Learning from excellence: case studies on organic farms in the Netherlands

Supervisors

Walter Rossing (FSE Wageningen UR)
Jeroen Groot (FSE Wageningen UR)
Egbert Lantinga (FSE Wageningen UR)
Gerard Oomen (FSE Wageningen UR)

Introduction

Sometimes we encounter farms that are very different from others, resulting in achievements that well exceed the average. These achievements may be in terms of outputs (unexpectedly high yields, high quality), inputs (minimal external inputs, unexpectedly effective compounds) or production processes (use of green manures as cut and carry fertilizers). Scientific approaches may help to obtain a different perspective on such ‘excellence’, unravel mechanisms and assess the opportunities for scaling out. This set of thesis subjects addresses such out-of-the-ordinary cases with the aim to understand the causes and consequences. At the moment two cases are available.

Possible thesis subjects

  1. An arable farm in the western part of the Netherlands grows winter wheat at yield levels which are considerably higher than the organic average. The farmers use a different crop management system with large inter-row distance, which results in a different trade-off between inter- and intra-plant competition. Aim of this thesis topic is to understand observed yields and yield formation, and explore risks of the crop management strategy for different years and weather conditions. You will follow the development of the crop and the soil, take intermediate harvests and measurements and use Ndicea to reconstruct water and N dynamics
  2. A dairy farm in the north of the Netherlands appears to perform very well in terms of both crop and animal production and has a healthy economic basis. Part of the secret of the success of the farm is in mixing a small amount of high value arable crops in a pasture-based rotation. However, this does not explain the success of the dairy operation. Aim of this topic is to study closely management of grassland and dairy herd to understand causes of high nutrient use efficiencies. You will follow the development of the grassland over the course of the year, take intermediary harvests, record rations and milk production and relate this to knowledge on production levels.

Procedures

  • Literature review
  • On-farm field work
  • Evaluation of results by using computer models
  • Writing skills