Student information

Circular agriculture and food systems

Contact persons:

Tom Schut:

Martin van Ittersum:

Gerrie van den Ven:

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Most of our present production systems and food systems can be characterised as linear: they rely on external inputs and optimize production (efficiency) of single commodities. In doing so, important interactions within production systems and food systems are ignored and resource depletion and environmental impact are relatively high. For instance, in the optimization of cereal crops, the amount and quality of straw is often neglected, while in the optimization of livestock production food-feed competition and manure are generally not considered. In circular food production and food systems (including consumption) such interactions are critical. Circularity in plant and animal production assumes that plant biomass is the basis of our food system and should be used primarily to produce human food; that by-products from food production, processing and consumption are reused or recycled into the food system; and that we make the most efficient use of animals by using them to unlock biomass inedible for humans into valuable food, manure and ecosystem services. There are still many important research questions within each of these three principles that can and must be investigated to advance circularity in food production. Furthermore, the transition to more circular systems will be gradual and hurdles and trade-offs will need to be tackled. Better integration of crop and livestock sectors use of city waste will be a key first step towards circularity.

In this thesis subject you can work on one of the above principles, possibly in collaboration with other chair groups. Examples of specific subjects include: what are useful applications of crop residues of each of our important food crops and would that affect optimal crop rotations; in which ways can we optimally re-use and re-cycle carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus in by-products (crop residues, waste, manure, etc.), to maximize food production and minimize resource use and environmental impact? Other questions may relate to the intermediate steps in the transition towards more circular systems. For example, how to best organise integration of crop and livestock farms? How can nutrients from city waste be used effectively on farm in crop rotations? How can the transition be used to reduce GHG emissions and improve biodiversity on-farm and/or in the landscape?

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