Case study 24: United Kingdom: Crop diversification in protected vegetable systems

Cluster 5: Diversification of vegetable cropping systems

Growers already moved away from monocropping in protected systems and want to explore more options to increase profitability and sustainability. The case study should contribute to collect more data and to display possibilities in increasing diversity to improve yields.
The main objective is thus to upscale diversity for increasing the spectrum of cash crops based on two small scale organic vegetable growers.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
Idea was raised by two small-scale organic vegetable growers producing protected and field vegetable crops. Diversification of the cropping system in a broad sense means incorporating green manures, flowers, and other diversity to increase yield in cash crops that can benefit from this amplified diversity.
Growers already moved away from monocropping in protected systems and want to explore more options to increase profitability and sustainability. The case study should contribute to collect more data and to display possibilities in increasing diversity to improve yields.
The main objective is thus to upscale diversity for increasing the spectrum of cash crops to grow.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
Both farmers involved in the case study are already practicing diversification and increasing diversity for a long time. They both have an extraordinary background and focus on ethical and sustainable food production and are continuously working on improvements of their systems.
Besides profitability and surviving as a business, one farmer might be slightly more focused on expanding the variety of crops to sell (diversification started 15 years ago). The other farmer aims at increasing soil fertility, biodiversity, and resilience (30 years of diversified organic vegetable growing). The farmers increased the diversification over time having more products to sell and higher profit per acreage.
The site is Ian Tolhurst, Tolhurst Organic C.I.C., Hardwick, Whitchurch-on-Thames, England.
They both have farmers’ markets and vegetable box schemes running. They also have farm shops with constant relationship with consumers, representing short chains as the main marketing channel.
One of the two farms had taken over the land about 30 years ago and "inherited" two major soil-borne diseases from their predecessor (Verticillium wilt and Allium whiterot). To reduce these diseases, the organic farmer needed to introduce extensive and long rotations from the beginning, including a wide variety of different crops.
The Organic Research Centre ORC does a lot of participatory research and will be the scientific collaborating partner.

Solution investigated
Growers are interested in exploring the best crop combination and the most suitable one in each growing context, both in agronomic and marketing terms.
They are very keen to find out more about what they are doing right and where they can improve in terms of diversification and sustainability. They want to identify their weaknesses and find out how to measure, monitor, and improve them (e.g. plastic material use).

Expected outcome
A key area of work in the case study is the diversification development combining buyers' and users' aspirations, developing a suitable market for the main crops in the diversified growing system, and finding out how to diversify even more for better profits based on the two farms.
They want to exchange with other growers and farmers and discuss experiences with crop diversification on other farms and horticultural systems. They see this farmer-to-farmer exchange as one highly useful major factor in determining how to make diversity more profitable: for more diversity, improved soil health, and sustainability in the long-term.

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals
Within this case study, we can evaluate a horticultural system that produces without any animal inputs for over 30 years. Lacking this fertiliser input, for example, the grower relies completely on the role of green manures, under-sown and intercropping, as well as applications of in-house produced compost. This system aims to be as closed as possible with as little external inputs as possible. It provides an excellent example for innovative and short value chains, selling products at local farmers markets and a veg-box scheme, including its own processed products such as various sauces. The business also organises regular events and fairs for the local community, catering with its own products and food and building up and maintaining a small network of actors.
 

Contact

  • Anja Vieweger, ORC, case study leader
  • Anna Sellars, ORC, case study monitor