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New organic testing network launched for wheat varieties

On Hungary’s National Science Day, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, ÖMKi announced the launch of a new national organic variety testing network.

To make up for a particular knowledge gap, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) has launched a research network, in close cooperation with the National Bureau of Food Chain Security (NÉBIH), the Hungarian Seed Association (HSA), as well as seed distribution companies and prominent domestic grain research and propagation centers.

Under organic farming conditions, domestic and international wheat varieties which show promise for organic cultivation are tested in small-plot field experiments. The results of tests launched in October of this year, in seven locations across the country and including more than twenty wheat varieties, will help farmers select the varieties which perform best under organic cultivation in their local conditions. Experts are confident that this research – together with the on-farm experiments which ÖMKi has been conducting since 2012 – will further strengthen the successful transition of producers to organic cultivation, a basic condition of which is the selection of resistant varieties which are capable of adapting to local growing conditions. A further goal is to ensure that as many varieties of healthy, chemical-free wheat flours as possible make it into bakeries, and onto the tables of domestic consumers.

Nowadays, research on producing sustainable, healthy food has become a major field of scientific research worldwide. Global challenges such as climate change, population growth, soil degradation and the current global pandemic all highlight the importance of food security, as well as the strategic importance of locally produced, healthy and affordable produce. This trend is likewise apparent in Hungary, which is increasingly transitioning from an agriculture based on chemical pesticides and fertilizers towards agro-ecological food production. This is evidenced by, among other things, the change in the area of land under organic cultivation, which has doubled in just five years, as well as the increasing attention devoted to scientific research in support of organic agriculture.

Small-plot demonstration site at the 2019 Eco-Feldtage organic farming expo in Germany

Dr. Dóra Drexler, director of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, elaborates: “With the launch of the national organic small-plot wheat variety testing network, we are taking a big step forward in terms of promoting sustainable agriculture, since we can present the results from seven different Hungarian regions, and help farmers committed to sustainability choose the variety likely to prove most successful for them. At the same time we are also making up for a particular knowledge gap, since while a similar small-plot variety testing network has existed for a long time, it has focused on crops grown under conventional practices, using artificial pesticides and fertilizers. Moreover, the new small-plot, organic experimental sites are an excellent complement to our on-farm variety tests, which have been implemented in cooperation with our farming partners since 2012. Within the on-farm network we are examining the performance of different wheat varieties using large plots, in accordance with the ‘living laboratory’ methodology. We hope that conversion to organic grain production will become easier for farmers on the basis of our combined research results.”

Working together for organic farming
The small-plot variety tests are conducted with the active involvement of farmers, in conjunction with leading institutions in Hungarian agricultural research, including the Agricultural Research Center in Martonvásár, the Seed Research Nonprofit Kft. of Szeged, the University of Debrecen and the Karcag Research Institute. Key partners in scientific experiments include the National Bureau of Food Chain Security (NÉBIH) and the Hungarian Seed Association (HSA).

“Organic farming combines tradition, scientific research and innovation, so it is an important field of research for NÉBIH, and one we aim to support and develop in Hungary. In cooperation with ÖMKi, and through the small-plot organic variety testing network, we are entering new territory, and we hope to identify wheat varieties which perform outstandingly in organic cultivation, both in terms of yield and quality, and with regard to disease resistance,” said József Csapó, the head of the Experimental Agricultural Cultivation Department within NÉBIH.

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Although the first step in the production of genuinely high-quality bread is excellent grain, it is equally important that in addition to a 100% organic product chain – i.e. organic wheat cultivation, and local milling and processing – Hungarian gastronomy learns to value locally produced organic products. Going beyond ÖMKi’s field of research, a database of farmers, millers and bakers has been established, to make it easier for producers and others in the supply chain to find one another, and thus ensure that healthy, chemical-free wheat flour reaches as many bakeries and households as possible.

Hungary’s National Science Day
Hungary’s National Science Day has been celebrated every year since 2003. It is held on November 3rd, the day on which, in 1825, István Széchenyi donated one year of his income to support the establishment of the Hungarian Scientific Society, thus ultimately enabling the establishment of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. A bill formalizing this memorial day was passed by the Hungarian Parliament in 2003, as an expression of the paramount importance placed on the pursuit of scientific progress in Hungarian society. The Hungarian Science Festival provides an opportunity for activities to be held which are likely to elicit widespread public interest, and which can cultivate and develop more widespread recognition of the importance of science.

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