Bio inputs: Sustainability, productivity and profitability
Nourishing the soil, protecting crops against pests, preventing and/or treating plantation diseases, and improving quality and safety at sowing, harvesting, and postharvest are essential aspects to guarantee quality products. Phytosanitary products, fertilizers, substrates, vitamins, biological control agents, disinfectants, seeds, fertilizer techniques… The use of inputs is common in the agricultural world. However, the vast majority are substances that conflict with organic production, such as copper, nitrates or mineral oil.
European organic regulations do not allow the use of synthetic chemical substances, pesticides or synthetic vitamins to nourish the soil, protect plantations against pests, prevent and/or treat diseases. Specifically, Regulation (EC) 834/2007 limits the management and natural fertilization of the soil to the use of natural or derived substances , or mineral fertilizers with low solubility , excluding nitrogenous mineral fertilizers and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
Biodegradable, effective and harmless
Unlike conventional inputs, organic inputs —which include biofertilizers, biostimulants and organic fertilizers— are based on microorganisms , plant extracts or derivatives that promote and favor the nutrition and natural growth of crops. They are generally fungi and bacteria that can be naturally associated with plant roots, directly or indirectly facilitating the availability of nutrients such as water, phosphorus or atmospheric nitrogen present in the soil.
It is their organic condition that makes them a biodegradable and innocuous alternative , both for the environment, as well as for animals and people, to the inputs of chemical synthesis. They are non-toxic substances, which do not present chemical residues and contribute to improving the health of plants, as well as increasing the efficiency of crops and increasing agricultural yield in a sustainable manner and in any type of production. They allow to obtain greater and better productions at less cost, for which they are economically profitable .
“Synthetic inputs need a lot of energy to be manufactured,” explains the president of the Organic Agriculture Committee of the Valencian Community (CAECV) , Vicente Faro Carrió . “Companies that produce phytosanitary products see this line of research: a compatible fertilization both in conventional and organic agriculture and that is cheaper.” We can use another type of fertilization that, introduced in a community way, does not contaminate aquifers, lowers the cost and maintains production ”, he adds.
Likewise, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA), Luis Planas , affirms : “Biostimulants are a key input for a more sustainable, productive and profitable agriculture.”
Certification: guarantees and opportunities
Sometimes, many fertilizer manufacturers find it difficult to discern between the raw materials and the processes allowed for organic farmers to use their products. However, there are special certifications for inputs applicable and usable in organic farming, such as UNE standards .
The UNE standards (Spanish Standardization Entity) constitute the maximum guarantees for the organic sector. Created in 2017 by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA), with the participation of companies specialized in organic certification, they are the first public standards at a European level that harmonize and regulate the certification of inputs that can be used in organic farming.. Specifically, three standards were published: UNE 142500 on ‘Usable inputs in organic plant production. Fertilizers, amendments and culture substrates’; UNE 315500 on ‘Usable inputs in organic plant production. Products for pest and disease management’; and the UNE 66500 Standard ‘Minimum requirements for the certification of usable inputs in organic plant production according to the two previously mentioned’.
In turn, these quality certifications open the door to the international market. With the increase in organic production in recent years, the need to have organic inputs suitable for this type of production system has become evident and biological and technical research and development presents itself as an opportunity.
As explained by Juan Manuel Sánchez , managing director of CAAE , in an article published in November, “Spain is the only country that has public standards to regulate the inputs that can be used in organic farming, which is an important advantage for manufacturers who know in detail the requirements that must be met so that their products can have the CAAE seal of UNE inputs and, in this way, facilitate access by eliminating or reducing barriers to the organic production sector globally”. Since 2001, CAAE has certified more than 1,100 inputs between fertilizers, phytosanitary products and basic substances corresponding to more than 140 companies.
Technical advances in Europe
The RELACS (Replacement of Contentious Inputs in Organic Farming Systems) project is along the same lines . Promoted by FiBL , its objective is to develop and validate alternatives to conflicting inputs in the production of organic crops (copper, mineral oils, nutritional inputs) and in livestock production (anthelmintics, antibiotics and synthetic vitamins) and propose roadmaps for their application. For the European “Farm to Fork” and “Biodiversity” strategies add the need not only to replace environmentally problematic practices, but also to provide widely accessible and cost-effective alternatives in sufficient quantities .
In August 2022, project coordinator Lucius Tamm from FiBL Switzerland stated that many of the investigated technologies have already reached the final stages required for application on organic farms. However, he points out, political support at various levels and smart roadmaps are needed for rapid and effective adoption of organic inputs by farmers.
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