Project Details

Starting points and Concept:

Results from EU-projects such as REPCO, BlightMop, ENDURE etc., and from national projects are the starting point of CO-FREE. The project builds on promising outcomes from former research, which however, are not fully developed yet for implementation.

The project will 
(i) fill knowledge gaps that hindered effective use/implementation 
(ii) develop alternative compounds towards marketability and
(iii) improve management tools.



As in a construction kit system (Figure 1) , the components will be integrated into management strategies for use in apple, grape, potato and tomato for control of the major important copper-relevant diseases in the respective crops in the EU, i.e. apple scab (Venturia inaequalis), downy mildew of grape (Plasmopara viticola) and late blight of potato and tomato (Phytophthora infestans). In addition, secondary diseases that are so far controlled by copper will also be monitored. CO-FREE will address both, organic and low input/IPM farming systems focusing on major crops highly depending on copper use at present. Furthermore, the ecological and socio-economic impact of the strategies developed in CO-FREE will be evaluated, innovative breeding goals (ideotypes) will be established and strategies will be developed to foster acceptance of new tools by retailers and consumers. In addition, available knowledge that may be generated outside of CO-FREE will be monitored regularly and taken into account.



Objective 1 – Development of novel alternative compounds of microbial and plant origin

The introduction of new alternative compounds starts with the identification of candidate compounds. Chosen compounds fulfilled the following criteria: 

(i) proven efficacy against at least one of the major copper-controlled diseases 
(ii) novelty
(iii) involvement of a leading/innovative SME company ensuring further development and marketing. 
Compounds and biocontrol agents from different origin (plants and microorganisms), which have different modes of action (fungicidal or bactericidal activity and induced resistance) were included (Table 1).

Table 1: Alternative compounds and bicontrol agents investigated in CO-FREE

  Control agents   Research aspects
  Microbial origin   Development of stable formulation for improvement of efficacy under field conditions Optimization / up-scaling of production

Extended elucidation of the mode(s) of action

Characterization of chemical active components

Identification of key components and interactions/synergies between active compounds

Improvement of application timing
  Trichoderma atroviride SC1 and
protein extract SCNB
  Yeast-based derivatives  
  Cladosporium cladosporioides H39  
  Oligosaccharidic complex COS-OGA  
  Aneurinibacillus migulanus and 
Xenorhabdus bovienii
Plant origin
  Sage extract  
  Liquorice extract  
  Saponine extraxts Teawet TQ Liquid and 
Quiponin BS Liquid
  Seaweed extract  


The objectives for developing new compounds are:

  • to optimize field application protocols for natural products
  • to characterize active compounds in the plant extracts and their mechanism of action
  • to determine the spectrum of activity of products of microbial origin and plant origin
  • to develop suitable formulation to maximize the efficacy (UV stability, rainfastness and shelf-life)
  • to optimize/upscale the production process and reduce production costs in order to finally develop novel copper-alternative compounds of plant and microbial orgin


Objective 2 – Optimization of use of alternative products and management tools

The alternative compounds and biocontrol agents from objective 1 will be combined into disease control strategies in organic and low input/IPM farming systems to achieve the maximum disease control. The specific objectives for an optimal disease control comprise:

  • use of pre-existing knowledge and/or knowledge generated by other parallel research projects
  • use of specialized spray techniques according to the used alternative compounds
  • comparing the usage of copper with alternative compounds in fungicide resistance management
  • development of decision support systems (DSSs) exemplarily for an annual (potato) and a perennial crop (grape) (Table 2)  

Table 2: Management tools investigated in CO-FREE 

Management toolsResearch aspects
Application strategies Maximization of activity of alternative agents considering weather, plant and pathogen
Application equipment Optimization of application techniques
Anti-resistance management of Oomycete fungicides Potential use of alternative agents for management of fungicide-resistant pathogen populations
Decision Support System (DSS) in grape Validation in susceptible and tolerant varieties;
Optimization for alternative agents; 
DSS for secondary diseases
Decision Support System (DSS) in potato Integration of canopy growth model;
Optimization for alternative agents
Cultivar ideotypes 
(example potato)
Conceptual frame of ideotype design and validation; Performance and acceptability of ideotype concept
Consumer acceptance of 
new varieties
Strategies to foster supply chain and consumer acceptance; Proposals for adaptation to apple, grapevine and vegetable crops

apple-scab 2


Objective 3 – Development of copper-free fruit production systems

For different copper-free apple production systems novel techniques and technologies (see objectives 1 and 2) will be applied. 

These apple production systems will include:
(i) traditional, high density organic and IPM plantations of scab-susceptible cultivars in the main apple production areas in Europe
(ii) high-density, high yield production systems with scab-resistant cultivars, 
(iii) high-yield production systems that include all preventive techniques to lower disease pressure
(iv) innovative agro-forestry based apple production systems that combine apple production and arable crops. 
The specific objectives are:

  • to evaluate novel tools and techniques to control key pathogens without copper in traditional scab-susceptible and scab-resistant high-density apple orchards
  • to evaluate novel techniques within advanced high productivity apple production systems that include all known preventive measures (including resistant cultivars, reduced planting density)
  • to develop and assess the performance and environmental impact of highly diversified low input agro-forestry apple production systems



Objective 4 – Development of copper-free grapevine production systems

For copper-free grapevine production systems, novel techniques and technologies (see objectives 1 and 2) will be used and evaluated. 

The grapevine production systems include: 
(i) susceptible Vitis vinifera cultivars in the Atlantic (France), Mediterranean (Greece, France) and continental (Northern Italy, Switzerland) wine production areas in Europe with downy mildew (Plasmopara viticola)
 (ii) Vineyards planted with interspecific, downy mildew tolerant cultivars (France, Switzerland). Specific objectives are:

  • to evaluate novel tools and techniques
    • to control key pathogens without copper in traditional downy mildew and black-rot susceptible vineyards
    • within advanced high productivity grapevine production systems that include all known preventive measures (including disease-tolerant cultivars)
  • to explore the potential of downy mildew tolerant production systems with respect to environmental impact and ecosystem services

p.infestance on tamato


Objective 5 – Development of copper-free annual crops (potato, tomato) production systems

Novel production tools and strategies for potato and field tomato, free of copper use will be evaluated. The integration of novel alternative compounds, decision support systems (DSS) and of cultivars ideotypes, not only chosen for resistance towards late blight, but also for other agronomic factors (yield, quality, nutrient use efficiency), is important and will be addressed. Specific objectives are:

  • to evaluate novel alternative compounds and strategies in traditional organic and low-input potato and field tomato production systems
  • to develop potato ideotypes and associated management systems to meet the demands of the market and to compensate for agronomic deficiencies


Objective 6 – Tests on Ecological impact of novel copper-free techniques and production systems

Since novel copper-free strategies as described under objectives 3, 4, and 5 are supposed to have positive effects on the environment, eco-toxicological studies are needed to prove and quantify the added ecological value of such systems. In addition, potential toxic effects of novel alternative compounds and biocontrol agents will be evaluated (i) on beneficial arthropods species, (ii)  on non-target aquatic indicator organisms, (iii) on earthworm species as soil indicator organisms.


Objective 7 – Socio-economic impact assessment of copper free production systems, and strategies to foster consumer acceptance of new varieties


The specific objectives are:

  • to evaluate the economic impact of novel agronomic compounds and strategies resulting from objectives 1 to 5
  • to develop a strategy to improve wholesaler and consumer acceptance of novel cultivars


Objective 8 – Dissemination of new knowledge and novel practices

The dissemination of experimental results to and the interaction with advisors, farmers, researchers and other stakeholders is crucial for the rapid implementation of the techniques into farming practice. The specific objectives are:

  • to establish and maintain a project website, to produce technical leaflets, and peer-reviewed publications and presentations at conferences, to organize ‘open field days’ for farmers, advisors, and retailers providing first-hand local information on innovations and to disseminate results at established farmer information events
  • to ensure a continuous and qualified dialogue between project consortium and representatives, farmers, advisors, retailers and policy makers
  • to organize a workshop for SMEs to ensure efficient and rapid registration of novel copper alternatives