Case study 21: Belgium: Crop diversification through inter-farms co-operation

Cluster 5: Diversification of vegetable cropping systems

How to get more nutrients by closing the cycle? Simply pooling together farmers with different needs does not work: it needs facilitation to respond to the lack of feed for dairy and lack of nutrients for arable crops and this is the area where the case study can make a difference to enhance the cooperation for exchanging feeds and manure.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
In Flanders, the farming sector is evolving with some asymmetries: the dairy production is growing, but arable and vegetable productions are more in trouble. Cycles are short and depend too much on soil nutrients’ availability, which is in large part supplied by the livestock sector. How do we get more nutrients by closing the cycle? Simply pooling together farmers with different needs does not work: we need facilitation to respond to the lack of feed for dairy and the lack of nutrients for arable crops, and these are the areas where the case study can make a difference to enhance the cooperation to exchange feed and manure.
In the dairy sector, clover fatigue is observed due to improper crop rotation. To address it, one dairy farm took the initiative to exchange parcels with another farmer to improve and open rotations. This gave good results and proved to be scalable. The way farmers exchange the parcels, the relative prices, and the acreage amplitude are not dealt with using ‘scientific’ criteria but are based on intuitions. There is a need for more rigorous approaches. The way farmers decide to collaborate will be a research focus in the project.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
Organic and in-conversion farmers, farmers' facilitators, and technical advisors are involved. No scientific teams in the case are identified at this stage. To trigger participation, advisors should objectivize some of the ideas emerging in the case study. Basic technical questions were already identified through preliminary interviews and brought into the larger group, serving as a discussion point.
Collaboration among farmers is challenging at the farm level, as farmers are often reluctant.
In this case study, the different farmer groups usually meet 4 times/year, with vegetable and dairy sector farmers attending their own meetings. There is consequently the need to build a new cross cutting group, the case study having the ambition to work with 5 couples of farmers (vegetable grower and dairy farmer) to work on fields and machinery exchange: this represents a first level of interaction. A second level is to organize interactions among these couples.
Additional barriers are posed by material transport, equal exchanges of land, common agricultural policy or nitrate regulations, and paper burdens in organic.

Solution investigated
Specialization is aspired to, but good rotations are challenging due to the small parcels of the farmers' crop.
Find solutions to close the nutrient cycles, with the naturalization of fertilization. Phosphorus is a key issue, as farmers are more and more dependent on fertilization, due to constraints in manure availability.
Setting up cooperation across primary sectors is a priority in order to show that collaboration could be a win-win situation.

Expected outcome
The case study goal is to understand and find solutions for the social-economic and practical constraints that hinder interfarming between both dairy (animal production farmers) and vegetable farmers. On the organisational level the objective is to learn and to exchange with other case studies about the different topics to enhance crop rotation and to learn about new methodologies to work on impact changes with groups of farmers.

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals
Legislation stimulates the lock-ins, and the project may trigger progressive responses.

Contact

  • An Jamart, BioForum, case study leader
  • Lieven Delanote, Inagro, case study monitor