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Current use of copper, mineral oils and sulphur for plant protection in organic horticultural crops across 10 European countries


The use of several plant protection inputs of mineral origin, such as copper, sulphur or mineral oils is seen as contentious by many consumers and stakeholders within the organic sector. Although the use of these inputs is legal in organic systems and also applied in non-organic agriculture, their use by organic growers raises questions for organic practice, which aspires to be free from toxic, non-renewable chemicals. Data on the current use of permitted plant protection inputs is currently scarce, especially in horticulture where chemical inputs deserve special attention since horticultural products are often readily edible. A mapping of the use of copper, sulphur and mineral oils was conducted by collecting expert knowledge across 10 European countries during May–October 2018, i.e. before the limitation of copper use to 4 kg ha−1 year−1 from February 1, 2019. Results show that copper is widely used by Mediterranean organic growers in citrus, olive, tomato and potato production. The annual limit of 6 kg ha−1 year−1 was not always respected. We also found that tomato producers apply high amounts of copper in winter crops in greenhouses. Mineral oils are applied to control scales, mites and whiteflies. Sulphur is also commonly used by organic vegetable growers, especially in greenhouses. We conclude that the high usage found in various different crops (especially Mediterranean crops) confirms the need for researching alternatives.

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Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available in the Organic PLUS project repository, online in Katsoulas et al. (2018) and in Katsoulas and Løes (2018).


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The authors are very grateful for the kind assistance of many organic farmers and advisors, willing to share their knowledge and experiences. We also thank the following: Amador, J., Antón, A., Azzaro A., Bertuglia A, Blackhurst D, Blogg H, Cetinel B, Colom G, Dróżdż D, García MC, Kacprzak M, Lorite I, Montemayor E, Mrowiec M, Nanos G, Raskin BL, Rayns F, Valleix S and Vatsanidou A for their valuable contributions in the collection of data of this survey.


This work was carried out under the Organic PLUS project that has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 774340—Organic PLUS.

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Overall research design, budgeting and project administration U.S., N.K., A-K.L. and D.A.; data collection, N.K., A-K.L, D.A.,G.C., M.C., A.K., L.K., K.M., FW.O., H.W. and U.S.; writing—original draft, N.K., A-K.L., D.A., G.C. and U.S.; writing—review and editing, N.K., A-K.L., D.A., G.C., M.C. and U.S.

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Correspondence to N. Katsoulas.

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All research followed the H2020 project ethical guidelines and approval in respective countries.

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Katsoulas, N., Løes, AK., Andrivon, D. et al. Current use of copper, mineral oils and sulphur for plant protection in organic horticultural crops across 10 European countries. Org. Agr. 10, 159–171 (2020).

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  • Mediterranean crops
  • Greenhouse crops
  • Tomato
  • Contentious inputs, plant protection