Marion Casagrande: Institut Technique de L'Agriculture Biologique (ITAB).
Daniele Antichi: Centro di Ricerche Agro-Ambientali "Enrico Avanzi", University of Pisa (CiRAA).
G.Cesare Pacini: Department of Agrifood Production and Environmental Sciences, University of Florence (UNIFI-DISPAA).
Laurence Fontaine: Institut Technique de L'Agriculture Biologique (ITAB).
Stefano Canali: Consiglio per la ricerca in agricoltura e l'analisi dell'economia agraria (CREA).
Why is there a need for long-term experiment research in Organic Farming and agroecology?
Organic farming, as stated by IFOAM, relies on a holistic and systemic management of the sustainability of agroecosystems. Functioning of organic cropping systems is based on long-term biological processes. Understanding and managing such systems thus require long-term monitoring and assessment. Moreover, organic farming should be supported by research on exploring new best practices, based on biological processes and aiming at being more sustainable (Rahmann et al. 2016), embracing thus agroecological principles. The agroecology approach also stresses the need for taking into account food system scale, embedding thus a diversity of stakeholders into the research processes (Migliorini and Wezel 2017).
Long-term cropping systems experiments (LTE) are thus of major interest for the further development of organic farming. Such experiments offer the opportunity to assess agricultural performance at the cropping system scale including inter-annual effects at the crop sequence level (Lechenet et al. 2017). They combine both a holistic and long-term approach of the agroecosystems with a scientific and sound approach.
What has been done so far?
In the last 3 decades, the number of LTEs managed in accordance to organic farming methods and principles has dramatically increased, following the growth of organic agriculture worldwide (Raupp et al., 2006 ; Delate et al., 2017). Since the first steps, LTEs were promoted to study the transition from conventional to organic production and to assess the sustainability of the organic approach, evaluating its productivity, the potential for energy reduction, carbon sequestration and other environmental and social benefits. The focus of the studies related to LTEs has also broadened over time, embracing food quality studies, economic assessments and interaction evaluation with agricultural landscapes.
Recently, two national networks of organic LTEs were identified and linked: Retibio network in Italy (Peronti et al., 2015) and RotAB network in France. In 2017, they organised cross-visits and workshops and have been sharing experiences on LTE’s management, fundraising opportunities and stakeholder involvement. From these first meetings emerged the idea to structure a European network of organic LTEs, thus revitalising the former experience promoted by ISOFAR some years ago and fostering - at the same time - the discussion dealing with the organic LTEs in order to put it in line with the most updated research trajectories of the organic food and farming sector. It was considered relevant to include in the network organic LTEs that are designed in accordance to the agroecological principles, then distinguishable for their nature and features, thus representing powerful research infrastructure to contribute to the joint development of mult idisciplinary research in organic farming and agroecology.
Aim of the special session.
The main objective of the special session to be held in the frame of the ‘Organic farming and agroecology as a response to global challenges' is then to consolidate the efforts done so far and promote a European Organic Long Term Experiment Network able to supply knowledge to cope with global challenges under an agroecological perspective.
The session has the ambition to reach the following specific goals:
- To have an overview of the diversity and convergences of LTE research on organic farming in Europe
- To exchange ideas on the way to conduct an agroecological organic LTE from design, stakeholder inclusion to data analysis, thus supporting capacity building of the persons in charge of the experiments
- To better know the scientists potentially involved in the network for further development of collaborative projects, aiming also at pooling and comparing results to contribute efficiently to organic research