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Division of Food Production and Society

Replacement of Contentious Inputs in Organic Farming Systems

Finished Last updated: 04.05.2023
End: apr 2022
Start: may 2018

Replacement of Contentious Inputs in Organic Farming Systems (RELACS) will foster the development and facilitate the adoption of cost-efficient and environmentally safe tools and technologies, to phase out the dependency on and use of inputs considered contentious in organic farming systems.

External project link RELACS official homepage
Start - end date 01.05.2018 - 30.04.2022
Project manager Lucius Tamm
Project manager at Nibio Håvard Steinshamn
Division Division of Food Production and Society
Department Grassland and Livestock
Partners Research Institute of Organic Agriculture
Total budget 3,999,670 EUR
Funding source European Union’s Horizon 2020

As a system approach to sustainable agriculture, organic farming aims to effectively manage ecological processes whilst lowering dependence on off-farm inputs.

The RELACS project partners will evaluate far-advanced and new solutions to further reduce the use of external inputs and, if needed, develop and adopt cost-efficient and environmentally safe tools and technologies to:

  • Reduce the use of copper and mineral oil in plant protection
  • Identify sustainable sources for plant nutrition
  • Provide solutions to support livestock health and welfare.

The project was developed by involving actors from research, farming, advisory services and industry from the very start hence implementing a truly multi-actor approach. RELACS has 29 partners from thirteen countries.

RELACS is coordinated by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) Switzerland. IFOAM EU is responsible for communication, dissemination and facilitation of the science-practice-policy dialogue.


Publications in the project

To document


Vitamin E is essential and supplementation to the diet is often needed to meet the requirements of farm animals. This is particularly relevant during long indoor periods where conserved forages must be fed, as conservation can degrade Vitamin E. However, synthetic vitamins are regarded as contentious inputs in organic agriculture. Therefore, the aim of this work was to evaluate if the standard recommendations for supplementation can be revised and adapted for organically managed dairy cows, on the basis of that the diets differ from those in conventional systems. A systematic literature review was conducted to assess the response to Vitamin E supplementation considering lactation and gestation stage and the composition of the basal diet. Most of the experiments that focused on animal health-related issues were conducted during late gestation and early lactation. In more recent studies reporting positive effects of Vitamin E supplementation on animal health and fertility, cows were fed conserved forages such as hay, haylage or maize silage, which all have low natural content of Vitamin E. In the studies reporting no or only minor positive effects of Vitamin E supplementation, cows were often fed diets based on grass or grass-clover silages, which reflects the structure of organic cattle diets. In conclusion, it was proposed that Vitamin E supplementation is not needed for mid and late lactating cows on pasture or fed a basal diet of grass-clover-silages. For dry and peripartum cows as well as for cows fed maize silage, hay or haylage, supplementation was strongly recommended

To document


The reduction of copper-based plant-protection products with the final aim of phasing out has a high priority in European policy, as well as in organic agriculture. Our survey aims at providing an overview of the current use of these products in European organic agriculture and the need for alternatives to allow policymakers to develop strategies for a complete phasing out. Due to a lack of centralized databases on pesticide use, our survey combines expert knowledge on permitted and real copper use per crop and country, with statistics on organic area. In the 12 surveyed countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK), we calculated that approximately 3258 t copper metal per year is consumed by organic agriculture, equaling to 53% of the permitted annual dosage. This amount is split between olives (1263 t y−1, 39%), grapevine (990 t y−1, 30%), and almonds (317 t y−1, 10%), followed by other crops with much smaller annual uses (<80 t y−1). In 56% of the allowed cases (countries × crops), farmers use less than half of the allowed amount, and in 27%, they use less than a quarter. At the time being, completely abandoning copper fungicides would lead to high yield losses in many crops. To successfully reduce or avoid copper use, all preventive strategies have to be fully implemented, breeding programs need to be intensified, and several affordable alternative products need to be brought to the market.