Case study 1: The Netherlands: Breaking maize monoculture

Cluster 1: Service crops

Dairy farming is an important agricultural sector in the Netherlands covering about 65% of the total agricultural area. Dominant feed crops are grass and silage maize. The major part of the silage maize is grown in continuous monocultures on the same field. This is mostly done for practical and economic reasons. Maize is a highly productive feed crop that combines well with grass. This combination has been optimised for decades. It is more convenient to have the grass close to the farm for grazing the cows and because grass is harvested more frequently than maize. The fields at greater distance are thus left to Maize.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?

The cultivation of maize as a monocrop has led to adverse side effects. The soil quality has decreased due to relatively low organic matter supply and the use of heavy machinery for harvest. Together with the increased pressure of soil-borne diseases and weed problems this limits crop production. Additionally, nitrate leaching on maize fields is exceeding acceptable levels. Furthermore, the dairy sector has been challenged to decrease greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions and to become more self-sufficient for feed protein production. Therefore, a transition to sustainable feed production systems is necessary.

Moreover, the higher chance of drought or floods 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 they are becoming less self-sufficient and more dependent on on imported and expensive feeds. This has a clear and negative impact on their economic performances.

Societal demands for sustainable production, the reduction of pesticide use, limited nitrate emissions, attractive landscape and sustainable water management present a need for the case study.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
Different options for innovative and sustainable maize cropping systems have been identified and have been or are being developed. The challenge for this case study is to support the main actors to realize diversified systems for feed production, which with balance investments and benefit for farmers as well as society. Diversification in the form of integrating alternative feed crops, fodder service crops, or cereal/grain protein intercrops can potentially improveme the feed production system. The main actors involved in this case study are private actors such as farmers, advisors, breeders, contractors, suppliers, dairy industry workers, researchers and public actors such as national and provincial governments and waterboards. Stakeholders are involved in analysing the problem and possible solutions. For each of the case study interventions, it is assessed which stakeholders should be involved and in what way.

Solution investigated
The case study focuses on two topics: alternative feed crops and rethinking feed production. To address these topics, the case study supports existing projects that focus on sustainable feed production. This support aims to increase the effectiveness of the projects through activities such as participatory problem analysis and action planning, facilitating discussion among stakeholders along the value chain and field demonstrations of alternative cropping systems. Our activities aim, on the one hand, to increase the awareness of the stakeholders that influence feed production and, on the other hand, to stimulating the development and implementation of sustainable feed production systems as alternative to monoculture.

Expected outcome
It is expected that the different interventions from this case study, in collaboration with the associated projects, will contribute to increased awareness, increased insight in the alternatives and improved support for farmers who want to diversify their feed production. Furthermore, it is expected that the case study will indirectly contribute to the implementation of more diversified feed production systems on dairy farms in the Netherlands.

Relevance for the DiverIMPACTS goals?
This will contribute to diversified agricultural production in general, as the dairy sector covers the majority of the agricultural area in the Netherlands.Thus, this case study contributes to exploring and realizing the potential of diversification to realize sustainable agriculture. 

Contact

  • Marie Wesselink, Wageningen University & Research, case study leader
  • Jorieke Potters, Wageningen University & Research, case study monitor