Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL turns 50! On 1 February 1973 the “Swiss Foundation for the Promotion of Organic Agriculture” was established, laying the foundation stone for FiBL. Under the motto “Together one step ahead” FiBL is dedicating a series of activities and events to its anniversary in 2023.

Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL
©Till Forrer. The new FiBL Campus was inaugurated in 2022

Founded in 1973, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL is the world’s leading private research institution in the field of organic agriculture. Together with practitioners, it investigates and develops methods and applications for organic agriculture and is one of the pioneering research and information centres in this field. FiBL’s strengths are interdisciplinary research, joint innovations with farmers and the food industry, and rapid knowledge transfer.

The FiBL Group currently comprises FiBL Switzerland (founded in 1973), FiBL Germany (2001), FiBL Austria (2004), ÖMKi (Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture, 2011), FiBL France (2017) and FiBL Europe (2017), which is jointly funded by the five national institutes. More than 400 employees work at the various locations (as of 2022), 290 of whom are based in Switzerland.

Time to take a look back: How did the ball start rolling?

In 1966 the daily newspaper Tat published an article by Philippe Matile, ETH professor of plant biology and later member of the Foundation Council of FiBL Switzerland (1973 to 1987). The text, entitled “The Limits of Artificial Fertilizer Farming”, was about the vision of an agriculture that can do without artificial fertilizers and triggered controversial reactions. From the resulting discussions with various actors, including politicians and organic pioneers, it quickly became clear that organic agriculture needed its own research and advisory institution. For this reason, in 1970 National Councillor Heinrich Schalcher, later President of the Foundation Council of FiBL Switzerland (1973 to 1978), submitted a proposal to Parliament for a research institution devoted exclusively to organic agriculture. Despite the rejection of this proposal, Matile and Schalcher did not give up.

The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL is the world’s leading private research institution in the field of organic agriculture

Foundation and first milestones

As a result of this rejection, organic farmers, marketers and researchers founded FiBL independently as a private foundation in 1973. FiBL began its activities in April 1974 with the appointment of Hartmut Vogtmann at the Bruderholzhof in Oberwil near Basel. The aim was to support organic farmers through research projects and advisory services and to promote education and cooperation between producers and consumers. In the 1970s, the four organic farming organizations Demeter, Biofarm, Bioterra (then known as the Swiss Society for Organic Agriculture) and the Progana of Western Switzerland began to draw up joint principles and standards for organic agriculture under the leadership of FiBL, which were presented to the public in December 1980. These also served as the basis for the international organic farming standards of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), which were first published in 1980 with the support of FiBL.

In 1977 the first scientific IFOAM conference “Towards a Sustainable Agriculture” was organized by FiBL in Sissach, Baselland. Since then, this conference has been held every two to three years. It has since become the World Organic Agriculture Congress.

Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL
©FiBL. FiBL’s first site on the Bruderholzhof in Oberwil, Baselland, 1973.

Also in 1977, the first organic farming courses were held in the form of one-day courses on farms. In 1981 FiBL, together with Demeter, Biofarm, Bioterra and Progana, founded the Association of Swiss Organic Farming Organizations (VSBLO) – later Bio Suisse. The VSBLO bud was originally the FiBL logo and was co-designed by Philippe Matile. The VSBLO laid down precise guidelines for organic farming. In 1992, a political milestone victory followed: organic farming was included in the Swiss Agriculture Act as a “form of production worthy of promotion” with entitlement to direct payments for organic farms. The first four-year performance contract was awarded to FiBL two years later.

FiBL moved to Frick in 1997. The institute now had 60 scientists and advisors. In 2000 FiBL organized the second IFOAM World Scientific Congress in Basel under the motto “The World Grows Organic”, which attracted over 2000 participants.

FiBL is dedicating a series of activities and events to its anniversary in 2023

FiBL continues to grow

Since FiBL moved to Frick 25 years ago, the institute’s research and advisory activities have increased significantly, the number of staff has quadrupled and several sister institutes have been established. The buildings at the Frick site became more and more over time. In 2014 the Federal Council decided to increase federal funding for FiBL Switzerland from 2016. Also in 2016, the canton of Aargau decided to support the institute with eleven million Swiss francs from the Swisslos fund for the further expansion of its research infrastructure. The expansion of the FiBL Campus was completed at the end of 2021 and formally inaugurated in 2022. This includes the research greenhouse and the expansion of the research laboratories, the modern and animal-friendly research barn and the new conference and office building with the spacious FiBL Restaurant. This extension has made it possible to expand staff capacities even further in order to meet the growing demand for research in organic agriculture and the organic market. Cooperation with practitioners remains a central element of FiBL’s activities today.

  • You can also read about FiBL’s history on the institute’s website and discover many interesting pictures from the past in the picture gallery.
Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL
©FiBL. The FiBL team in 1991: Thanks to a first performance mandate from the Federal Office for Agriculture, stable basic funding was possible for the first time and FiBL was not only dependent on projects. Top centre: Urs Niggli, FiBL Director for many years.

Anniversary activities

The Institute has organized various activities to mark its anniversary. Firstly, on 1 February the series “Voices on the anniversary” was launched on the anniversary website. New interviews will be published there on a regular basis, which this year will continuously highlight the relationship of various personalities – from research, practice, politics and business, among others – to FiBL. In addition, various events will take place throughout the year:

  • Excursion Organic Field Days 2023: On 14 and 15 June 2023 the Organic Field Days will be held at the Grieshaber & Schmid organic farm in Hirschlanden. As part of the anniversary celebrations, FiBL is organizing a joint visit to the event for farmers. Participants will travel together to the multifaceted organic farm on Wednesday morning and spend two days there enjoying the varied programme offered in discussion forums, on demo plots, at stands and in demonstrations. A cultural programme and regional organic delicacies round off the programme.
  • Vineyard excursion: Vitiforst in Germany: From 24 to 26 July, participants will travel with FiBL to the German wine-growing region of Rheinhessen, where they will visit newly planted Vitiforst vineyards and other exciting approaches to the question of “sustainable viticulture of the future”. On the second day, they will travel to the Saar to visit one of the oldest Vitiforst project vineyards together with the managing winegrower. The aim is an exchange for interested and active Vitiforst winegrowers, but also for advisors. During the two and a half days there will be enough space for discussion, exchange, networking and inspiration.
  • FiBL Caravan: The FiBL Caravan starts on 21 August in Western Switzerland and ends on 31 August 2023 at FiBL in Frick. Participants will have the opportunity to visit various agricultural and food processing enterprises.
  • Innovation Day: The FiBL Caravan will come to a ceremonial close with Innovation Day at the FiBL Campus in Frick on 31 August 2023. Participants will be able to gain an insight into the latest research activities of FiBL and its partners.

Further information on the anniversary events can be found at 

Author: Sofia Bartsch, Corporate Communication & Strategy Development, FiBL Switzerland

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