Case study 1: The Netherlands: Breaking maize monoculture

Cluster 1: Service crops

In order to explore potential solutions to the problem of  maize monoculture, a group connecting private and public actors, was set up in 2015 to work on maize, fodder service crops, cereal/grain protein intercrops. Farmers, breeders, contract workers, dairy industry workers and advisors represent the private actors, whereas the public “Business Unit of Applied Plant Research of Wageningen UR”, aims at translating and transferring scientific knowledge towards field actors.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
Farmers underlined a yield gap of up to 25% in maize monoculture. This yield gap is connected to
(1) soil quality degradation,
(2) to potential pest pressure and/or emergence, and
(3) to possible legal limitations in organic manure and N and P fertilisation rates.
Moreover, the higher chance of drought emergence and water excess due to climate change and expected limitations in the application of pesticides may affect maize production in the long term. Although the problem is not new, the farmers’ awareness has increased as their self-sufficiency of fodder production in the dairy systems is being reduced while their reliance on imported and expensive feeds has increased. This has a clear and negative impact on their economic performances.
Societal demands for sustainable production, the reduction of pesticide use, limited nitrate emissions, and a sustainable water management call for the emergence of the case study.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
Different options for innovative and sustainable maize cropping systems have already been identified and tested in experiments, and further development and implementation in the value chain is challenging. In order to explore potential solutions to this problem, a group connecting private and public actors was set up in 2015. Farmers, breeders, contract workers, dairy industry workers, and advisors represent the private actors, whereas the public “Business Unit of Applied Plant Research of Wageningen UR” aims to translate and transfer scientific knowledge to field actors.

Solution investigated
To improve soil quality, different uses of service crops between two maize crops are investigated: cover crops sown under the maize (e.g. Italian ryegrass) or fodder crops such as a mixture of winter rye and winter pea, sown after the maize crop and harvested in May, the following year, before the next maize crop is sown. In these systems, especially when the service crop is harvested, (very) early varieties are required for a timely harvest of the maize (from half of September onwards).

Expected outcome
The short-term economic effects of the tested innovations are low compared to those of current maize monoculture cropping systems. It is expected that innovative systems maintain a higher fodder production in the long run, due to better soil quality and a more diversified cropping system. Once the method has been tested and is refined, it is expected that maize yields will increase.
The development of strip seeding of the maize after the winter crop may be a promising system for maize growers, by using a timely harvest combined with a well-established winter fodder crop/cover crop and non-inversion tillage systems combined with cover/winter crops. Designing rotations of maize with other annual or perennial fodder crops may be a further solution.

Relevance for the DiverIMPACTS goals?
DiverIMPACTS contributes to the change of mindsets/paradigms of the involved actors and beyond.
As there is an increasing awareness that the current maize production system is not future-proof, this project may help to implement the required changes in fodder crop production in the long term.
 

Contact

  • Wim van Dijk, WUR, case study leader
  • Jorieke Potters, WUR, case study monitor