Seven myths of organic agriculture and food research

Organic agriculture and food research (OAFR) is well established and there is an ongoing and vibrant discussion about the future research needs of organic farming. However, reviews of the research features of OAFR have been less common. During the editorial work on a collection of book sections about the state of the art of OAFR, we felt that the differences between the ideals of OAFR and the actual research practices invited critical debate. In this article, we label these differences—somewhat provocatively—as myths about OAFR. We identified seven myths: (1) OAFR follows a systemic research approach, (2) OAFR is guided by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements Principles and organic regulations, (3) research priorities are defined in collaboration with practitioners, (4) transdisciplinarity is a key strategy in OAFR, (5) OAFR produces results that are directly applicable in practice, (6) the methods applied in OAFR differ fundamentally from those in research on conventional farming, and (7) organic researchers are fully integrated in the scientific community. We assume that our reflections will also inspire a broader discourse in the light of Organic 3.0, where a critical review of research practices should be central for the future development of OAFR.

Today, organic agriculture and food research (OAFR) is well established in many agricultural research institutions. Within the context of the future of organic farming (OF), International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) prepared a strategic paper, Organic 3.0, that includes an extensive debate about the necessary requirements and important research needs in OF (Arbenz et al. 2015; Niggli et al. 20082016).

Besides that, over the last decade, numerous papers have addressed the following: how OF should be developed in the future; research strategies for OF; the demand, needs, and challenges of OF; analyses of the state of the art in OAFR based on stakeholder and expert interviews, focus group discussions, platforms, or literature reviews (Barabanova et al. 2015; Häring et al. 2012, Niggli et al. 2008; Padel et al. 2010; Rahmann et al. 2009), and evaluations of OAFR programs and procedures (Ekert et al. 2012; Lange et al. 2006; Wolf et al. 2011). These activities, focusing largely on the development of OAFR in Europe, have been organized partly through different institutions (see, e.g., DAFA Forum in Germany (DAFA 2015; Hamm et al. 2016)).

When it comes to research features in OAFR, we recognize that the discourse about them is limited and fragmented. The last and maybe sole comprehensive discussion on OAFR methodological features and ideals dates back from a review in the 1990s (see Lindenthal et al. 1996).

Also work of several mainly Danish researchers represents a significant exception, but focuses first of all on an ethical and systemic research perspective, however serve as an excellent example how the discourse on methodologies can be initiated (Alrøe 2000; Alrøe and Kristensen 2002; Noe and Alrøe 2003; Noe et al. 2008; Thorsøe et al. 2014; Watson et al. 2006). Their research is not only specifically directed on OAFR, but is inspired from experiences with OAFR (Alrøe et al. 2016; Alrøe and Noe 20112014; Noe and Alrøe 2012; Noe et al. 2015). The TIPI report1 offers also some insights into research method and approaches, systems perspectives, and participatory aspects of research (Niggli et al. 2016). But when we look at the diverse papers on the future of organic farming, research features are not an issue (e.g., Rahmann et al. 2016). Further observations have been done within the context of the application of systems theory and inter- and transdisciplinarity in organic farming research, where we identified discrepancies between what the science community claims and what is reality in scientific practice (Freyer 2016ab). Consequently, we argue that OAFR lacks critical discourse on research features (see also Jörgensen 2016).

Based on those observations, we believe that it is important to launch a new discussion about the research characteristics of OAFR. We structure our reflections using the term myth

A myth represents an idealistic image of OAFR that conflicts with the research practices and overall conditions of the science daily routines. Similar to Roland Barthes (1972), we see myths as connotations that present phenomena as natural conditions, when in fact they are socially constructed. The term “myth” has polemic sharpness and we use it in this article pragmatically as a conceptual “lightening rod” that draws our attention to the need to question many of our assumptions in regard of OAFR. In the following, we discuss seven myths about OAFR that are of relevance for the methodological discussions and for the continuing development of organic farming. For each myth, we present how prevalent it is in OAFR, why it is a myth, and further discuss different related consequences and suggest measures for improvement.

Why this is necessary? OF is still far from a mainstream
food and farming practice. To unpack the potential of organic farming, it is
necessary to develop research methodologies and practices that can help to
better understand and develop OF’s specific qualities, including its potentials
and limitations. Therefore, it should be of interest for scientists to
critically analyze current state of the art of OAFR features in order to
optimize their scientific quality. At least the diffuse nature of OAFR reviews
and critical assessments beg for a book-length discussion to provide an
overview of the current state of the art and the future of OAFR, which of
course we cannot provide here. The idea of this article is therefore to
initiate a critical discussion on the OAFR challenges and needs within the
context of organic agrofood systems.

The foundation for the
identification and discussion of the seven myths arises from insights gained
while preparing an edited volume on OAFR (see Freyer 2016a). In
this book (Freyer 2016b), 52
authors contributed 33 chapters and discussed the state of the art, and the
future challenges of different fields within OAFR. After reviewing each of the
chapters, we identified a list of myths. The list is not complete, nor without
flaws, and we invite readers to reflect on our suggestions and to help extend
and refine it. In addition, we reviewed additional literature that is related
to the myths. We conclude with a brief discussion on how to address these
controversies and some ideas for developing the methodological approach and
practices of OAFR.

Myth 1: OAFR follows a systemic research approach

It is often noted that organic agriculture follows a systemic rather than a more reductionist research approach often found in conventional agriculture. Organic farmers exclude certain external inputs, focus on the farm internal relations (e.g., between crop rotation and pest management or herd size and on-farm forage production), and try to close nutrient and energy cycles, and the farm is understood as an organism (Raupp 2000).

Also ideally, organic farming aims for a systemic marketing approach with short supply chains and direct consumer–producer relations (Freyer and Bingen 2015; Vogt 2007). Here organic products, their processing, trade, and consume is embedded in the regional economy. Therefore, it is often stated that organic farming is a system-oriented form of agriculture (see e.g., Høgh-Jensen 1998). This assumption is underlined by the IFOAM Principles, which also refer to systemic concepts like wholeness, cycles, and systems.

From this orientation researchers
deducted certain requirements for OAFR. For example, Lindenthal et al. (1996) stated that there are five
requirements that shall ensure a system-orientated research approach within
OAFR: (1) a holistic approach, (2) long-term research, (3) consideration of
local characteristics, (4) praxis orientation, and (5) regionality. The
implementation of these requirements—which of course can also be discussed
critically, but can serve as a guide for the discourse—asks for an inter- and
transdisciplinary research design. For that, systems theory has been identified
as a necessary theoretical foundation (Fiala and Freyer 2016; Freyer et al. 2010; Gibbon 2002; Ison 2008). The notion that OAFR follows a
systemic approach seems to be widespread in the organic research community.
Furthermore, “organic farming” is a prominent topic within the International
Farming Systems Association (see Barbier et al. 2012), a community dedicated to foster
the application of systems theory in the area of agricultural research, and
also a central reference in the discourse on farming systems research in
general (Darnhofer et al. 2012).

However, no comprehensive research about
the application of systems theory in OAFR exists so far and our observation is
that researchers commonly discuss the need for a systems perspective on OF, but
rarely apply systems theory. The whole area of organic farming systems research
has been also criticized to use the word “systemic” often quite freely
without applying concrete systems approach (Bawden 19952012; Fiala and Freyer 2016). Also when we look at the five
requirements for systems-orientated research (Lindenthal et al. 1996), it becomes clear that not many
research projects or publications can fulfill these criteria (Fiala and
Freyer 2016) and mostly remain disciplinary
orientated (see myth 5 and Freyer 2016a). Häring et al. (2012) state for true systemic research
project, runtimes of 25 years would be necessary. There are some examples
of long-term field trials (e.g., see overview Mayer and Mäder 2016), but researchers do not spend
much time to dig into the details of systems theory and to unfold their
potential for a deeper understanding of the organic system.2

Missing systems theory in higher education
but also time constrains that are given through tight research schedules risk
that the organic research community becomes more and more unaware of the need
to conduct truly systemic i.e. systems research. The discrepancy between
myth and reality is problematic for OFAR and its research community, because it
creates blind spots that can be problematic for practitioners. There is need to
initiate a broader scientific discourse about this discrepancy; otherwise,
we will face problems like it is mentioned in the strategy for organic
farming research by the Technology Innovation Platform of IFOAM, where it is
stated that system-orientated organic farming research would be necessary, but
is very hard to achieve (Niggli et al. 2016).

Myth 2: OAFR is guided by the IFOAM Principles and
organic regulations

understanding of the organic regulations is that they have to be in line with
the IFOAM Principles and consequently the organic farming practices are guided
by this ethical framework (see Padel et al. 2009; Freyer and Bingen 2015), but it is not so simple as such.
Since more than one decade, we observe what is called bifurcation of the
organic movement (Constance et al. 2008), representing a broad range of
actors with rather different worldviews. As organic regulations continue to be
modified, largely by economic (often corporate) interests, they increasingly
appear to have almost forgotten the principles (e.g., through the increased
application of all kinds of industrial fertilizers). As a result, organic
practices risk losing their singular position as ethically framed (see also the
conventionalization debate) (De Wit and Verhoog 2007; Goldberger 2011). The other position is that there
are many efforts of farmers, traders, and consumers to seriously reflect their
production, trade, and consumer habits following closely the ethical

If and how organic researchers frame their
research practices with the IFOAM Principles or not is more or less unknown. In
part, the ethical framework of the IFOAM Principles is primarily intended for
practice, but not for researchers and how they practice science or how their
research aligns with the ethics (Freyer and Bingen 2015). From that perspective, it
appears that science and practice live in different worlds and that values are
differently of relevance in their daily practice (Freyer and Bingen 2015). Or is this a misinterpretation?

To understand the relation between OAFR and
the ethics, a broader view on all kinds of interfaces might be helpful. OAFR
reflects the Principles in different ways. There is some research on the
development of the Principles (for an overview, see Freyer and Bingen 2015). Principles are part of a broader
analysis how they are applied and translated into practices mainly in farming
systems (Darnhofer et al. 2010; Padel et al. 2007), but often also within the
context of (fair) trade, animal welfare (Vaarst and Alrøe 2012), or their philosophical
foundations (Freyer and Bingen 2015). Only in some cases, research is
framed by the organic principles (Alrøe and Kristensen 2002). In general, this research field
is mainly fed through social scientists, while the majority of natural
scientists is less engaged in this topic. If bifurcation also takes place in
OAFR is an unknown issue. In this context, it is relevant to inquire about the
ethical self-understanding of organic scientists and their awareness of IFOAM
Principles in and the consequences for their research (Freyer et al. 2016). While research should not
underlie any “moral control,” it might be of interest to study how scientists
think about ethics and the extent to which the principles influence, i.e.,
guides the selection of research topic and their research practices.

We can argue that both regulations and
IFOAM Principles are based on long-term experiences and are part of a
continuous discourse of adaptations. In this sense, they do not limit the
option space for research, but guide on already verified findings
(Luttikholt 2007; Vogl and Axmann 2016). From this perspective, both
principles and regulations do not restrict research, but offer a
well-considered framework.3 On the other hand, this normative
framework might hinder reassessment of the fundamentals of OA and also exclude
consideration of possible solutions that could advance organic agriculture and
food systems. Further reflections are necessary to clarify the relationship of
IFOAM Principles and OAFR, i.e., organic researchers. Similar to many research
calls asking today how far the research is in line with or contribute to the
sustainable development goals (SDGs), we can argue that for organic research
there could be a section asking how far research makes a contribution toward
IFOAM Principles.

Myth 3: research priorities are defined in
collaboration with practitioners

farmers and other members of the organic community played an important role to
develop and drive OAFR (Vogt 2007). Therefore, there is the
widespread opinion that understanding organic farming as system requires the
integration of an inter- and transdisciplinary process for the identification
of long-term research programs. Research should be done with and for the
farmers. Consequently, it seems logical that also the research priorities are
defined in collaboration with practitioners and indeed there are some examples
for that, e.g., the German Federal Ministry of Nutrition and Agriculture
identified priorities by interviewing actors all along the organic agrofood
chain (Ekert et al. 2012). IFOAM, initiating the TIPI
(Niggli et al. 2016), is working hard on bringing
farmers and researchers together to identify research needs. Switzerland
established a national forum of farmers and researchers to coordinate research
priorities (Nationales Bioforschungsforum:,
which is a very promising approach.

How to organize participatory processes is
widely discussed in the literature on transdisciplinary research (Enengel et
al. 2012, Lang et al. 2012, Leavy 2016, Mobjörk 2010, Scholz and Steiner 2015). However, there are several
obstacles in the process of collaboratively defining research strategies. A
central challenge in identifying research needs involves finding ways to
balance the selection of participating stakeholders with their willingness to
be part of such a process. The research topics identified by stakeholder groups
might be highly skewed toward the specific interests of those choosing to
participate in the process (Baars 2011). Thus, the results may favor
those who are most attentive to or interested in the research, while those not
participating or interested in the research are excluded. It also makes a difference
if stakeholders name research problems purely from their individual
perspective, or as a result of a group process or from a broader societal
perspective (Fichten 2014). The perspective of stakeholders
can fruitfully inform many research topics. But not all research topics are
appropriate for or require a stakeholder process. Such research topics might
include the development of a method to identify enzymes for a digestion
process, or the analysis of the biochemical mechanism of an interaction between
a predator and an insect. Also a demand-driven research agenda confronts many
tensions, e.g., different and often limited perspectives on innovations of the
actors involved; sometimes conflicting processes, monitoring, and output
evaluation criteria; and information and knowledge asymmetries between the
actor groups (Noe et al. 2015), even there are serious efforts
and experiences to reduce these differences (Ingram et al. 2018; Röhrig 2006). These factors might influence
researchers’ capacity to successfully act in the research planning. Because the
majority of those involved often lack the capacity to initiate such a process,
“participation” does not per se increase research quality (Klerkx and
Leeuwis 2009). But it is the researcher’s
responsibility to adapt, i.e., transform stakeholder ideas into the research
setting, if they claim to practice farmer-oriented research. And without
question, a comprehensive literature review should be always part of the
research process, even when the focus is stakeholder-driven research.

Myth 4: transdisciplinarity is a key strategy in
organic farming research practice

research often linked with action research (Hadorn et al. 2006; Reason and Bradbury 2001)—defined as not only crossing
disciplinary boundaries (interdisciplinarity) but also including non-academic
stakeholders in the research process (Jahn 2008)—has become quite popular in
Farming Systems Research and also in OAFR. In OAFR, calls for research
proposals increasingly require scientists to identify how the proposed research
will meet the needs of farmers (Freyer 20042016a). Although the collaboration
between practitioners and researchers is not an issue that is specific to OAFR,
organic farming has a strong history in farmer-driven research (Fiala and
Freyer 2016). It seems natural that the lack
of institutional support during the pioneer phase of the organic farming
movement (Barton 2018; Vogt 2007; Willer and Schmid 2016) led to a high importance of
on-farm research in close collaboration with farmers to advance organic farming
practices in comparison to mainstream farming (Vogl et al. 2015). Therefore, it is not surprising
that in early discussions about the methodological requirements for organic
farming, the high importance of and relevance for practitioners was emphasized
(Lindenthal et al. 1996).

Today, researchers still face many
hindrances, if they want design transdisciplinary research projects. First,
conducting transdisciplinary research requires certain competencies (see Muhar
et al. 2013; Nash et al. 2003). Without those competencies,
researchers will struggle to manage the complex and sometimes exhausting
process of integrating stakeholders in their project. Unfortunately, teaching
transdisciplinary competencies is still rare in higher education
(Dedeurwaerdere 2013; Merck and Beermann 2015; Sherren 2008) and by far not a common part of
many OARF-related curricula. The establishment of respective lectures often
faces institutional problems, because of the special features of didactic
methods (e.g., case study research (see Freyer and Muhar 2006; Larson et al. 2011)) necessary to train transdisciplinary

Second, although more and more calls demand
a transdisciplinary research approach, there are institutional barriers to
design projects that way. Often, it is not possible to include stakeholders
already in the proposal writing process and there are too little resources to
manage the transdisciplinary processes; workload necessary to conduct
successful transdisciplinary research is underestimated (for example, see the
difficulties faced in the “FarmPath” project (Pinto-Correia et al. 2015), or the agricultural European
Innovation Partnership (EIP_AGRI),4 where farmers are obliged to take
over the administration and paperwork, which is going beyond their capacities).5 In addition, there are currently
still few incentives to conduct transdisciplinary research since most of the
scientific journals still focus on disciplinary approaches (Roux et al. 2017).6 On the other hand, there are also
excellent examples, e.g., the German “Demonstrationsbetriebe,” showing how to
communicate organic farming practices with the public,7 or the “Leitbetriebsnetzwerk”
guided by the University of Bonn, which demonstrates how to establish a
researcher–farmer collaboration on farm research approach (Berg et al. 2003).

To summarize including stakeholders into
the research process is a crucial part for OAFR, but it must not become a
hollow buzzword. We have to be clearly aware of the limitations, the
difficulties, and the costs connected with moving out of the ivory tower. This
awareness should lead to more adaptable research institutions in regard of
funding and proposal design and in higher education systems that prepare organic
researchers for this demanding task. It is further recommended to link with the
diverse research communities engaged in transdisciplinary research since

Myth 5: OAFR produces results that are directly
applicable in practice

already mentioned in myths 3 and 4, the (immediate) usefulness of
results for practitioners is often identified as a key feature of OAFR, already
raised in the early days of organic farming (e.g., Lindenthal et al. 1996). Indeed, basic research within
the field of OAFR is rare, and OAFR has a long tradition of focusing on applied
research approaches. This dominance of applied research may also be due to the
demand for solutions that can be directly transferred into practice (Ekert et
al. 2012). Farmer’s interest is the
usefulness of a research result under real farming conditions, while for
researchers, interests are beyond this target, including also simply to test,
evaluate, or monitor something,

Thus, it is a misconception that results
from applied science automatically guarantee their (short term) applicability
in practice. The transferability of research results is confronted with four
challenges: (1) Organization—the direct application of research
results often requires additional resources that are not considered to be part
of classical research projects. (2) Qualification—scientists are
only partly qualified for this task, because transforming and transferring
results into practice is its own profession (Fichten 2014). (3) Appropriateness—not
all research results qualify for direct application. The research intents other
objectives or refers to other methodological approaches relevant for the
research process that offers no space for a transfer oriented strategy.
(4) Time—research projects that are limited to 3 years often
cannot produce scientifically robust and qualified results to recommend

Transdisciplinary action research
(Stokols 2006) includes the practice orientation
but often risk failing due to the mentioned challenges under myth 4 (see also
Dressel et al. 2014; Freyer 2004; Freyer and Muhar 2006; Hoffmann et al. 2009; Rieckmann 2015; Ison 2008). In addition, those
action-orientated approaches come with another trade-off: If the focus is more
on a specific farming system, a kind of case study approach, the produced
results may show great ways to improve the situation within this farming
system, but may not be applicable in any other farm. This can be explained not
only through site-specific agro-ecological conditions but also because of the
farmers influenced in these trials, i.e., the management capacities or the
technical equipment of a farm. In such case study-oriented research, which has
its own value (Flyvbjerg 2006), the aim is not the direct
applicability of a result in other farms, but to find the best solutions from a
systems perspective for one farm.

To summarize OAFR aims at producing
research results that are directly applicable in practice. To be realistic,
from a research point of view, this target is not always to fulfill, due to the
intended research focus, i.e., the research objectives and other factors.
Furthermore, it requires specific competencies, institutional support, and
additional resources. In general, we still face obstacles how to measure the
scientific and non-scientific impacts of transdisciplinary research (Wolf et
al. 2013), which provides the procedures
and (mixed) methods (Popa et al. 2015) to guarantee high applicability
of research results in practice (Green 2008).

Myth 6: the methods applied in OAFR differ
fundamentally from those in research on conventional farming

it is often stated that OAFR has specific requirements and that it follows a
systemic approach, as well as ethical principles, it is sometimes assumed that
OAFR methods also differ from methods applied in conventional farming research.
But no meta-studies are available to confirm this assumption. During the
editorial work of the book Ökologischer Landbau-Grundlagen,
Wissensstand und Herausforderungen
 (Freyer 2016b), we concluded that with the
exception of plant and animal breeding, ethics, and research on bio-dynamic
agriculture (Geier et al. 2016; Herold 2016; Horneburg 2016), currently alternative
methodological approaches that are specifically developed and applied in OAFR
are limited.9 We only can observe that some
methods are more relevant in OAFR research, e.g., microbiological soil analysis
(Mäder et al. 2002), than others, or specific methods
are excluded, which is the case, e.g., in animal and plant breeding.

When it comes to the results of any applied
method, we observe differences between both farming approaches. Same results
must not lead to the same interpretations and consequences in practice. For
example, both conventional and organic researchers concerned the availability
of phosphorous in the soils, but they propose quite different management
solutions. In organic farming, the crop rotation and organic manure and compost
management as well as the pH are to optimize, and the nutrient status (farm
gate and plot specific) is to analyze before adding any fertilizer from outside
the farm. In conventional farming, the first recommendation almost always is to
apply mineral fertilizer. In each system, also the recommended type
and amounts of fertilizers are different.

More research sector specific detailed
analyses and the identification of differences and communalities in the
application of methods between organic and conventional research, and more
in-depth reflections about the need of new or alternative methods to understand
and further develop the organic system in future, would be useful. Also, it
seems natural that both researcher groups can learn from each other, how they
apply methods and interpret results (Rahmann et al. 2016).

Myth 7: organic researchers are fully integrated
into the wider scientific community

the broad range of OAFR, it appears that organic farming has become a topic of
interest within the wider scientific community. Publications and scientific
conferences on organic farming have been increasing in the last two decades
There are numerous options to present OAFR in scientific peer-reviewed
journals, as well as conferences, including those journals that traditionally
were established for research on conventional agricultural. From that
perspective, we can conclude that organic research and the related research
community are well embedded in the overall scientific community.

When we look at the “organic” researchers,
we identify different types with different access to the organic and the
conventional research society: (a) researchers who focus only on OAFR, (b)
those who deal with both conventional and organic systems, (c) those who do
OAFR by default, and (d) those who exclude OAFR, but write critically about it.
These researchers are differently integrated and linked in the organic
researcher networks (e.g., ISOFAR, TIPI, etc.) as well as in the diverse
conventional ones. Hülsbergen and Rahmann (2014) argue that the circle of organic
researchers has grown very slowly in recent years, as documented as well by
Ekert et al. (2012). DAFA (2015) similarly notes that the
contribution of basic science researchers in OAFR is very limited.
These observations indicate that there is an untapped research potential
between the different research groups—organic and non-organic—that could
benefit from greater communication. This potential addresses not only new
topics, i.e., technologies and methods in the natural sciences, or, e.g.,
developments in transdisciplinary sciences (Brandt et al. 2013), but also contributions from
scientific disciplines that have been less engaged in OAFR, e.g., medicine, or
methodologies that have not paid attention to organic farming practices and
product qualities. It is also clear that the organic research community is a
relatively small one and has a limited number of research facilities and
institutes with often low financial capacities, including laboratories, or
budgets to employ a broad range of methods. In short, it may be of interest for
organic researchers to intensify the collaboration with non-organic
researchers/institutes, and who, in turn, may become inspired to engage into
OAFR and related research topics.

There has been little debate over organic
farming, organic agriculture, and food research since Lindenthal et al. (1996). This
article summarizes and critically discusses the current situation along seven
myths about OAFR. We expect that what we reflect as a myth may generate some
controversy and disagreements; however, it was intended with this article to
initiate a critical discourse. Some of our initial conclusions include:

  • There
    is need to specify in the diverse organic research sectors the systems
    approach, activating the tool box of all kinds of systems theories and methods.
    Principles guide the organic practices and therefore should be more part of
    research on organic farming and their future development.
  • Best
    practices on identification of research priorities in collaboration with stakeholders
    should be further strengthened; however, it is to keep in mind that there are
    cases where researchers have to follow other research priorities.
  • Organic
    researchers should access the transdisciplinary scientific movement and their
    theoretical and methodological discourses to better use the potential of
    transdisciplinary tools and related mixed methods.
  • There
    is need for a more detailed discourse on the applicability and transferability
    of research results. Not each research is qualified due to its problem
    structure, and related methods for developing solutions. This is also to
    communicate to the stakeholders.
  • A
    research platform on organic farming methodologies and (systems) theories,
    e.g., supported via a European COST action or the establishment of a platform
    like FQS (, might offer a
    format to deepen the debate on (innovative) OAFS-specific methods and their
    potential to innovate the organic farming system.
  • Recommendations
    are of low significance if not supported by the research policies and budgets
    in the respected countries as well as activities specifically in higher
    education to train students in the field of organic agriculture and food

Especially in the context
of the further development of organic farming as “Organic 3.0/4.0,” we argue
the importance for the scientific community to engage with these myths, to
reflect upon them, and to discover others. We have done so, and we invite
others to do so as well. We believe that such reflection could launch an
important creative process for increasing the research quality for the organic
agriculture and food system.

1.Technology Innovation Platform of
IFOAM-Organics International (TIPI)–A Global Vision and Strategy for Organic
Farming Research

2.An example where systems theory is highly
relevant is, e.g., research from Noe and Alrøe (2012), referring
to Niklas Luhman’s social systems theory (Luhmann 1995). They
explain the operational closure and systems logic of a farming system and how
this closure is produced and reproduced. These insights are also significant
for understanding the circumstances under which the conversion of a farm occurs
and why the conversion is one of the most challenging steps for an organic
actor (Freyer and Bingen 20122014), and in
combination with practice theory (Nicolini 2012), the
systems’ perspective helps us understand this process by highlighting the
linkage between practices and social systems. Another example is introduced by
Nuutila and Kurppa (2016). They
combined a systems perspective with the activity theory to interpret the
Finnish organic food chain.

3.With the latest established SDGs
(sustainable development goals), OAFR confronts a new and comprehensive ethical
framework for sustainable development. SDGs already guide some research
programs (e.g., Lund 2015). Consistent
with this development, the organic movement should show the extent to which the
IFOAM Principles and related programs and activities of the organic movement
embody the ethical dimensions of the SDGs (see also Freyer et al. 2016: Niggli et
al. 2016; Rahmann et
al. 2016). In fact,
OAFR itself should begin to critically discuss how the Principles might be
adjusted or reinterpreted in light of the SDGs.


5.Statement by BioAustria representatives

6.Of course there are excellent exceptions,
e.g., the GAIA Journal (


8.Also conventional farmers criticise that
research is too far from the practical needs and demands (Isermeyer 2003)

9.An example for methods that are specifically
in organic farming research is the spade diagnosis (Munkholm 2000), which
originally was not developed by organic actors (Görbing 1947), or
bio-dynamic research, which includes so called “holistic” methods, e.g.,
chromatographic methods for assessing the quality of products (Turinek et
al. 2009; Weibel et
al. 1998).

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