Research and development and knowledge transfer in support of sustainable farming gains significance
Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture – evaluation of 2021
The size of the area under organic cultivation in Hungary has doubled in the last five years, and over the same period the market for organic food has grown by 30% in Europe. In addition to the environmental and health benefits, the economic importance of the sector is growing, while with the expansion of organic areas, the importance of research, development and knowledge transfer in support of sustainable farming is increasing. An important role can be played by innovation networks in which farmers actively participate. Meanwhile, organic products are increasingly appreciated by both Hungarian gastronomy and consumers in general.
Hungary is already mid-table in Europe, in terms of the proportion of land under organic cultivation. According to the latest international data, Hungary is ranked the 10th most dynamically growing country in the world in terms of increasing the area under organic cultivation in one year. The country’s position is similarly impressive when it comes to organic fruit production: ranked by absolute area, Hungary has the 12th largest acrage of organic orchards in the world. With regard to this dynamic expansion, and the ambitious goals of the EU (an average of 25% of organic agricultural land by 2030), in its evaluation of 2021, the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) – as the largest research institute for organic farming in Hungary – is drawing attention to the fact that as organic areas expand, the role of research, development and knowledge transfer in support of sustainable farming is becoming more and more important. It is also thanks to the increasing importance of organic agricultural methods that from 2021, the 23rd of September each year is EU Organic Farming Day.
Strengthening research network, spreading good practices in 2021
In our continuously developing On-farm research network, involving more than a hundred producer partners, experiments were conducted in 2021 to develop organic farming and disseminate best practices in sustainable agriculture in a total of twelve agricultural and animal husbandry areas. Celebrating our tenth anniversary, our expertise is gaining popularity among both professional and hobby organic gardeners and farmers, with more than 10,000 Facebook followers and almost 170 freely available short videos on our YouTube channel.
Last year, anyone interested could also listen to our experts' lectures at the ÖKO EXPO in Hajdúnánás, Hungary, the 80th OMÉK (National Agricultural and Food Exhibition and Fair), and PLANET Budapest 2021. In May, the first joint conference of the Organic Agricultural Research Institutes, the FiBL Open Day, was held, with 1,700 participants from 90 countries worldwide, and presentations by European organic farming researchers. At the international online conference, the Hungarian results were presented by our team members. Based on the success of this event, experts are planning to make it a regular fixture, holding similar open days every two years.
Agricultural advisory networks are also indispensable for the dissemination of good practice. We had expanded our active advisory staff to seven, thanks to which it provided 187 clients with useful knowledge in 2021. In most regions of the country there are already professionals who provide expert assistance to farmers engaged in, or converting to, organic farming.
The growth of organic landrace products
In 2021, organic production continued to provide Hungarian consumers and gastronomy with an ever-expanding range or excellent ingredients. Among the most tried-and-tested, healthy and delicious crops are our landrace tomatoes. A similarly key role may be played in the future by flour milled from organic, landrace-variety ancient wheat, which will be available on store shelves within a few weeks as a result of our ancient grain research.
Last year, even the youngest gardeners – in kindergartens – were able to grow landrace tomato seedlings: working together with the Ovikert (Nursery) Program and Responsible Gastrohero association, we delivered landrace seedlings to more than 30 kindergartens across the country. The success of our organic tomato seedlings in 2021 was recognized by two new awards: at the beginning of the year the landrace tomato program was ranked fifth among the 55 Highlights of Hungary, making it among the most outstanding Hungarian initiatives, and in October it won one of the highest accolades of the agricultural profession, the OMÉK Tradition and Innovation Award in the Agricultural Economy. In addition to these prizes, the fact that the results of our three years of experimentation with tomato landrace varieties were published in the scientific journal Diversity also marked a significant international step forward.
Working together with the Ovikert (Nursery) Program and Responsible Gastrohero association, we delivered landrace seedlings to more than 30 kindergartens across the country
The past year has also brought new results in the field of organic wheat research. In cooperation with the Hungarian Seed Association and Product Council, researchers successfully tested a total of 21 Hungarian and international wheat varieties which appeared promising for organic farming, in a small-plot variety test network in seven locations, as part of national organic wheat variety experiments. The organic wheat variety tests, supplemented by our on-farm tests, which have been running for years, will help organic farmers to choose the most suitable variety for their local conditions.
We launched our small-plot variety test network in 2021
In addition to the bread wheat tests, the widespread of forgotten ancient wheat landraces continued this year with the participation of farmers, millers and bakers, with einkorn and emmer cultivars, the testing of new flours, and the further development of our farmer-miller-baker database. Thanks to this process, organic, stone-milled emmer and einkorn flour, which is healthy, high in nutritional content and uniquely flavourful, will be available for retail purchase within a few weeks in Hungary.
Our organic, stone-milled emmer and einkorn flour will be available for retail purchase within a few weeks in Hungary
Strategic directions and goals in Hungary and in Europe
The appointment in 2021 of ÖMKi’s director as the vice-president of IFOAM Organics Europe, the European umbrella organization for organic farming movements with more than two-hundred-member organizations, has helped to build a bridge between Central and Eastern European countries embarking on the path towards more sustainable agriculture and Western European member states with traditionally stronger representation of organic interests. Keeping in mind both the sustainability and the competitiveness of Hungary, in 2021 we actively participated in international strategy-making processes (regarding the attainment of the EU’s 25% organic land goal), and domestically it played a significant role in the elaboration of the National Organic Action Plan 2021-2027.
The Hungarian action plan envisages 10% of land under organic cultivation by 2027, in terms of the size of the areas involved in organic production, while also setting targets for the expansion of the domestic market for organic products. For example, it also lays out ambitious goals for the use of organic ingredients in public catering. It plans to collect market data and set up an information platform to monitor the growth of domestic organic food turnover.
Dr Dóra Drexler, the director of ÖMKi and vice-president of IFOAM Organics Europe, outlined the goals for 2022 as follows:
‘Within the framework of the European Green Deal, agro-ecological methods are becoming more and more important, which not only helps promote more sustainable production, but can also give Hungary a competitive advantage. The transition to agroecology, including organic farming, offers a major opportunity for Hungary, so in our own area we are stiving to promote the development of organic farming and organic product lines both at the local and European Union level through practice-oriented research and development.’