Crop diversification has the potential to produce many benefits, such as improved soil nutrient concentrations and soil fertility; however, it can also come with several challenges. DiverIMPACTS has identified eight success stories of crop diversification across Europe, which can be found on the success stories pageon the DiverIMPACTS website. For some of them, videos have been made. Here, the main take-away messages are summarised according to the challenges, solutions, achievements and what factors were decisive for their success.
Across these success stories, a diversity of problems in production were overcome. Many were related to production strategies; farmers who found success learned and adapted, through trial and error, their farming strategies according to their local conditions, while also considering their economic needs, as well as consumer demand and environmental impact. From decreasing crop lodging to facilitating synchronous maturation, much was discovered and adapted on the farm level.
A lack of local knowledge exchange related to crop diversification was another challenge many faced. In Poland (Maximum diversification of organic farming to stabilise farm income), as in Switzerland (Increasing domestic protein supply with intercropping), actors struggled to incentivise production and attract other farmers to implement the diversification model.
Innovative solutions lead to achievements
Innovative diversification solutions were developed to overcome these barriers; for example, conservation agricultural practices in Sweden (Cover crops to reduce nutrient leaching), the adaption of sowing and harvesting techniques in Flanders, Belgium (Soybean cultivation in Flanders),increasing organic fertilisation and irrigation and intercropping fruits and vegetables in Poland, and focusing on producing food for humans, rather than feed for animals in Wallonia, Belgium (Producing food for human consumption while enhancing arable land: crop diversification).
Environmental and economic achievements across Europe include; improving soil and overall farm health and water quality, improving biodiversity, addressing pest and disease while improving economic resilience.
The commonality across success stories for a ‘key’ to success: creating or strengthening synergies! In Switzerland, as well as Germany (Catch crops for drinking water protection) the inclusion and cooperation of actors along the entire value chain, including farmers, administration & advisors, research institutes and beyond. This helped to translate the regulative needs into practical solutions. To the same accord, in Poland, networking and cooperating with other farmers resulted in a higher level of production, which allowed the farmer to enter the market at the national level. In Sweden, knowledge exchange with other farmers and learning from their experiences was the key to successfully reducing nutrient leaching via cover cropping. In Belgium, cross-sector knowledge exchange was the key.
Synergies were also influential on the production level, for example, in the UK (Combined rotation, cover crops and companion cropping) integrated farm management encouraged synergetic relationships between the crops and soil. Many of the successes were associated with adjusting crop rotations to include a higher share of legumes, like in Hungary (Crop diversification experiences at Csoroszlya Farm) were farmers aim for 25-30% of the farm to be planted with leguminous plants.
Bolstering synergies in the social and production context, and adapting production methods according to local conditions stand out as the major success factors in these eight success stories. For practical knowledge which aims to boost synergies and resilience, have a look at the DiverIMPACTS publications page, in particular, the practice abstract page on Zenodo (linked below). Another useful resource for practical knowledge exchange about organic agriculture, including but not limited to crop diversification, is the Organic Farm Knowledge platform (also linked below). Here you can discover many practical tools, rate the tools and discuss topics with other platform users.
Organic-farmknowledge.org: Knowledge exchange platform homepage