Final report on Protected Cropping

The Expert Group for Technical Advice in Organic Production (EGTOP) was set up by the European Commission three years ago in order to provide impartial advice to the Standing Committee on Organic Farming (SCOF) in its discussions on the regulations and standards. EGTOP has a core group, including Nic Lampkin of ORC, that meets regularly together with a 60 strong pool of experts that are called on for particular topics.

Organic tomato production at Wight Salads

Organic greenhouse production (protected cropping) has been subject to scrutiny by a sub-group that included representatives from the UK (Roger Hitchings of ORC), Italy, Spain, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany. This has been an area that has had very few specific regulations applied to it. EGTOP have just published their final report.

A brief summary of their conclusions is:

  • Fertility should be supplied primarily from slow release organic fertilisers, such as manures and composts. The use of liquid fertilisers should be justified by calculating nutrient balances.
  • Using irrigation to flush out surplus nutrients is not acceptable.
  • Crop rotation is desirable but difficult. Rotation concept should include diversity in space rather than time
  • Soil health should be maintained by preventative methods including rotation and use of biologically active composts. Biofumigation, solarisation and shallow steam treatment of the soil should be allowed. Deep steam treatment (beyond 10cm) should only be allowed under exceptional circumstances (e.g. nematode infestation).
  • Use of natural enemies (beneficial insects) is in line with the principles of organic farming.
  • The same substances authorised for use outdoors should be allowed in protected cropping.
  • Cleaning and disinfection. There should be a review of the substances allowed for disinfection and/or decalcification in all situations. This could be complemented with a list of substances authorised only for specific purposes.
  • Mulching. Non-biodegradable mulches should be allowed, with re-use and recycling encouraged. Biodegradable mulches are OK though not if use starch derived from GM crops.
  • Irrigation and water use. Guidance for efficient water use and/or water recycling should be developed.
  • Energy use, Responsible energy use is needed.
  • Light. Use of artificial light is acceptable, although not in excess of the Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) of a summer day (21st June) and should not exceed 12 hours of daylight including the artificial light.
  • Temperature. Due to variation in climate, unified criteria for heating greenhouses can’t be easily applied to different regions in the EU. Efforts should be made to minimise energy consumption and maximise the use of energy from renewable resources.
  • Carbon dioxide. CO2 enrichment is acceptable but should preferably be from processing or burning of biomass sources. Research is needed on alternatives to CO2 enrichment based on burning of fossil fuels, which shouldn’t be allowed.
  • Growing media. Peat is acceptable (restricted to 80% by volume of growing media). Soil from certified areas of organic farms should be allowed to be mixed into substrates for use on the farm itself.
  • Growing in substrates. Growing in substrates is acceptable for seedlings and transplants and plants sold to the consumer together with the pot/container in which they are grown. Harvesting organic vegetables or fruits from plants grown in substrate cultures is not acceptable, they should be grown in the soil. However, the Group makes an exception for the growing of vegetables in growing media in demarcated beds for farms which grew such cultures before 2013 in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, on the condition that the growing media and plastic is recycled. The production of plants, fungi and algae that do not naturally grow in soil should be allowed.
  • Recycling of growing media. Excess growing media from potting, unsold potted plants, or growing media used in demarcated beds should be recycled.
  • Conversion periods. Conversion periods should be the same for greenhouse cropping as for outdoor cropping.For greenhouses, where plants are grown in substrate with no contact with the soil,
    no conversion time is required from the technical point of view, if appropriate measures are taken to avoid contamination risks. The group suggests that conversion periods in general should be reconsidered, considering a one-year conversion for greenhouse and outdoor crops.

The report will be reviewed by the SCOF over the next few months, with the possibility that some or all of the recommendations may be adopted as part of the review of the EU organic regulation currently in progress. This review process provides an opportunity for organic producers to engage in a debate about how the regulations should be changed.

Download the full report here (0.5mb pdf)

See also: Towards protected cropping standards – a principled approach in ORC Bulletin 110

Biogreenhouse project – Towards a sustainable and productive EU organic greenhouse horticulture

IFOAM EU group Position Paper on Organic Greenhouse Production

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