The Horizon 2020 backed OK-Net EcoFeed, which will run until December 2020, was launched this week; a kick-off meeting took place at the Organic Research Centre in Newbury in the UK.
In EU organic regulation, there is a requirement that a certain percentage of the animal feed has to be sourced regionally. “We want to help organic producers to be able to implement this,” said Dr Bram Moeskops, OK-Net EcoFeed project coordinator.
However, local sourcing, particularly of organic protein feed, is difficult to achieve in large parts of Europe.
Indeed, we reported on how organic feed operators in the UK have decried protein raw material supply constraints over the past year or so including specialty poultry compounder, Humphrey Feeds, and organic dairy feed supplier, Mole Valley Farmers. Moreover, Belfast-based, Devenish Nutrition, told us last year it was evaluating whether to get certified organic growers in the UK and Ireland to supply cereals under contract, to ensure volumes match its business needs, as the demand for organic feed was outstripping supply in those markets.
Importing organic feed protein [such as organic soy from China] a huge distance from where the animals are raised is not sustainable, said Moeskops.
“It results in additional CO2 emissions from the transport involved and it disturbs nutrient cycles, preventing us from closing such cycles at a more regional level.”
The idea behind OK-Net EcoFeed is to set up 11 innovation groups comprising pioneering organic pig and poultry producers, feed companies, researchers and advisors in various EU countries. Those units will function as an information exchange hubs. The groups will determine how organic producers either get the tools they need to grow more organic feed themselves or source it more readily from arable farmers in their neighborhood.
“This is not a research project with scientists only. Instead, we will ask organic farmers directly about their challenges in relation to growing or sourcing organic feed crops and then we will explore what knowledge already exists in literature and in daily practice in relation to those issues."
These groups will identify innovations from the ground up and ensure that ideas disseminated by the project 'work in the real world' of farming and business.
It is not just about growing organic soybeans locally. “We are evaluating the benefits of growing alternatives such as faba beans and the challenges around certain aspects of using them such as potential anti-nutritional factors.”
He said while there has been a lot of research into such crops, organic farmers may often not be aware of the findings of such work.
The innovation groups will facilitate face-to-face exchange between farmers, at both the national and international level.
“Organic farmers in UK, for example, may have good practices that their counterparts in France do not know about. We can bring these farmers together so they can learn from each other.”
IFOAM EU coordinated project
OK-Net EcoFeed is coordinated by IFOAM EU and involves 19 partners from 11 countries throughout Europe. It is funded under the umbrella of the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI).
The partners of OK-Net EcoFeed are: IFOAM EU (Belgium), ICROFS (Denmark), FiBL (Switzerland), Organic Research Centre (UK), The Soil Association (UK), ITAB (France), IFIP (France), CRAPL (France), ITAVI (France), FNAB (France), Bioland & Bioland Beratung (Germany), AIAB (Italy), SLU (Sweden), Danube Soya Austria & Danube Soya Serbia, Ecovalia (Spain), Universidad de Córdoba (Spain), CIHEAM Bari (Italy).
The initiative builds on the experiences of the OK-Net Arable project, he explained.
“Farmers in that earlier project really benefited from being able to hear about one another’s challenges and the solutions found.”
He said all knowledge generated by the project would be formatted in practical fact sheets and videos and made available on the OK-Net Knowledge platform.
Feed ration tool
Feed companies, while not part of the consortium, will be involved in the innovation groups, he added.
“As we will not be using standardized feed, we will also develop, as part of the project, a ration planning tool specifically adapted for organic farmers and for animals raised in organic systems.”