Organic Soybeans – Cultivation and value chain
On 23 November 2021, we organized an online conference and workshop with the above title, primarily in connection with the DiverIMPACTS Horizon 2020 project, which aims to increase crop rotation diversity.
One of the aims of the consultation was to develop concrete proposals for policy and decision-makers on how to improve soybean yield in organic crop production, how soybeans can play a more prominent role in crop rotation, and what elements in the product pathway need to be developed in order to improve stability and profitability. The presentations functioned as conversation starters, allowing all participants to voice their opinions and suggestions on the topic.
Bence Trugly, the leader of the ÖMKi DiverIMPACTS project, summarized the aims of this international scheme as being to increase diversity in crop cultivation, either by expanding the range of plants in crop rotation or by using different sowing techniques (such as inter-row sowing, pre-sowing, and secondary sowing) as well as by planting mixed crops and engaging in agroforestry. Alongside the search for new and improved cultivation technology, the project also deals with the development and monitoring of product lines to help these systems survive. In Hungary, the project has focused primarily on organic soybean cultivation, which still makes up only a small part of the land under organic cultivation (1500-2000 ha), despite the fact that the demand for organic soy has been rising on both domestic and export markets in recent years.
In her opening presentation, Dr Éva Hunyadi, the head of soybean cultivation research at ÖMKi, outlined the peculiarities of organic soybean cultivation, the different agrotechnical variants, and the results of the variety and input material tests. In the Cultivation Section, Tibor Kruppi (Tradisco Seeds Ltd.) shared the key elements of organic bean seed production and supply. He explained that domestic, sealed organic seed makes up a very small proportion of those sown, due partly to the price difference compared to conventional seed, and partly due to the regulation of organic cultivation, which also allows the use of untreated, non-organic seed if organic seed of that variety is not in stock. Supply is also hampered by farmers not informing suppliers of their seed requirements in time, meaning that suppliers do not have time to prepare.
Tamás Szilágyi (Munkácsy Tej Ltd.) summarized the technical experiences of first and second sowings. The farm has been working together with ÖMKi for three consecutive years, during which time both variety and cultivation technology tests have been carried out. They are also involved in the EIP-AGRI project, coordinated by ÖMKi, with the aim to improve organic soybean production. The farm grows a mixture of feed for its own livestock, so it was possible to make a second sowing after this mixed feed had been harvested. The effects of the very dry weather in 2021 were visible in the growth of soybeans in both the first and second sowings; in fact, so few pods developed in the second sowing that these crops were not harvested. The farm is located in the Southern Great Plain, in Hungary, and this year has seen an unprecedented drought in the region. Extreme weather calls for increasingly urgent irrigation implementation solutions.
Organic Farmer Gyula Zádorfalvi-Gazdag, who is likewise an ÖMKi on-farm experimental partner and participates in the EIP-AGRI soybean project, spoke about critical cultivation elements. Weed control is the biggest problem at his farm in Zala County, in the west of Hungary. The use of the weed comb is strongly recommended, although its effectiveness greatly depends on weather and soil conditions.
Two Hungarian companies producing organic feed took part in the Processing and Marketing Section. Both have recently entered the market, and they described their difficulties in obtaining organic soy, and with the unpredictable yields in Hungary. Csaba Bartl, from Bartl Takarmány Ltd., presented the production line at his organic feed mixing plant in Ajka. The company is already well-established, having produced specialty feeds for decades, but they saw a market opening in the organic sector, given that organic livestock keepers often have to import ready-made compound feeds from abroad, due to a lack of domestic processing. Their aim is to build stable relationships with participants in the product chain, whether in arable farming or livestock husbandry, given that establishing the business has already entailed significant investment, and more will be required to implement heat treatment for soybeans.
Gábor Szokolai presented the activities of Éden Major Biotakarmány Ltd., and outlined a concept which could ensure the greater integration of poultry farmers, whereby farmers, in addition to feed, would also be supplied with a starting flock of poultry. This would be a novel initiative in domestic organic livestock farming, which is currently operating far below desired levels.
Both processors were of the opinion that although they were looking for alternatives to ensure adequate protein content, for the time being it would be difficult to replace soybeans in organic livestock raising. Despite the difficulties encountered, it is a positive sign that domestic feed mills supply have emerged, which will hopefully provide a market for those farmers who cannot grow protein-rich crops in a quantity suitable for export.
This workshop, organized at the initiative of ÖMKi, could be summarized as a gap-filling exercise, where in addition to the sharing of professional information, those connections that are essential for the expansion of organic soybean production, the stability of the Hungarian product line and the establishment of ecological and economic efficiency could also be established.