy and homeopathic treatment of farm animals was performed earlier at the Danish Institute for Animal Sciences.

Three projects at the Danish Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University study anthroposophic picture creating methods (using copper chloride crystallization or picture chromatography with silver nitrate) for measuring qualitative characteristics of plant products. These projects include development of methodology.

In Sweden a university project, “Effects of biodynamic preparations on plant mineral balance” is part of a project run by the Biodynamic Association dealing with the handling of farm yard manure, soil fertility and product quality.

Multiperspective projects: In Denmark ten scientists from three different research institutions (Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Research Centre Risø and the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University) are cooperating in a project, “Biological nitrogen fixation, recirculation and leakage of nitrogen in organic farming systems”. The project is aiming at “knowledge synthesis”, studying the nitrogen balance in organic farming.


Some 400 research projects related to OF are presently on-going in the Nordic Region. The overwhelming majority (90 percent or more) of projects are component oriented, using reductionistic methods. In order to create agricultural systems that comply with the holistic views of OF, new research methodology needs to be developed. There is an awareness of this problem among researchers in the Region and there is presently a debate regarding how to develop OF research methodology. There is also a general agreement on the concept of OF and the methodological development will most probably be facilitated through close cooperation among the Nordic research institutions. Although there are already interesting projects on-going, the number of projects with a holistic, multiperspective approach is likely to increase in the future. We can look forward to interesting developments in this field.


AGRICULTURAL COUNCIL OF DENMARK (1998): Vaerd at vide 1/98.

BAWDEN, R. (1995): “On the systems dimension in FSR.”, J. Farming Systems Res. and Educ. Vol. 5, no. 2., 1-18 pp.

BORGEN, A. (1998): “Har holdningen till økologisk jordbrug konsekvenser for valget af forskningsmetoder?” KVLs Forum for Bioetik om økologisk jordbrug.

BORGEN, M. (ed.) Økoguide 97/98. Økologisk Landscenter.

CHECKLAND, P. (1981): “Systems thinking: Systems practice”. New York.

EBBERSTEN, S. (1990): “Lantbruksvetenskap - en omvärldsanalys inför 2000-talet med särskild hänsyn till agronom-, hortonom- och landskapsarkitektutbildningarna.” SLU/Förvalning nr. 16, SLU, Uppsala.

FJELSTED ALRØE, H. AND E. S. KRISTENSEN (1998): “Baeredygtighed og økologisk jordbrug.” Landbrugsøkonomisk Forum nr. 3. In print.

AF GEIJERSTAM, L. (1998): Ekologiskt lantbruk. Forsknings- och utvecklingsprojekt, försöksgårdar och skoljordbruk i Sverige 1998. Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

GRANSTEDT, A., BOVIN, B., BRORSSON, K.-Å., LUND, V. AND Å. RÖLIN (1998): Ekologiskt lantbruk - fördjupning. Natur och Kultur/LTs förlag. Falköping.

HELANDER, C.A. (1997): “The Logården project: development of an ecological and an integrated arable farming system.” In: Ittersum, M.K. van and Geijin, S.C. van de (eds.) Perspectives for Agronomy - Adopting Ecological Principles and Managing Resource Use, 309-317 pp.

HÖÖK, K. (1996): Ekologisk jordbruks- och trädgårdsproduktion. Utredning om kunskapsläge, pågående forskning och behov av fortsatt forskning. Swedish Council for Forestry and Agricultural Research.

LAZSLO, E. AND A. LAZSLO (1997): “The contribution of the Systems Sciences to the Humanities.” Systems Research and Behavioural Science 14, 15-19 pp.

LIEBLEIN, G. (ed.) (1997): From farming systems to food systems: Third Nordic postgraduate course in ecological agriculture. Dep. Horticulture and Crop Sci., Agric. Univ. Norway (NLH), P.O. Box 5022, 1432 Ås, Norway.

LÜBCKE, P. (ed.) (1983): Filosofilexikonet. Copenhagen.

MAF (1995): Aktionsplan for fremme af den økologiske fødevareproduktion i Danmark Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery.

NORDIC STATISTICAL YEARBOOK. (1997): Nordic council of Ministers.

PETTERSSON, B., REENTS, H.J. AND E. VON. WISTINGHAUSEN (1992): Düngung und Bodeneigenschafen. Ergebnisse eines 32-jährigen Feldversuches in Järna, Schweden. Nordisk Forskningsring, Meddelande nr. 34.

RESEARCH CENTRE FOR ORGANIC FARMING (1997): Statusrapporter 1997. Foulum, Denmark.

SAETHER, S. (1997): Ti år i vekst. Norwegian Centre for Ecological Agriculture, Tingvoll.

SERIKSTAD, G.L. (ed.) Økologisk landbruk. Strategiske instituttprogrammer, forsknings-, formidlings- og utviklingsprosjekter i Norge 1998-99. Norwegian Centre for Ecological Agriculture, Tingvoll. In print.

SWEDISH BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (1998): Sammanställning över ekologiska projekt. Jordbruksverket Rapport 1998:6. Jönköping.

WYNEN, E. (1997): “Research on Biological Farming Methods in Europe. Perspectives, status and requirements.” In: Krell, R. (ed.) Biological Farming Research in Europe. REU Technical Series No. 54. Proceedings of an Expert Roundtable, Braunschweig, Germany, 28 June 1997.

WYNEN, E. (1998): “Research implications of a paradigm shift in agriculture: The case of organic farming.” In: Dragun, A. and Jakobsson, K. Frontiers in Environmental Economics. Swedish Univ. of Agr. Sci., Dept. of Economics, Report 119. Uppsala.


Francis, Charles, Norwegian University of Agriculture, Norway
Helenius, Juha, University of Helsinki, Finland
Kristensen, Erik Steen, Research Centre for Organic Farming, Foulum, Denmark
Lieblein, Geir, Norwegian University of Agriculture, Norway
Ruissen, Theo, Norwegian Centre for Ecological Agriculture, Norway
Rydberg, Torbjörn, Swedish University of Agriculture, Sweden
Salomonsson, Lennart, Swedish University of Agriculture, Sweden
Seuri, Pentti, Agricultural Research Centre of Finland, Ecological Production, Partala, Finland
Thorsson, Johann, RALA, Iceland

State-of-the-Art of Research on Organic Farming in Mediterranean EU Countries - R. ZANOLI and C. MICHELONI


In Mediterranean Countries Organic Farming (OF) developed later compared to other European countries and research on this issue has never had the economic support of foundations or other donors (as on the contrary happens in some Northern Countries), nor the economic support of the organic farmers themselves. This, as well as the different organization of research institutions, has the consequence that there are no research institutes “born” in order to work on OF. There is just one exception: GRAB (Groupe de Recherche en Agriculture Biologique) in Southern France, still facing many economic problems.

All research work carried during the last decades is due to the good-will of few researchers working within “conventional” institutions who decided to devote part of their time to such a topic. Only in very recent years has some funding from EU or national or regional governments been devoted to OF topics thus attracting the interest of other researchers and giving the possibilities to some farmers or extension agents to carry out small projects.


Mediterranean agriculture is characterized by specialized fruit (including olives and grapes) and vegetable (especially early ones for export) production and little presence of animal husbandry, except from areas where it is highly concentrated and specialized (i.e. Po Valley) or extremely extensive (i.e. mountainous areas of Greece and Spain). Moreover there are areas (Central Italy, Catalonia, Camargue) where cereals and other arable crops are grown (rice, durum wheat, sunflower).

OF has many of the same problems as conventional agriculture. So there are many organic specialized fruit and vegetables producers whose main problem in the short-term is plant protection, but in the long-term, due to the separation (even in geographical terms) of plant production and animal husbandry, the main problem is how to maintain soil organic matter and fertility at sustainable costs. That is the problem of arable farmers as well. Let us keep in mind that hot climate and intensive cultivation make soil organic matter maintenance extremely difficult.

From the producers’ point of view, research priorities should be:

- plant protection in terms of indirect (adequate rotation and ecological infrastructure) and direct (which product to use against a specific pest or disease) means;

- maintenance and improvement of soil organic matter and fertility at adequate costs.

The consumers as well are actors whose research demands have to be considered. They mainly ask for:

- “scientific safety” of all natural pesticides; many natural products used in OF are not registered or patented; consequently some consumer groups doubt their real safety and ask for adequate analysis;

- quality of the product; this brings the difficult of defining quality;

- processing methods that do not alter the product;

- environment protection through farming.

Advisers and extension agents are the third group of operators to be considered. Their demand is concentrated on:

- the availability of standard data collections specific for organic farming in the Mediterranean countries;

- conversion studies aimed at reducing the risk of uptake in highly specialized Mediterranean systems (horticulture and fruit orchards).



OF is not very common and mainly limited to export products (olive oil and wine). Few researchers (less than ten) from different university institutes and research stations included some OF practice or product in their “conventional” work during the last three years.

Topics and Methodology

Testing of plant protection products is the main topic (especially against olive fly and other insects) and as said before, these products are mainly tested within some “conventional” research project and dealt with in a conventional way.

Almost no economic studies exist, particularly in the field of conversion studies and farm-level performance studies of organic farming systems.


EU funds such as Reg.2078 or Ob.1 (all Portugal is for EU priority 1 area) are used for small projects. No official national research programme exists.


OF is well spread in southern regions and as for Portugal mainly related to export products such as fruit and vegetable, olive oil and wine.

Topics and Methodology

Plant protection is the main topic, especially for citrus fruits but some work is in progress on soil fertility as well. Animal husbandry and a few other issues (weed management, rotation, variety tests) have been dealt with in recent years.

Sociological and policy analyses exist but there are no conversion and farm-level performance studies of organic farming systems.


An estimate of around 30 researchers partly working on OF can be made considering publication and seminar/conference contributions. Much of the research is practical oriented, often carried out together with farmers and extension agents in organic farms.


Almost all projects are pretty small and short-term, often financed by EU Reg.2078 or regional funds. Organic farming was included in the national research programme as a priority area, in the last change of priorities in 1996 (until 1999). There are public research funds on a federal (MAF Sectoral Programme) as well as regional level (CCAA).


Here we consider only Southern France as Mediterranean. Compared with other Mediterranean countries, OF here developed earlier and broader. Still the products are export ones (fruit, vegetables, wine and olive oil). For many years it was the only Mediterranean area where some research was done on OF and all other countries were using their results.

Topics and Methodology

Topics dealt with by researchers are wider: plant protection, quality issue, soil management, ecological infrastructure and weed control, processing optimization (wine). Much of the research was and is carried out by researcher dealing only with OF and in institutes or groups devoted to it. This means that the methodology as well has been adapted to OF. For example, there are experimental farms completely organic and much work is carried out in organic farms in cooperation with farmers in an “on-farm” system.


Thanks to longer tradition it was possible to set up a group of researchers (G.R.A.B. that is the Southern France part of the I.T.A.B. (Institute Tecnique pour l’Agriculture Biologique) specialized in horticulture fruits and vegetables) working only for organic farmers and other groups of farmers, extension agents and experts who could afford some research work (for example within the local “Civam” and groups of organic wine producers). All research being supported and often paid for by farmers was strictly the answer to farmers’ questions. In recent years research has also been carried out in some universities (e.g. Montpellier) and in other research institutions (INRA).

We estimated that there are about 20 researchers working on OF only in Southern France.


As already said, in earlier years research was paid by farmers groups. In the last years some support came from regional and EU funds.


OF has spread enormously in the last three years and together with “classical” Mediterranean (fruit, vegetables, olive oil and wine) and Italian (pasta, tomato sauce and Parmigiano Reggiano) products other production started to be converted to OF, such as animal husbandry, cereals for animal consumption, fodder, etc.

Historically very little research was done in Italy on OF but on the wave of interest for OF some researchers started to introduce in their work some issues related to it. Some interesting studies on the quality of organic food have been carried out by the National Institute for Nutrition, but it is one of only a few examples of research by a national research institution. No official national research programme exists.

Recently, a group of economic researchers founded GRAB-IT (Gruppo di Ricerca in Agricoltura Biologica-Italia), which now includes researchers from other disciplines and acts as an informal network of organic farming R&D.

Topics and Methodology

Plant protection is still the principal topic, followed by soil fertility and economic studies. Very few studies exist on weed control, rotation and animal husbandry systems. Little work has been carried out together with farmers on organic farms. The majority of work is carried out in experimental plots belonging to conventional farms and is often just a part of broader research on conventional issues. The weak point of many studies is the very short-term scope (that negatively influences their value) and the fact that they seldom represent a serious answer to farmers’ or advisers’ requests.

Almost no conversion studies exist, while a consolidated research on farm-level performance studies has been run for many years in Central Italy (Umbria, Marche and Emilia-Romagna). Many consumer surveys have been performed, though they differ in quality of results and methodology.


A recent survey on research on sustainable agriculture (Folli-Nasdolini, 1998: see Table) recorded 82 on going research projects on OF. They involve around 100 researchers but very few of them are dedicated full time to OF research. Around 50 percent of them started in the last two years and are the first experience in OF for the researchers. Institutions involved are universities, regional experiment stations, public research institutes and a few private institutes.


No. of projects concerning OF

Animal husbandry


Plant production


Soil science and nutrient management


Crop protection


Economic studies







Almost all research is supported by EU and regional funds; some research is financed by local university funds. A big research and extension project was started last year by the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute in Bari (one of the four Mediterranean Agronomic Institutes present in different countries) with funds from EU and the regional government. No official national research programme exists.


OF is very small in Greece. The main product is olive oil and some production of herbs and cotton. For many years the production projects were carried out by foreigners with little or no involvement of local institutions.

Topics and Methodology

The main problem of organic olive production is the olive fly, so almost all research is looking for a solution to it, using in general very “conventional” approaches. An interesting research project, even if suffering from economic constraints, is on-going in Crete, where a group of farmers has started to convert to OF with the help of a PhD student who applied a multi-faceted and interdisciplinary approach to the group work. The few economic research activities are mainly related to policy issues.


Around five researchers belonging to Universities or public research institutes are devoting part of their work to OF issues. The project in Crete involves one full time researcher, 20 farmers and two extension agents.


As for other countries: EU and regional funds. No official national research programme exists.


From this brief overview it is clear that research on OF in Mediterranean countries is pretty limited and often it does not fit the needs of operators (farmers, consumers and/or advisers), because it is carried out in ways, places and with means that cannot be implemented afterwards by farmers. Long-term experiments are completely absent and very limited on-farm and participatory research exists. The exchange of experiences among farmers and researchers in different countries is limited: networking is therefore crucial in order to avoid duplication of researchers and in order to concentrate efforts and funding opportunities.

The limited availability of research results is also negatively influencing the possibility to have a certain “weight” on EU level while establishing standards or deciding political tools to promote OF.

In terms of topics, particularly neglected are animal husbandry issues and variety selection. It is astonishing how the opportunity to “re-choose” varieties given by the compulsory use of organic seedlings (in 1998 the EC Regulation on OF established that conventional seedlings were no longer usable and in 2000 seeds too should come from OF) was trivially turned to the production of seedling with inputs allowed in OF but using varieties conventionally used which will probably continue the same with organic seeds in 2000.

Open methodological issues are the need of research tools well-suited to the specific nature of OF and of Mediterranean productions: this issue is particularly relevant in the field of comparison studies, given the substantial difference between organic and conventional farming systems.

Holistic and interdisciplinary research is very rare in Mediterranean countries, not only in the field of OF. Such an approach is particularly crucial for semi-arid zones, where the preservation of fertility is strictly connected with water preservation strategies, crop protection and social issues (as the maintenance of rural populations in their territories).


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FOLLI, A. and NASOLINI, T. (1998): “Ricerca e Sperimentazione sull’Agricoltura Sostenibile in Italia - Annuario 1997”, Centro Documentazione Agricoltura Sostenibile, Cesena.

ISART, J. and LLERENA, J.J. (eds.) (1996): Proceedings of the 1st ENOF Workshop on “Biodiversity and Land Use: The role of Organic Farming” (Bonn, 9-10 December 1995), Barcelona.

ISART, J. and LLERENA, J.J. (eds.) (1997): Proceedings of the 2ndt ENOF Workshop on “Steps in the Conversion and Development of Organic Farms”(Barcelona, 3-4 October 1996), Barcelona.

ISART, J. and LLERENA, J.J. (eds.) (1998): Proceedings of the 3rd ENOF Workshop on “Resource Use in Organic Farming” (Ancona, 5-6 June 1997), Barcelona.

LAMPKIN, N., FOSTER, C. and PADEL, S. (1999): “The policy and regulatory environment for organic farming in Europe: Country reports”. (Organic Farming in Europe: Economics and Policy. Volume 2), Hohenheim.

Essential information was given informally by Geyser and GRAB (France), Manolis Kabourakis (Greece) and Agrobio (Portugal).

[7] All the following translations of project titles into English are done by the author.
[8] Agricultural denotes all forms of land use by arable farming, forestry, animal husbandry, horticulture, etc.
[9] Societal metabolism denotes the energy and material flows or turnover in society.

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