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EcoFeed: working towards sustainably sourced feed

Working towards 100 per cent organic and regionally sourced feed

Feeding pigs and poultry entirely on organic and regionally sourced feed is a long-held ambition of many of our licensees and other agroecological farmers.

OK-Net EcoFeed, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 scheme, is helping them achieve this goal. Its coordinated by IFOAM EU and comprises 11 partners and 8 linked third parties from 11 countries including the Soil Association and Organic Research Centre in the UK.

A network of knowledge, research and experience

The three-year project aims to create a European network of innovation groups to facilitate exchange and co-creation of knowledge among farmers, businesses, researchers and advisors. It has done this through collecting research and farmers’ experiences and developing new tools to support farmers and businesses. A number of practice abstracts – simple analyses of organic farming practices and scientific articles presented as two-page summaries – have been created. These make research available to farmers without them needing to read through the whole scientific report or pay for access via paywalls. There is a series of on-farm videos which show the research, including one on feeding pigs a fodder ration in France and another of insect feeding in Denmark. Insect feeding is not currently permitted on-farm but is allowed on research farms.

Organic Farm Knowledge – accessible and relevant

The language of reports has often caused access issues, so the project has arranged translation of appropriate papers into other languages to overcome this. Although many of the papers are already in English, there is a lot of interesting work being done around Europe and some abstracts and papers have been translated into English. One such booklet about trees and shrubs for poultry ranges was translated from Danish by Dr Lindsay Whistance of ORC.  

All of this information can be accessed through the website www.organic-farmknowledge.org  which combines research from OK Net EcoFeed with the OK-Net Arable, plus LIVESEED, RELACS and BIOFRUITNET H2020 projects. Additional sections on animal health will help turn the Organic Farm Knowledge site into the European reference hub for practical knowledge on organic farming.

Wide range of local trials to help supply organic feed

All the partner organisations have been involved in trialling local solutions to the supply of organic feeds. The trials ranged from assessing the potential for nettle and beer yeast as a protein source to using sprouted seeds to improve feed quality for poultry. Many of these trials have potential to be adapted for other regions, although they may not all be immediately obvious solutions for the UK. As an example, it is common in the US and Europe to toast whole soybeans to reduce the anti-nutritional factors in the hulls and allow increased inclusion in rations. The anti-nutritional factors are trypsin inhibitors within the bean and tannins in the hull. In a UK test, heating field beans to 180oC in a fan oven for 15 minutes reduced the trypsin inhibitor content by almost 50 per cent without affecting protein or amino acid levels, giving the possibility of allowing higher inclusion rates of beans in rations. Dehulled beans had a higher protein content, but also a higher TIA level meaning that combining mechanical dehulling and heating could improve bean inclusions further because it would reduce the tannin content as well as the TIA.  

Jerry will be reporting back 2021 on further trials and results from UK Net EcoFeed. Read about them here, or subscribe to our Organic Farming Magazine and receive this and other news and articles about organic and regenerative farming.

First published in our Summer Autumn 2020 edition of Organic Farming Magazine.