Research - Current projects
Varieties of Field Vegetables and Potatoes for Organic Production and Marketing (Leader NIAB)(OF0346)
Aims:The main objective of the work is to investigate the suitability of selected varieties of vegetables and potatoes for organic production. The objectives are to carry out trials on certified organic sites, with cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, lettuce, carrots, potatoes and some minor vegetable crops in order to produce reference information for organic producers.
Background:The organic vegetable market has increased rapidly over recent years and is continuing to increase in size. Market specifications are also continually tightening. Organic growing of vegetables and potatoes imposes severe restrictions on the treatments which growers can apply to crops to maximise yield and maintain quality while conforming to organic standards. Hence choice of variety is more critical in organic situations than for conventional crops where problems can be solved at a later date by application of pesticides or fertilisers. Varieties are needed that can respond to the conditions organic systems operate under. New endorsement of these varieties is not always possible conventionally, because the main limiting factors are often not evident from trials under conventional conditions. Currently a very important development that affects this work is the requirement for organic growers to use organically produced seed where it is available. A derogation allows the use of conventional seed where suitable varieties are not available as organic seed. Recent revisions to organic regulations have developed a system that aims to gradually remove the granting of permission to use conventional seed in certified organic production. A process is being set up to judge, on a crop by crop basis, when sufficient number of varieties and quantities of seed have become available through the seed industry, at which point organic growers will no longer be able to apply for derogations on the use of non-organic seed for that crop, which will be listed in an annex to the EU law. The implications of this are:
a) There is an urgent need to test varieties where organic seed is already available, as many of these varieties have not been evaluated in any trials and organic growers report that they are not familiar with them or have no information on them.
b) There is an ongoing need to identify varieties that would be useful in organic systems so that organic seed can be produced.
Approaches:Trials will be conducted using existing protocols, modified as necessary for organic conditions, and will aim to identify varieties perform well under organic conditions. Additional grower participation trials will be carried out to verify the acceptability of selected varieties to commercial organic growers.
In addition to relevance to the organic situation the research will contribute to identifying useful variety characteristics and strategies that could be applied in conventional production which will facilitate a more environmentally sensitive and sustainable agriculture, in the future in line with Curry report recommendations.
1. Knowledge of varietal performance of a range of crop species in organic growing systems will be generated from trials on certified organic land.
2. The information will incorporate and clarify details relating to characteristics of different varieties evaluated using the agronomy and inputs specified by the EU and organic certifying bodies in terms of both seed and crop production.
3. Determination of how varieties selected from small-scale trials are evaluated by commercial growers through grower participation trials.
4. Information will be translated into a form that is accessible to the industry through initially:
- Production of individual trial and crop one year results presenting records taken with a summary of variety performance. This may be of varieties that have organic seed produced (as part of proposal OF0346) as well as those that do not have organic seed.
- Production of over years summary information.
The research will assist in reducing the uncertainty of organic production by identifying varieties and strategies that will provide a greater possibility of achieving suitable harvested crops. The demands of the market are such that quality in terms of shape, uniformity, freedom from blemishes and damage as well as timeliness are all essential factors that have to be addressed. If organic produce is to have a wider appeal to general consumers it must satisfy the critical demands of those customers, in terms of quality including taste, within the constraints of organic standards.