For society, organic and other “low input” farming systems provide an effective means of responding to the increasing consumer pressure to omit or reduce agricultural inputs (in particular pesticides, mineral fertilisers, veterinary medicines and growth promoters). However, in order to ensure that the European societies benefit optimally from this mechanism, it is necessary to address the actual and perceived problems or benefits which are of particular importance for low-input farming systems.
Lower production costs and coupling of lower production costs with improved quality and safety and consumer perceptions of higher quality and safety will enable low-input farmers to provide higher value-added food that maximises benefits to consumers and producers alike. It is particularly important to ensure that consumers will be able to make their choices based on defined knowledge of the value provided by different types of products, and that these values may be reflected in more accurate and realistic business planning all along the production supply chain.
Issues to be addressed
Quality and safety issues associated with organic and “low input” farming concern:
- to understand the relative importance for different groups of consumers of different “added value” benefits of foods, as a necessary prerequisite to effectively improve the benefit/cost ratio.
- the ability to provide food of high sensory and nutritional quality with good shelf life, with minimal spoilage due to pathogen/pest attack, while avoiding excessive or unacceptable processing .
- to understand, and if relevant alleviate, actual and perceived health risks from enteric pathogens and noxious compounds (e.g. mycotoxins, heavy metals).
- to document, improve or disprove alleged health benefits related to differences in food composition that are determined by the type of production system.
- to ensure or improve impacts on the environment and animal welfare.
- the need to optimise production efficiency to satisfy actual and potential consumer demand.
Organic and low input
Strategies developed for organic production systems are nearly always transferable to “low input” conventional farming systems. On the other hand a range of approaches used in “low input” systems are not permitted and/or against the principles of organic farming.
In order to make (a) maximum use of resources and (b) project deliverables applicable to all “low input” production systems, most agronomic strategies are therefore developed within the framework of organic farming systems and standards, supplemented with some novel methods and strategies, which may in the future become included in these standards.