ACTION 4. AGRICULTURAL TRIALS OF THE END PRODUCT

OBJECTIVES:

  • Evaluate the effect of the end product in various cultivations in controlled environment both in Southern and Northern Europe.
  • Evaluate the effect of the end product in various cultivations in real commercial cultivations in the demonstration area.
  • Record the end users (farmers)n approach towards the new product as well as the agricultural consumables outlets owners / operators
  • Record data and information which will be useful in the completion of other Actions of the project.

METHODS EMPLOYED:

The exact date that the various trials will begin will be determined by the availability of the New Product, meaning mainly the operation of the pilot unit. As was mentioned in Action 3, TEIC will begin with the project’s kick off preparing a primary version of the New Product, however due to smaller quantity the amount which will be produced will be used for in house trials, by TEIC and if possible by UOL. Due to summer only open air cultivations will be possible to be conducted (very high temperatures in the greenhouses).

The pilot unit should be able to provide some amount of product which will be distributed in growers that can use it at this time of the year for their cultivations.  It is obvious that even though in vegetables and strawberries, meaning cultivations with a short cultivation period, we will be able to get data from more than three or four growing periods, regarding olive oil trees and vines data will be collected (at least during the projects period) only from two growing seasons. An additional third, which should provide and the most reliable data, will be monitored by TEIC outside the project’s duration and with own funds (see Continuation and Valorisation of the Project’s Results paragraph).

Controlled Trials:

These will take place in the farms of TEIC and UOL in Crete and in Yorkshire respectively. Under the term controlled trials is included the complete monitoring of the cultivation where everything is taking place is recorded including environmental conditions and there is a complete similarity in actions taking place between similar and comparable cultivations / plots.

The New Product application rate and method will be determined by the cultivation type and the substrate used. In all cases the comparison will be made with plots in which no fertilisation was made, plots where fertiliser was added and probably another one in which manure compost will be used (in TEIC trials – se also Action 8 Networking). Regarding the fertiliser added plots those will be probably double; in one the fertiliser will be added to equal the three main inorganic nutrients concentration in the New Product (matching inorganic nutrients concentration) and a second one to equal the total nutrients concentration. Since Phosphorus will be in depletion in the New Product compared to Nitrogen and Potassium, is under consideration in the plots with the New Product no extra phosphorus to be added and investigate – in at least a few trials – the effect of this approach.

The following cultivations trials will take place in TEIC:

  • Open air and greenhouse soil based tomato, peppers and cucumbers cultivations.
  • Greenhouse soiles tomato, peppers and cucumbers cultivations (hydroponics).
  • Open air and greenhouse soil based strawberry cultivations.
  • Open air soil based potato cultivations.
  • Olive tree cultivations
  • Vine cultivations

The following cultivation trials will take place in UOL and all of them are open air and soil based:

  • Winter and summer wheat
  • Winter and summer corn
  • Potato cultivations

The monitoring will include a range of morphological parameters as for example:

  • Plant height
  • Plant (roots, stem/leaves and fruit) dry weight
  • Productivity (fresh and dry weight)
  • Leaf Chlorophyll and Fluoresces level, on site (Minolta SPAD and fluorometer opti-sciences ΟS-30p).
  • Leaf photosynthesis (Pn), leaf stomata conductance (gs) and leaf intercellular CO2 concentration (Ci), on site (portable infra-red gas analyser (model LI-6200, Li-Cor)
  • Taste evaluation (Panel test)

The physiochemical monitoring will be the following:

  • pH and EC of the soil
  • Nutrients and other elements build up in the soil (including some heavy metals)
  • Analysis of the hydroponic dilution for nutrients reduction rate
  • Presence in the soil of polyphenols
  • Proteins concentration in the leaves
  • Sugars concentration in the products
  • Vitamins and other characteristic for each cultivation molecules
  • Taste evaluation of the end product
  • Pathogens analysis in the soil:
    • Total and faecal coliforms
    • Salmonela sp

Uncontrolled Trials:

These trials will all take place mainly in the demonstration area and will involve as much as possible, full time growers. Are described as uncontrolled based on the fact that it will be up to each grower to manage the test part of its cultivation in accordance to the directions which will be provided and there is no way to control that, in such a way those trials can be safely comparable. Direct comparability can only be made among the same farmer (where the New Product was used and where existing fertilisers were used), and even that can be questionable.

As far as the cultivations which will be tested those are:

  • Open air soil based tomato, peppers and cucumbers cultivations.
  • Open air and greenhouse soil based strawberry cultivations.
  • Open air soil based potato cultivations.
  • Olive tree cultivations
  • Winter and summer corn

What will be monitored during these uncontrolled tests will be also a range of physiochemical and morphological parameters, however in a less intensive manner. A large importance will be given in the overall development of plants such as tomatoes, strawberries and potatoes that in their short cultivation period is easier to evaluate potential differentiations. Also great importance will be given in the productivity of these plants, which by the end of the day, is what really matters to the growers. The parameters which will be monitored are:

  • Productivity (wet and dry weight)
  • Chlorophyll concentration in the leaves.
  • Respiration rate
  • Taste evaluation
  • pH and EC of the soil
  • Nutrients and other elements build up in the soil (including some heavy metals)
  • Presence in the soil of polyphenols
  • Proteins concentration in the leaves
  • Sugars concentration in the products
  • Vitamins and other characteristic for each cultivation molecules
  • Pathogens analysis in the soil:
    • Total and faecal coliforms
    • Salmonela sp

As mentioned in UOL description the University Farm operates in a commercial way. As this is the case few trials will take place as part of the commercial cultivations in the farm. However, since most growers / workers involved in the farm production are used in also participating in experiments, they should NOT be considered as a characteristic example of the UK grower. For this reason even though those should be considered as uncontrolled trials, still are not representative in national or regional level, as is the case in Ilia.

Growers vs New Product:

During all non controlled trials the project team (mainly from TEIC, DCWGR and RWGs) will work together with the farmers. In some cases (during harvesting) this communication will be on a daily bases. This will allow to develop a close relationship with them and to exchange that way interesting information about the way they receive this new product and what is their opinion for it. What these conducts and information exchange will be aiming is to determine the following:

  • Which parameters determine which fertiliser will be used. For example the relationship with the supplier and the trust they have to him, the price, their own experience, the certifications of the product etc.
  • How much do they really use and how is that determined. Is it again what the agricultural engineer will tell them, is their own experience which determines that, is it the price etc.
  • If a new product comes to the market, what will make them trust it. The fact that someone else is using it with good results, the sales person, the cooperation guidelines, tv and radio or news papers commercials etc
  • Regarding this new on trial product what they believe. Is it compatible with their fertiliser distributor, was it easy to be used, do they have an issue of colour or smell, do they believe it helped their cultivation, was there any difference with the commercially available fertilisers, what does it make them hesitate buying it?

In order to achieve gathering that kind of information a questionnaire will be developed by DCWGR and TEIC. TUC will also participate in the questionnaires distribution and collection in the Prefecture of Chania, where is based, where a part of this questionnaire will be used by the UOL in their contacts with farmers in the UK. In their case discussion will be more general since farmers there will not have the opportunity to try this product.

Suppliers vs New Product:

A side effect of the constant presence of RWG, DCWGR and TEIC people in the demonstration area and communication with growers is the inevitable contact with consumables’ suppliers (including fertilisers). In order to be proactive, upon selecting the relevant growers for the test trials, visits will be made in the local supplier or the specific supplier of the selected grower. It will be discussed with him / her the needs of the cultivation, the best way to approach the specific grower / growers, his opinion about the product and how the whole issue should be approached.

Samples of the materials will be provided for free and in all dissemination actions invitations should be distributed among these people. Their support will make all actions easier.

A questionnaire aiming in the group will also be developed and utilised in the demonstration area as well as in other areas in Greece.

Data collection:

As was the case with Action 3, a series of very important data for the evaluation of the process (Action 5) and the dissemination (Actions 6 and 7) will be produced during this action. Well organising collection, evaluation and additional – if needed – investigation of the gathered information must be conducted. TUC will be leading this process as is the leading partner in Action 5.

EXPECTED RESULTS:

  • A detailed agricultural and horticultural evaluation of the New Product, both in relation to the various cultivations (in south and northern Europe), but also in relation to compatibility with existing fertilisers application methods and tools
  • Determine farmers perspective, behaviour and approach towards new product