Protected Cropping: New EU Standards
Protected cropping will soon be subject to EU scrutiny to fill in the gaps in the EU organic regulation. The purpose of this session was to take a pulse from the industry as to where the standards should be going. Roger Hitchings fronted a presentation from Wight Salads, as Philip Morley could not be present, outlining their system of long-season heated organic tomato production. Roger Hitchings gave a picture of the current situation across Europe, with widely different interpretations of the regulations. Jill Vaughan covered the current standards and issues arising from them. The Soil Association has produced a draft paper on protected cropping standards and is planning a wider consultation in April.
Philip Morley's presentation (given by Roger Hitchings) emphasised the role of Wight Salads in long-season tomato production as a major player in the organic market. Renewable energy, he sees as the key to financial and environmental sustainability. Roger Hitchings outlined some of the equivalence issues across Europe.
- Conversion periods. Portugal - ‘a few weeks'. UK 2 years, with possible 4 month reduction). Zero conversion period with ‘out-of-soil production (see below)
- Out-of-soil production. Organics in a bag. Finland growing in compressed peat blocks. Sweden and Denmark use ‘demarcated beds'. UK only in soil. Concern was raised by established producers that allowing out-of-soil production could ‘compromise the organic marque.'Jill Vaughan of Delfland Nurseries went through the existing UK standards, covering areas where there may be issues. The Soil Association is producing a discussion paper on standards.
- Rotations. Mono-cropping currently permitted.
- Soil. All went wrong when allowed organic pot herbs.
- Crop nutrition. Proposal to limit N input to 600kg N/ha/yr, with only 170kg/N/ha from animal sources. Holland limits set at 1000 kgN/ha/yr. Liquid feeds? Imported fertility necessary to sustain yields from long-season production.
- CO2 Enrichment. Is it acceptable and if so -How should the CO2 be produced? Only waste CO2 to be allowed?
- Buildings and siting of tunnels etc. not covered in existing standards.
Discussion highlighted the differences between intensive long-season heated production systems and unheated systems that largely fit within the parameters of the existing standards. Do we need 2 standards for the different systems? Suggestion of using Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and carbon labelling to develop sustainability index that all of Europe should comply with. OGA to convene a meeting to look at sustainability of these systems and to move towards agreement. Margi argued that there are some situations where it is appropriate to grow out of the soil, but the consensus in the room was that for food production it should not be allowed. Any concerned growers or interested parties are encouraged to have input to the consultation.