Projects

Click on the projects below (updated March 2010) to view summaries of the current and recent research activities. Further details are available from the Organic Studies Centre.

Legume Link project: LK09106

Blight Resistance Potato Trials

Skills Project

Animal welfare and health website

The Aniplan Project - "Minimising medicine use in organic dairy herds through animal health and welfare planning."

Welfare benchmarking and herd health plans.

Organic spring triticale trials

Development of small scale organic vegetable production

Agri-environmental research

Participatory Vegetable Trials

Organic Farm Survey

The Legume LINK project: LK09106: Using legume-based mixtures to enhance the nitrogen use efficiency and economic viability of cropping systems

Legume LINK began in December 2008, and was funded by Defra and industry partners under the Sustainable Arable LINK scheme. The project aims were to improve fertility building in organic rotations through use of a mixture of a wide range of leguminous species and to provide more efficient transfer of nitrogen to the subsequent crop. Species with a range of tolerances to different environmental conditions and with differing growth characteristics were grown together and the performance of the individuals and the leys were assessed.

A successful fertility building crop is vital for a profitable rotation. Stability of establishment, nitrogen fixation and biomass production are all essential characteristics of the ley phase, providing weed control, fertility building and forage. In addition to these requirements, a ley must be resilient to different soil conditions between and within fields, increasingly variable weather, and pests and diseases. In organic systems the most common approach to nitrogen fixation is to use ley mixtures of grasses with red or white clover. However, these simple mixtures can fail (e.g. under dry conditions) and furthermore there is a lack of synchrony between release of nitrogen after ploughing and nitrogen requirement of the following crop, leading to losses from the system.

The incorporation of leys by ploughing results in decomposition of the leys and release of nitrogen. Decomposition rates of crop residues are partly the result of the action of microbes in the soil and the soil temperature, but the quality of the plant residues also has an influence. Woodier material, with a high carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, breaks down more slowly. The phenolic content (such as the presence of tannins) and lignin also affect breakdown rates.

The project trialled a range of leguminous species at six research hubs throughout the UK, and a mixture of these species on 35 participatory farms from Aberdeen to Plymouth. Detailed assessments have studied the range of performance in establishment, growth rate, biomass production, re-growth and the range of C:N ratios, lignins and polyphenols in the plant residues. A modelling approach was taken to determine the most appropriate species to be grown in mixtures for a range of environmental conditions, and to estimate potential nitrogen losses from the system. The mixtures were also incorporated into high-input rotations trials to evaluate their potential for cover cropping. 

The consortium included six research institutes and a range of industry bodies*. Trials were carried out across the country by ORC and research partners SAC, IBERS (formally IGER Aberystwyth), Rothamsted Research, TAG, and Duchy College.

Click here to access the HGCA report and read more about the project outcomes and here to access a comprehensive summary of recent research and tips for farmers on fertility building including management of green manures, nitrogen fixation, and species profiles that can be found on the SWARM Hub

* The project consortium was Abacus Organic Services Ltd, Duchy College, HGCA Ltd, IBERS, Institute of Organic Training and Advice (IOTA), Organic Farmers & Growers Ltd, The Organic Research Centre - Elm Farm, Progressive Farming Trust Ltd, Rothamsted Research, SAC Commercial Ltd, SAC, Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA) Ltd., Soil Association Ltd., Soil Association Certification Ltd., TAG, Wakelyns Agroforestry, Organic Seed Producers Ltd.

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Blight Resistance Potato Trials

Potato blight can be a devastating disease for organic growers. Over the last 7 years we have worked closely with The Savari Research Trust in testing new resistant varieties. This year we planted 15 varieties grown in replicated plots interspersed with the blight susceptible Charlotte variety. The individual plots were assessed each week once blight had appeared. Emergence, yield and vigor were also recorded. Some of the varieties were ravaged by blight during July although a number have remained remarkably uninfected. For a report on the Savari Trust open day click here. 

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 Skills Project

The Duchy College managed Skills Project covering the whole SW region is part of Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE). As part of the Skills project, training funds are available to support the organic sector in the south west. The Organic Studies Centre will be running a region wide programme of events until July 2013. For more information contact Stephen Roderick (s.roderick@cornwall.ac.uk) or Lois Philipps (lois.philipps@duchy.ac.uk).

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Animal Health and Welfare website
A compendium of animal health and welfare information relevant to organic farming has now been completed and can be viewed at www.organicvet.co.uk

The compendium stretches to approx 1000 fully referenced web pages with a Disease Management section covering more than 150 common livestock diseases and approaches to their control and management.  A section on Veterinary Management is aimed as an introduction to organic farming for vets, advisors and students with generic pages covering the organic approach to health and welfare, organic standards, health plans, alternative treatments, welfare assessment and biosecurity. Species specific Health and Welfare pages are aimed at promoting understanding of natural behaviour with sub-sections for cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry on housing, feeding, breeding and other management issues.

This project was funded by Defra and led by the Organic Studies Centre in collaboration with the Universities of Reading and Glasgow.

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The Aniplan Project - "Minimising medicine use in organic dairy herds through animal health and welfare planning"
This European project involves seven partner countries (UK, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and the Netherlands) as part of the EU-funded CORE organic programme.

The UK partners, Duchy College and Aberystwyth University, are supported by Defra.

The specific aims of the project are to:

  • Develop animal health and welfare planning principles for organic dairy farms under diverse conditions based on an evaluation of current experiences.
  • Application of animal health assessment based on the WelfareQuality parameters in different types of organic dairy herds across Europe (including calves).
  • Develop guidelines for communication about animal health and welfare promotion in different settings (e.g. animal health advisory services or farmer groups such as the Danish Stable School system.

The project involves conducting animal welfare assessments on selected farms. The results of the assessments will be used by facilitated farmer groups as an aid to the health and welfare planning process on individual farms. The manner in which the assessments are used, and the impact on herd welfare, will be monitored as part of the research programme.

For more information on this project visit: http://aniplan.coreportal.org/

This project builds on an earlier Organic Studies Centre project detailed below.

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Welfare benchmarking and herd health plans.

Supported by numerous sponsors, including Defra, MilkLink, OMSCo and Mole Valley Farmers, and conducted in collaboration with The University of Bristol, this project involved conducting repeat welfare assessments on up to 28 organic dairy herds. The response of the participating farmers to this process were elicited in detailed interviews. Click here to view the full report.

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Organic spring triticale trials
Five varieties of spring triticale were grown on six Cornish organic farms at various locations across Cornwall. Yields, quality and management were compared. This work was funded by Organic South West with support from Olivers Seeds and is reported in our Technical Bulletin 10.

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Development of small scale organic vegetable production
Three acres of land, in three blocks, has been converted to organic production at the Duchy College Rosewarne campus. This is providing a training and research resource suitable for small scale horticultural production. To date, fertility building crops and blight resistant potato varieties have been trialled and a demonstration of a range of organic cereal crops has been conducted. Currently, the unit is producing a range of organic vegetable crops as part of a project to deliver directly sold produce to college staff and students.

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Agri-environmental research
The Agri-environmental Management for Organic and Low Input Agriculture project is based at the Organic Studies Centre at Rosewarne. The aim of this ESF-funded (European Social Fund) project is to raise the academic profile and capacity of the OSC with regards to R&D activities associated with agri-environment management. The Organic Studies Centre secured funding from the European Social Fund for an R & D Framework Project to further the understanding of the impact of agri-environmental management on farm biodiversity.  This has enabled the OSC to recruit animal behaviour specialist Dr Peter McGregor to the team who is currently acting as an associate and advisor to the centre.

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Participatory Vegetable Trials
In 2005, the OSC co-ordinated on-farm trials in Cornwall of lettuce and cabbage varieties, whereby crops were grown under commercial conditions and production and quality monitoring was conducted by the participating farmers (reported in Technical Bulletin 9).

In 2006, the trials involved potato and leek varieties. The trials were funded by Defra in collaboration HDRA.

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Organic Farm survey.
During 2002-03 the Organic Studies Centre completed a survey of all organic producers in the county. The full report and summary can be found in the Technical Bulletin 3.

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