Case study 12: Belgium: Sustainable diversification of organic stockless cropping systems – "Group ABC"

Cluster 3: Crop diversification in systems from Western Europe

Organic stockless cropping systems in the area are not very diversified, even though benefits of diversification are well known by farmers to control weeds or to improve soil fertility. For non-tillage farmers, crop diversification is a key solution to compensate non-ploughing effects on weed and on soil structuration.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
More and more farmers are investigating the possibilities of interconnecting organic arable cropping systems and no-till practices in order to improve the sustainability of their cropping system. Even though the benefits of diversification are well known by farmers to control weeds or to improve soil fertility and structuration, there is a lack of knowledge about such innovations. Therefore, farmers need to share their expertise and imagine new rotation schemes and rules in order to take up this challenge. Several issues, however make that objective difficult to reach, for example divergent concerns between organic and conservations farmers, need for investment in specialized machinery and regulations out of line with innovative practices.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
The case study was initiated by the association of two farmers groups, one conventional group with no-till systems, facilitated by Greenotec, and an organic group, facilitated by CRA-W.

In an effort to share experiences between both farmer groups, Greenotec and CRA-W launched a “field visit” in 2016, which was a success. Since the beginning of DiverIMPACTS, meetings, field visits and on-farm tests and trials have been organised to enable the farmers in the group to exchange about the issues they are facing and think collectively about solutions. The group's organization is constantly evolving to meet its needs; for example, advanced external knowledge has been requested and integrated into the meeting programs.

Solution investigated
There is a need to foster co-learning between organic farmers in arable cropping systems and farmers in no-till systems, to co-design innovative, no-till organic cropping systems and practices. To this end, case study 12 aims to:

  • Identify how diversification schemes are used to improve and maintain soil fertility and structure, on the one hand, and to control weed and disease on the other hand under such challenging cropping systems;
  • Make the organic arable farmers more at ease with no-till and multi-cropping techniques, and identify interests of crop rotation towards weeds, diseases, and soil fertility management;
  • Make the no-till farmers confident in the feasibility of using less or no pesticides and mineral fertilizers before considering any conversion to organic farming.

Some practices have been tested on farms such as intercropping of legumes in several cash crops (rapeseed, winter cereals, maize), various cover crops destruction techniques, direct sowing, early sowing of cereals with or without companions plants, and grazing of cereals (cover crops) by sheep.

Expected outcome

  • Identify suitable diversification schemes and rules in order to converge organic and no-till practices to develop sustainable cropping systems
  • Decrease herbicide use by no-till farmers
  • Decrease tillage by organic farmers
  • Adapt regulations that prevent innovative practices from emerging
  • Gain knowledge and experience about how to promote changes at the farmer level
  • Develop participative methods adapted to the farmers’ needs

Relevance for the DiverIMPACTS goals?
Hypothetic organic no-till cropping systems should favour biodiversity above and under the ground compared to systems using chemicals and disturbing soil life. Diversification of those cropping systems through rotation, cover cropping, companion crops, is essential to implement those systems and contributes to sustainability of systems from economic, environmental and social point of view.

Contact

  • Daniel Jamar, CRA-W, case study monitor
  • Louise Legein, CRA-W, case study leader