Case study 6: Switzerland: Developing organic oilseed production with oilseed rape and hemp

Cluster 2: Crop diversification under adverse conditions

Swiss organic crop rotations could be diversified by increasing the share of oil crops in the rotation. However, it is challenging to cultivate oil crops organically, and production costs are very high in Switzerland. In order to lower the costs, this case study intends to make the production more stable and efficient. Direct markets are also developed to bypass main retailers.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
The production risk for oilseed rape is relatively high. There is a high chance of severe yield loss due to the high occurrence of pollen beetles, the strong weed pressure as well as the limited nitrogen supply. As a result, domestic prices for organically produced oil are quite high compared to imported organic oil. This has led to major problems in sales.

An important retailer in Switzerland has abandoned the sale of Swiss organic oilseed rape (certified with the “bud” label of Bio Suisse, the association of Swiss organic farmers). They would be interested in Swiss organic oilseed rape but only if the selling price could be lowered. Furthermore, the two main Swiss retailers are only partially interested in other oils since they already have a very wide range of oils in their shelves. There is a potential in further developing the production of hemp but only for direct sale.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
A pilot project was already launched in 2000 when the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) started to implement field trials in collaboration with Biofarm (a Swiss organic farmer and trade cooperation) in order to develop the organic oilseed rape production in Switzerland.

Subsequent field trials at FiBL and Agroscope (Swiss agricultural research institute) are performed to control pollen beetles with stone meal or an olfactory distraction technique. Service crops are also tested with the aim to better control weeds and reduce production costs accordingly. The experiences from 2018 have shown that service crops in organic farming were less effective than in conventional farming. In organic farming, there is a higher risk of competition for nutrients, light and water.

The achievement of a cheaper and more simple way of cultivating organic oilseed rape may convince one of the main Swiss retailers (accounting for around 40 % of the sales) to restart selling Swiss organic oilseed rape.

The cultivation of hemp is quite new and promoted by various organic farmers. There are numerous informal initiatives where the technical advisory support is lacking or insufficient. Biofarm, FiBL as well as the collector and processor “Alpenpioniere” are working together to develop the production of hemp in Switzerland.

Solution investigated
More investigation is needed to further develop the production of oilseed rape. The implementation of testing to better control pollen beetles is of particular importance. The FiBL arable farming group is also testing various service crops (on-farm) in oilseed rape and in strips. Catch crops provide a good and fast coverage, compete against weeds and may also reduce pests. Technical leaflets are developed to communicate results and give recommendations to farmers. Value chain actors including the producers are getting more connected to each other by means of personal contacts with researchers, advisers, and processors, and also thanks to events like field visits. Eventually, the case study team intends to develop the market for direct sale in order to increase the production of oil crops and to diversify organic rotations accordingly.

Expected outcome

  • Establishing organic oilseed rape production for food and the industry sector in Switzerland.
  • Finding new methods to stabilize the yield of organic oilseed rape.
  • Finding new ways of lowering the cost of the organic oilseed rape production with service crops.
  • Establishing new organic oil crops like hemp to diversify crop rotations.
  • Developing the market for direct sale of oil crops like hemp.
  • Developing the technical knowledge on hemp.
  • Exchanging knowledge with other project partners.

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals?
This case study is contributing to a more diversified agricultural landscape with a lower impact on the environment and the production of ecosystem services. The latter is the direct consequence of a lower use of inputs in such systems. Furthermore, the different implemented technics in organic agriculture can also inspire the conventional sector and lead to more positive impacts overall. Finally, the market of organic oilseed rape and hemp is being developed by also diversifying the range of possible outlets (direct sale). Of particular interest is the development of the production of high oleic rape, further contributing to an increased revenue for farmers.

Contact

  • Hansueli Dierauer, FiBL, case study leader
  • Sylvain Quiédeville, FiBL, case study monitor

Video

Cultivation of rapeseed and control of pollen beetle (June 2016). Realisation: Thomas Alföldi, FiBL.