Strip cultivation

The alarming decline of biodiversity and increase in extreme weather means there's an urgent need to develop resilient production systems. The strip cultivation project is using new large-scale strip trials to see if crop diversity can fulfil its promise of creating a robust, plant-based food production system.

Aiming for a robust production system

The objective of the project is the testing and ongoing development of a robust plant-based production system. The project is an implementation of a long-term system experiment on resilient production systems, which aims to quantify the agro-ecosystem services provided by increased crop diversity at the field level. Working within the parameters of current cultivation systems, we are introducing diversity in the form of time, space, genes and interactions with legumes.

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Approach of the experiment

This long-term system experiment is investigating the effects of three dimensions of crop diversity (time, space and genes) on the delivery of agro-ecosystem services. We're also researching the interactions between those three dimensions of crop diversity. The design of the trial is based on past agronomic experience, possible options for innovation within the current cultivation system, and future agroecological perspectives. The rotation being tested is based on the crops most commonly grown by arable farmers in the Netherlands, and on local practice. The rotation consists of: grass clover – cabbage – onion – potato – wheat and carrots. The experiment is researching 3 crop pairs: cabbage – wheat, carrot – onion, and potato – grass clover.

We are researching the following treatments:

  1. strips (3m wide) of the crop combinations described above grown as monocrops;
  2. strips (3m wide) of the crop combinations described above, using mixed varieties within the strips
  3. strips (3m wide) of the crop combinations described above, with various legumes added to the crops in the strip.

This is being tested at 3 sites: Agroecology and Technology Test Location in Lelystad (WUR), Wageningen (WUR) and Almere (practical scale, 50 ha, ERF bv, an organic arable farming company in Municipality Zeewolde).

Differences in cultivation combinations and strip widths

The crops and crop combinations are largely the same in each site, though the actual combination of crop and strip width differs depending on the soil type and existing conditions at the site. In Almere, for example, spinach is being cultivated but no wheat or onion, and the strip widths being experimented with on a practical scale are 6, 12 and 24 metres.

At the Wageningen trial site leeks are being cultivated instead of onion, and a future question will be: how much potential and impact could there be in ‘pixel’ cropping? (50x50 cm pixels filled with random crops completely mixed and cultivated alongside each other).

The trial site in Lelystad has been connected to the experiments in Wageningen and Almere through the clever use of incomplete block design.

The project’s core activities are:

  • Designing resilient production systems in interdisciplinary settings (investigative innovation with stakeholders from basic and applied research, farmers and NGOs).
  • Testing and improving the proposed measures (increasing in relative complexity and scale) within the ‘resilient production systems’ trial at various sites in the Netherlands.
  • Testing and improving the proposed measures at a practical scale and adapting them to farmers’ practices at various sites in the Netherlands.

The framework of the system trial was defined through consultation with a wide group of scientists and farmers. The trial is statistically powerful enough to deliver reliable and substantiated conclusions about the effects of the various measures.

Proposed outcomes of the project

  • Creation of a strip cultivation network (aimed specifically at arable farmers)
  • Flyer (objective and framework of the project and system trial)
  • News reports on various websites and newsletters
  • Articles in the trade press
  • Scientific publications
  • Meetings with national and international colleagues
  • Excursions on request
  • Lectures for study groups