The central motive for the present Functional Agro Biodiversity (FAB) II pilot, is the realisation that the current available FAB knowledge leaves too many questions open for a farmer to apply it as a reliable technical system in a day to day practical application.
The awareness has the following aspects:
- FAB I raised a number of questions which cannot be answered yet.
- Farmers would like to know the potential of the FAB technique for other plaque/crop combinations.
- In what way can soil fertility contribute to plant health?
- Can a FAB technique be developed in order to control fungi?
- Is application of the FAB technique favourable in terms of climatic conditions?
The aim of the FAB II project, is to develop a FAB technique for a number of pests and diseases in a number of crops, which can be applied by farmers and are cost neutral in their application. Central to the FAB project, is a balance in its effect on people, planet and profit.
Scientific research and the generation of new practical techniques are central in this project. Farmers challenge science to come forward with new innovative techniques. The projects offer the scientist a possibility to prove their point in practice. The project is divided into 4 parts defined as: environment, above ground, soil and society.
The expected results of the FAB II project are:
- A comprehensive overview of keynotes of FAB measures and influences in the landscape is available for third parties.
- A stakeholder analyses, who has influence on what, where and when, is carried out.
- A list of criteria of ways in which landscapes can contribute to Functional Agro Biodiversity.
- A number of pilot locations, to research the interactions between landscape and crop production, will be identified.
- The contributions of landscapes to a natural plague and disease control, will be clarified.
- Different reliable techniques, to stimulate natural disease control, are identified and tested.
- The composition of seed mixtures for field margins, are identified for the different plague / crop combinations.
- An efficient and reliable scouting system has been validated, and is available for farmers and advisers.
- A validated system for qualitative soil analyses, is available for vegetable growers.
- A Durability Effect Report is under construction.
In a given landscape, there needs to be sufficient possibilities and shelter for useful insects, in order to function as a source for the ecosystem in natural plague control. Biachi et al (2004) estimate that a minimum of 14% of the arable surface is required as a source. Dutch arable farms in a polder situation provide as little as 1-2 %. Many arable farmers depend on sources in their immediate vicinity. The FAB II project addresses the owners and caretakers of source areas, to inform them of their role and contribution to a natural plague suppression technique. They will be informed on recent developments in the field of Functional Agro Biodiversity, its potential, and the way in which their management influences the crops of the arable famers.
For a successful application of a FAB approach, it is essential that all participants in a geographical region share their knowledge and coordinate their actions. By means of pan traps and pitfall traps, the number of active predators in 7 different types of bushes, will be counted in the direct vicinity of FAB farmers. In the arable fields, the same inventory will be made in order to have a control available. At the same locations, hibernate facilities will be installed. In 2009, a comprehensive description will be made of the leading landscape elements, in order to analyse which element contributes as a source for predators. The different contributions will, possibly, be quantified.
Since we know that plague insects invade a crop from the field margins, the possibilities and practicality of bio-barriers, a small strip of a tall crop along the field margins, will be analysed.
Functional biodiversity can be enhanced by annual flower beds and perennial grass/herb mixtures in the field margins (Van Alebeek et al 2007).
The effect of these margins is not reliable under all circumstances (Van Rijn & Wackers 2007). The field margins need to be improved, in order to enhance their effectiveness and make them applicable for different crops and plague insects (for example thrips in onions). Through research, a selection of a variety of species with potential for feeding the predators during the production season, which do not stimulate plague insects, and survive in field margins during a number of years, will be made. Furthermore, the timing of flowering as well as the optimal width of the margins will be looked into. A possible barrier effect of plants, which diminishes a plague or fungus infection, will be taken into account. The possible introduction of “banker plants” as a preventive measure will be included.
Scouting for research purposes is carried out in potatoes and onions. During a practical workshop in the field, the agriculture advisers will be informed and instructed in carrying out a scouting technique. Data will be collected by researchers and advisers, and are analysed during the season. On top of this, intensive sampling in several parts of the trial field will take place during 5 moments, also in order to collect data. By combining the data of the two methods, it will be possible to validate, or improve upon, the method of extensive scouting. In this way, we aim at reducing the risks of crop damage, due to too late intervention by the farmer. After season 2009, the scouting system will be evaluated. Special attention will be paid to:
- Experience of the advisers
- Frequency and precision in which the advisers applied the technique
- Damage thresholds which were used
- Validation of the applied technique.
The results will be communicated with all participants, and possibilities to improve the scouting-technique, will be discussed.
In October 2008, a demo pilot was installed on 2 farms in the Hoeksche Waard, in order to compare the effects of ploughing versus the application of the Kongskilde paragruber, a way of reduced tillage without turning the top layer upside down. This demo will be continued for at least three years, the effects on the soil and the crops will be monitored. In 2008, the original survey was carried out in 4 trial areas, the soil profile has been analysed and a limited number of biochemical, physical and biological parameters were measured.
Germination of seeds and crop damage by geese, will be monitored. The effects on plant health, as well as different soil parameters, will be monitored. The results of this research, will be compared with findings in other projects. February 2009, a meeting will be organized around the theme “the effects of reduced tillage on functional agro biodiversity”. Possibly, this will lead to an additional demo pilot with different tillage techniques.
Vegetable growers, concentrate their efforts in the realisation of a way to measure and, possibly, predict the quality of the soil on plant health. Data of soil analysis, need to be linked to data on plant health and production. Validation of this method will take some time.
Central to the FAB project, is a balance in its effect on people, planet and profit. Data will be collected in order to construct a Durability Effect Report (DER). This DER will inform society how a farm is, or a group of farmers are, performing.
In their effects, new techniques can be compared with standard practises. Furthermore, it will be simple to see which promises and limitations a new technique holds.
Communication of the FAB project, is carried out by SPADE. SPADE makes detailed knowledge available to farmers and intermediaries as well as to advisory services.