Case study 10: Poland: A successful diversification initiative based on production of soft fruits, vegetables and oil crops

Cluster 2: Crop diversification under adverse conditions

The Polish case study is based on a network of several closely cooperating organic and conventional farms and a small processing factory. It is located in the south-eastern part of Poland where agriculture is characterized by low-intensity production and a very fragmented structure of fields. The agricultural activity of organic farms includes production of soft fruits, vegetables and oil. Different oilseed crops such as rape, flax, oil pumpkin and milk thistle (Silybum marianum) are cultivated for the needs of a small oil processing factory which belongs to the organic farmer Thomas Obszański and, together with his farm, form the core element of the initiative. The factory specializes in the cold pressing of oils. It also produces oil cakes (by-product), which are sold as a fodder to the neighbouring conventional farmers who keep farm animals. In addition to oil crops, different vegetables are cultivated on the farms. Some of them are sown among the rows of fruit bushes, mainly in order to maximise the utilisation of agricultural land, but also to reduce the costs of weed infestation. Moreover, cultivation of intercrops between main crops on arable land is an important element of crop diversification. The third pillar of agricultural farm activity includes cultivation of soft fruits such as: gooseberry, raspberry, black and red currant, strawberry and aronia.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
A lack of products for the oil-processing factory was the main factor that initiated the development of the farmer network. Moreover, the problem of how to utilize by-products from oil and flax processing stimulated the farmers to establish cooperation with conventional farmers who keep farm animals, as these by-products appeared to be a source of a good quality fodder.

Low yields of rape and flax, lack of appropriate harvesting machinery for flax and machines to control the weeds in milk thistle and soft fruits are the key problems for the farmers. Low crop yields are usually caused by problems with weed control, but during recent years, the severe droughts and lack of irrigation have become a big challenge.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
The main problems are being solved by further development of a network of actors and the whole value chain. The network consists mainly of farmers but there is also a fruit and vegetable wholesaler, several small wholesale stores and more than one hundred direct consumers in it. The value chain, especially its downstream part, has been redeveloped over the last years. By incorporating wholesalers and individual consumers, the supply chain has been shortened to a minimum. Many of the barriers have been overcome, but development of the case study is still limited by the small number of organic suppliers, which means that necessary organic products must be obtained from further away. However, the actors of this initiative have been undertaking different activities, for example educational campaigns, in order to expand the local supply chain. Moreover, agricultural advisors deliver appropriate technical support in farming. However, there is a lack of high-quality organic advisory services. The Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation (IUNG-PIB) is the only scientific team cooperating with the case study.

Solution investigated
Improvements in crop rotation, for example by introducing catch crops (e.g., mixtures of legumes and non-legume crops) to increase the crop yields on arable yields.

Productivity of vegetables cultivated among the rows of soft fruits.

Expected outcome

  • New diversification-based solutions developed to increase or stabilize the yields of organic crops.
  • Model of an efficient, short, organic value chain acting as a demonstration centre.
  • Main barriers of crop diversification in organic and conventional farming systems identified.

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals
The organic case study, with a network of farms based on high crop diversification, should contribute to a lower environmental impact.

Cultivation of rare oil crops such as oil pumpkin and milk thistle (Silybum marianum) should open new market opportunities and increase farmers’ profits.

Contact

  • Tomasz and Magdalena Obszańscy, Barwy Zdrowia, case study leaders
  • Jarosław Stalenga, Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation, case study monitor
  • Paweł Radzikowski, Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation, case study monitor

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