A conference on organic farming organized by ÖMKi and Szent István University was visited by local and international leading experts on organic farming, advocacy organizations, policy makers, researchers and educators to discuss the latest developments in the sector, current challenges and the practical responses to them.
The following is a summary of the most important ideas heard at the plenary session:
· Dr. Sándor Fazekas, Minister of Agriculture, in his opening speech said that since the opening of the VP organic support at the end of 2015, the area of local organic farming has grown significantly: from about 125,000 ha to 200,000 ha. The number of farmers involved in ecological farming has also doubled and now exceeds 3,000. He stressed that national agricultural production must adapt to the consumers’ expectations. Quality, GMO-free, untarnished foodstuffs are needed. Organic products meet all of these criteria.
· The presentation of Prof. Dr. Urs Niggli, Director of FiBL revealed that the global trends in organic farming are also positive. Over the past 10 years, the retail market for organic produce has grown about 150% around the world. Demand is rising faster than the production area, which during the same period increased by 75%. It is important to keep up with the growing consumer demand, since this is key to the sector’s credibility.
Source: Presentation by Prof. Dr. Urs Niggli, FiBL Director
· In order to increase production, Professor Urs Niggli named the most important directions for future research: the improvement of the toolbox of functional biodiversity, new use and application techniques (e.g. drones) of natural enemies and organic control organizations, increasing soil fertility and, in relation to this, the productivity of organic farms. Significant potential lies with precision farming and integrating remote-sensing techniques into organic farming, as well as combining traditional farming knowledge with 21st century farming methods.
· Eric Gallic, Policy Manager at IFOAM EU Group, presented the questions they will work on within the context of European advocacy. He highlighted the argument over the new European organic regulation initiated by the European Commission, which has been debated for years. One of the cardinal points of this regulation is the loss of the certificate called for by the Commission, which would be bound to a specific pesticide contamination threshold. This would punish all the organic farmers whose goods are, because of neighbors who employ conventional techniques, or drift, or because of older plant protection techniques, is not residue-free. All of this runs contrary to the "polluter pays" principle. He further highlighted the question of European seed legislation, where the goal is acceptance of heterogeneous reproductive materials which do not meet DUS requirements, even though they are beneficial to organic farming. He also stressed the need for the development of ecological breeding. This is particularly important in the light of the latest techniques of gene technology (eg. CRISP-R), which are expected to rewrite conventional breeding practices. Other important tasks include preventing the European Union from issuing a patent on living organisms, such as seeds. In regards to the reform of the CAP for the period after 2020, IFOAM aims for further support for organic farming. The advocacy organization suggested a one-pillar system, where 80% of the payments are adapted to the capabilities of farming methods to produce public goods.
· In the presentation by Miklós Kis, Rural Development Secretary (Prime Minister's Office), we learned that the tender on ecological farming, opened in December 2015, was not oversubscribed. Most of the candidates won. The results developed as follows:
Source: Presentation of Miklós Kis, Rural Development Secretary, Prime Minister's Office
· Many organic farmers, however, bid on a tender launched by the European Union’s Agri-environmental schemes, where higher subsidies could have been gained, but due to oversubscription not many won.
· Miklós Kis said that in relations to an organic tender, that was announced in 2015, for administrative reasons the entire budget of the VP organic support, 63 billion HUF, was earmarked. The reason is that the paying agency counted with the maximum possible aid, meaning that in any case where there is a theoretical opportunity for the producers to convert from crops to vegetable farming, or where the mowed lawns could become grazing fields, higher amounts of aid were committed. As can be seen from the ratio of supported target areas, because of the excess arable lands and grazing fields, these security bookings are significant, and can reach up to 10 billion HUF.
· According to the Secretary, the opening of the second-round of the eco-grant will be when the paying agency can substantially estimate the remaining deposit. We can count on this in 2018 at the earliest, when it can be estimated on the basis of two years’ worth of information on the level of payments crossings between the target areas. The Prime Minister’s Office is open to a second round of organic support if the funds are available to do so.
· Currently organic farming is less pronounced in state agricultural research, so the NAIK will see this as a priority target area in the future. They wish to achieve this not by establishing a new institute, but by basing it on the already existing resources, hopefully using the intellectual potential. Prof. Dr. Csaba Gyuricza, who was named the new director of the National Agricultural Research and Innovation Center (NAIK), said this. He stressed that their goal is to strengthen the experiment-centered research, from which farmers can profit directly.
· Dr. Dóra Drexler, director of ÖMKi, emphasised that the majority of European citizens these days expect quality foodstuffs, and not cheap fillers of empty product weight. With the increase in awareness new expectations are increasing, such as the European agriculture should have a low environmental impact, maintain advances in rural development, in addition to producing enough quality food. At the same time, fewer and fewer people are willing to accept agriculture’s negative externalities, such as water and soil pollution, food laden with chemical residues, or emissions of greenhouse gases. After 2020, there will only be justification for agricultural subsidies at the current level of support towards the European taxpayer if agriculture can adequately meet the consumer expectations, and in addition to the production of food produce it also provides important public goods. The question is, are we ready to make the necessary changes here at home? Will we take advantage of the social and economic opportunities present? Dóra Drexler stressed that organic farming can meet these demands adequately, but coordinated development steps need to be taken in accordance with research, education, professional advice, growers and producers, as well as market development, and also changing consumer opinions.
· Dr. Drexler presented the research findings of the ÖMKi on-farm network over the last five years, where every year practice-oriented experiments have been carried out at more than 100 locations in cooperation with farmers.
Locations of ÖMKi on-farm experiment locations and important results. Source: Dr. Dora Drexler’s presentation, ÖMKi
· Prof. Dr. Katalin Posta’s presentation dealt with organic agricultural instruction at Szent István University, introducing the development of the discipline and the current situation there. She emphasized that interest within the student body is growing in the direction of sustainable agriculture practices.
· Dr. Peter Roszik, vice-president of the Hungarian Biokultúra Federation and executive manager of Biokontroll Hungária Nonprofit LLC, presented the structure of the local advocacy organization for organic farming and the inspecting organization run by the advocacy group. He expressed his gratitude for the passage of the proposal of the Biokultúra Federation, meaning that organic farmers have the right of first refusal when buying land, as well as gaining extra points in VP tenders most of the time. He highlighted the growth in Biokontroll controlled areas and the number of organic farmers.
· Katalin Szépkuthy, director of Hungária Öko Garancia LLC, likewise introduced her association and mentioned the growth in the number of their vetted partners and total area. She highlighted that next to the significant rise in their partner number in 2016, the growth in area was negligible. These facts reinforce that the bonus points in applying, as well as the land purchasing advantage, in many cases encourage farmers to enter the qualifying system with a minimal amount of land area. This does not serve the best interests of the industry or match the original intentions.
· Finally, Dr. Gábor Solti, president of the Carpathian Basin Organic Farmers Association (Kárpát-medencei Ökogazdálkodók Szövetsége - KÖSZ), introduced his regional advocacy organization and its work with agricultural statistics. He stressed that within the theme of soil improvement, special attention should be paid to geological formations (e.g. alginite, rhyolite). We should take advantage of the nation’s unique qualities.
· During the round table discussion, János Komáromi, an organic farmer from Nagydorog, had important questions for the Prime Minister’s Office from the perspective of his sector. In the name of organic producers, he asked for the right of first refusal to be held to a minimum land area (e.g. 40%) where the purchaser must turn to organic farming. With this, it would be possible to limit the currently experienced abuse, which also ruins the judging of honest organic growers and makes it possible to disguise land speculation as organic purchases.
· Secretary Miklós Kis, stressed that they intend to take steps in this regard, because the raised practice is not in accordance with the original intent of the measure.
· Dr. Imre Tirczka and Dr. Péter Pusztai, instructors and researchers of organic farming at Szent István University, emphasized that the goal of the conference was to assess where we stand on the path to sustainability. In this sense, two answers can be given: we are on the right path, or we in a very bad place. Both answers have some truth to them. Our tasks and responsibilities are to help the industry move forward. We cannot allow the currently visible growth in land area use to mollify us into stopping our progress! We have set upon this path, and now we have to continue the work we have started!
The plenary program and presentation materials:
Only in Hungarian:
· Az ökológiai gazdálkodás szerepe a Vidékfejlesztési Programban, az ökogazdálkodás pályázat hatása az ágazat hazai fejlődésére – Kis Miklós Zsolt (Miniszterelnökség, agrár-vidékfejlesztésért felelős államtitkár)
· A hazai bioágazat fejlődési tendenciái 2012 óta, aktuális feladatok és várható eredmények a Magyar Biokultúra Szövetség és a Biokontroll Hungária szemszögéből – Czeller Gábor és Dr. Roszík Péter (Magyar Biokultúra Szövetség, elnök és Biokontroll Hungária Nonprofit Kft., ügyvezető)
The conference’s afternoon part continued in the framework of professional sectors. Summaries of the section meetings are found below:
Current challenges and solutions in organic beekeeping:
The organic beekeeping session discussion forum kicked off with professional presentations with questions related to conventional and organic beekeeping, with unanimous conclusions being drawn. Without trying to cover everything, the questions involved plant protection problems resulting in bee poisoning and satisfying organic official regulations. On the basis of shared technology and qualifying summaries for organic beekeeping production group establishment, the participants found it timely and supported it. At the same time they also called for putting together an opinion-giving and advisory work group for parts of the organic regulations that touch on beekeeping.
The beekeeping section program and presentation materials (only in Hungarian):
Plant protection and approved inputs in organic horticulture:
The horticulture section dealt with two different themes: questions surrounding plant protection and approved inputs.
The plant protection topic dealt partly with testing authorized active substances in small cultures of organically grown fruit, vegetables and herbs. Representing NÉBIH, Dr. GáborTőkés conveyed the basic understandings related to plant protection chemical agent approval and basic substances’ perspective use. During the workshop session, participants could offer suggestions and their experiences related to the expansion of the label on plant-protecting substances. ÖMKi will collect the experiences and forward them to NÉBIH as a next step, who will consider the initiatives and discuss expansion with the chemical distributers.
The section on nutrient supplements focused on soil, soil nutrient turnover, and nutrient inputs. The presentations, during their insightful reports, called the participants’ attention to correct techniques for using bacterial manure and its role, water management characteristics and the significance of liming the soil, the importance of soil and leaf analysis and the role of expert consultants in farming. The participants’ questions and opinions showed that the presenters managed to focus on current problems and areas where knowledge is lacking.
The horticultural section’s program and presentation materials (only in Hungarian):
· „Adtam ki baktériumtrágyát, mégsem lett több a termés” – avagy a baktériumtrágyák szerepe a termelésben és a termőföld életében – Prof. Dr. Bíró Borbála egyetemi tanár, SZIE Talajtan és Vízgazdálkodás Tanszék
Technologies and current challenges in organic viticulture:
In the viticulture section, scientific experts and practitioners were equally represented in large numbers. One pivotal (if not the most important) point in the organic viticulture results was plant protection. Participants heard one of the most useful presentations on the most important steps for protecting organic grapes, about challenges, and about applicable preparations. In recent years, unfortunately, Hungarian viticulturists have had to deal with grape golden jaundice phytoplasma (FD) and its vector, Scaphoideus titanus. The listeners learned about the current situation in the country, as well as possible measures to fight and prevent it.
The Hungarian Association of Independent Winegrowers (Vindependent) was also introduced, explaining its goal of advocating for the interests of small and medium-sized winegrowers and successful professional lobbying. They were followed by Tokaj-Hétszőlő Zrt., who during their presentation about their successful organic production showed the audience that even commercial plantations producing high quality wine could be protected through organic plant protection methods.
Species-rich row-division covering experiments and a few partial results and conclusions of this experiment, which have been cunducted for the sixth year now by ÖMKi and partner associations, were summarized. This year, an independent compilation publication is being planned with the main research results and experiences, which can be used for both education and research. On the basis of the research results, further experiments are being planned in the framework of the EIP-Agri project, throughwhich a new, ideal row-division covering seed mixture could hit the market.
The viticulture section program and presentation materials (only in Hungarian):
Biological basics and optimized production technologies in organic arable crop production
A buzzing crowd of 130 people witnessed the professional presentations of ÖMKi colleagues and professional practitioners about plough-free soil tilling, green fertilization, cereal and protein plant growing, and weed management in the agro-technical thematic area. Special attention was paid to the connections between weed management and plough-free soil tilling, the risks of soy overweight in protein supplies, and possibilities for alternative forms of protein supply. For the audience’s part, a demand towards practical growing technologies was formulated, which ÖMKi could comply to in printed form about soy-growing technologies, while the area of cereal production and weed management is in progress. Plant protection solutions were also requested, which require expanded experiments in this direction from ÖMKi.
The crop-field program and presentation materials (only in Hungarian):
· Forgatás nélküli talajtakarásos szántóföldi termesztéstechnológia tapasztalatai – Kökény Attila, Kakasszéki Biogazdálkodás Kft.
Market actors about the current issues of the Organic Sector:
During workshop sessions with market operators participants were given a look into what kind of tools are at the disposal of farmers that can increase effectiveness in organic farming. The focus shifted primarily to prevention, forecasting in proper time, as well as insurance of the structure and fertility of the soil. From these it could be seen that more and more devices are in the hands of organic farmers to reduce pest damages and mitigate the adverse effects of weather conditions.
The conference’s section program and presentation materials (only in Hungarian):
· Magyar Talajbaktériumgyártók és -forgalmazók Szakmai Szervezetének céljai, aktivitása – Dr. Pénzes Éva, titkár
Altogether, it was clear that the goal of the Febuary 2 conference was – in addition to the dissemination of information – to continue the growth in relevance of local organic farming, increasing the recognition and significance in policy and producer circles. After the conference active consultation ensued with participating farmers and others from the sector. ÖMKi decided that policy questions that arose at the conference, or were a direct result of it, which are increasingly important for the sector (e.g. the sanction catalog for the current organic tender, or the regulation for the organic area proportion to the land purchase) will be summarized and sent to the policy managers who participated in the conference, asking them to pass the modification that benefits the organic sector.