Use of on-farm produced nutrients on a stockless organic farm in The Netherlands

Supervisor

Johannes Scholberg (FSE Wageningen UR)

Introduction

Currently many organic farmers are depending on external nutrient resources to sustain soil fertility and crop yields. A substantial fraction of these soil amendments may stem from non-organic sources. Moreover, organic manures often have unfavorable nutrient ratios which hampers their effective use in organic production systems and may also cause environmental problems. Therefore alternative strategies are needed for providing arable farmers with an on-farm source of afforable and readily available nutrients. Leguminous cover crops can fix substantial amounts of N and also recycle nutrients that otherwise may be effectively lost from the farming system. Use of such crops within a commercial organic farming setting in the Noord Oost Polder in the Netherlands is being tested. This farming system features state-of-the-art organic production techniques including the use of GPS-based fixed tracks (vaste rijpaden system) production system and reduced tillage techniques.

Objective

This project aims to provide a quantitative understanding of the nutrient release from on-farm grown organic amendments. It also aims to provide an environmental and economic assesment of the viability of these systems in comparison with animal manure based systems. In addition to this effect on nutrient supply, crop yield and product quality of commercial crops, with special reference to Spinach, is being tested. Soil nutrient release and crop growth is being monitored via frequent sampling. By using the NDICEA model nutrient mineralisation is also being assessed and changes in soil organic matter and overall nutrient balances are being quantified. The project is linked with the innovation network in which dutch organic farmers make a direct contribution to enhancing the technical enhancements and overall performance of organic production systems.

Experiences gained

  • Designing and conducting an on-farm field experiment
  • Gain practical experience with soil sampling and yield measurements
  • Become familiar with a state-of-the-art innovative organic arable cropping operation in the Netherlands
  • Gain skills in qualitative assessment of soil profile description
  • Statistical analysis, graphing and interpretation of experimental results
  • Gain experience with the use of the NDICEA model for assessing soil organic matter and nutrient dynamics
  • Development of nutrient budgets and cost benefit analysis on a field level
  • Contribute to a journal article for a organic journal
  • Writing a MSc thesis