Case study 16: The Netherlands: Spatial, temporal and genetic diversification of intensive systems

Cluster 4: Diversification through intercropping, with a special focus on grain legumes

There is a general concern among organic farmers that diversity is decreasing, also in their production systems. Strip cropping is seen as an interesting and very visible counter-movement. The objective of this case study is to rigorously test the idea of strip cropping on a larger scale in experimental fields and on-farm to explore the real benefits for organic and non-organic arable cropping systems in northwestern Europe and the potential added value for farmers, the environment and consumers.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
There is a general concern among organic farmers that diversity is decreasing in their production systems. Strip cropping (see poster below, Dutch) is seen as an interesting and, for the citizens and consumers, very visible counter-movement. In this case study, a network of farmers that are interested and practicing strip cropping are learning about several dimensions of strip cropping, for example, application of machinery, crop combinations, involvement of personnel, advisors, contractors, business models as well as regulatory and quality assurance systems. With the development of strip cropping knowledge among farmers, the case study focuses on both agronomical and environmental gains. By designing the cultivation system smartly, we expect to be able to make an improvement for the farmer and the environment.

During the first years of the case study, there has been a steady development; the perception of strip cropping shifted. While strip cropping used to be perceived as experimental and was practiced by very few farmers, an increase in media coverage and demand has made it more appealing for farmers and it is now more widely applied. Diversification through strip cropping is becoming better known. This year, several farmers are exploring and trying strip cropping as part of their business operations. In addition to the main objective of rigorously testing this in practice, we also aim to build a learning network of farmers that practice strip cropping.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
The case study encompasses two commercial farms and one farm from Wageningen University (WUR), testing strip cropping with different widths, crops and densities. Bionext is active in a large network of organic arable farmers who are interested in the systems approach to combatting pests and diseases and maintaining soil health. From this network, the case study is recruiting new participants. Other stakeholders, including extension specialists, will also be involved in order to keep them informed. Exchanges will also take place with larger groups of farmers, e.g., every year, there is an “organic field day” on the experimental farm of WUR. The vision is that the group working with strip cropping will grow and not be static.

Solution investigated
Available and shared knowledge applicable about the strip cropping method.

Expected outcome

  • A learning network that allows for feedback from a group of involved actors, i.e. from the farmers and other stakeholders in scientific experiments and from researchers in on-farm experiments;
  • Identification of technical barriers and lock-ins;
  • Investigate machinery requirements;
  • Shared knowledge about the learnings from continuing scientific studies on strip cropping and agrobiodiversity;
  • Keep eyes open for other effects, pedagogies and other factor that are difficult to estimate;
  • Increased social, policy and political awareness that strip farming is a solution for various social challenges;
  • Conduct exchanges between clusters;
  • Increase in knowledge carriers for strip cropping.

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals
The case study promotes and helps develop the practice of strip cropping. This a more defined way of intercropping, which is directly mentioned in the overall goal of this project. By developing this practice and helping farmers to apply the available knowledge, the application will become more widespread. Thus, making diverse and robust cropping systems an applicable alternative for monocultures.

Contact

  • Laurens Nuijten, Bionext, case study leader
  • Yvonne Cuijpers, WUR, case study monitor

Further information