Crop diversification and low-input farming across Europe: from practitioners’ engagement and ecosystems services to increased revenues and value chain organisation

Diverfarming aims at increasing the long-term resilience, sustainability and economic revenues of agriculture across the EU by assessing the real benefits and minimising the limitations, barriers and drawbacks of diversified cropping systems using low-input agricultural practices that are tailor-made to fit the unique characteristics of six EU pedoclimatic regions (Mediterranean South and North, Atlantic Central, Continental, Pannonian and Boreal) and by adapting and optimising the downstream value chains organization through executing 13 field case studies and 7 addition long-term experimental plots.  

This approach will provide: i) increased overall land productivity; ii) more rational use of farm land and farming inputs (water, energy, machinery, fertilisers, pesticides); ii) improved delivery of ecosystem services by increments in biodiversity and soil quality; iii) proper organization of downstream value chains adapted to the new diversified cropping systems with decreased use of energy; and iv) access to new markets and reduced economy risks by adoption of new products in time and space.

Specific objectives are: 

1.   To develop and test, through the input of value chain actors and relevant stakeholders, different diversified cropping systems (rotations, multiple cropping and intercrops for food, feed and industrial products) under low-input practices, for conventional and organic systems for 13 field case studies to increase land productivity and crops quality, and reduce machinery, fertilisers, pesticides, energy and water demands (WP2 and WP3).

2.   To explore how the diversified cropping systems can, under low-input practices, increase the delivery of ecosystem services (soil fertility, prevention of soil and water contamination, water availability, reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, carbon sequestration, erosion prevention, above and belowground biodiversity and pest and disease control) (WP4 and WP5).

3.   To evaluate how the downstream value chains and the actors involved will be impacted by the new diversified cropping systems, and so, propose new organizational structures adapted to the new production models from a technical, social, cultural and economic perspective, from farmer to consumer (WP6).

4.   To develop and test agro-ecosystem models that will explore how the diversified cropping systems influence the land productivity and the soil-plant system in order to select the most suitable option for end-users and policy-makers for each pedoclimatic region and farm size (WP7).

5.   To evaluate the proposed diversified cropping systems on the basis of their economic impact, including market benefit-costs for farmers (variations in production, fertilisers, pesticides, water, energy), environmental benefit-costs (variations in C sequestration, biodiversity, pollution, erosion and GHGs emissions) and increased feasibility and value for processors and end-users, attainable increase in sales prices of the product, and reduced risks (WP8).

6.   To analyse relevant policies for synergies, conflicts and feedback loops and to develop a set of indicators for characterizing an enabling environment for sustainable crop production and value chain adaptation (WP9).

7.   To communicate, disseminate and engage with European farmers, cooperatives, industry and logistics to develop, hone and embrace diversified cropping systems under low-input practices with organized downstream value chains. This will initialize a draft change in the cropping systems across Europe with market provision of food, feed and industrial products from diversified cropping systems, by increasing acceptance, mutual learning and incorporating local knowledge (WP10).