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

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - Diverfarming (Crop diversification and low-input farming across Europe: from practitioners engagement and ecosystems services to increased revenues and chain organisation)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2020-05-01 al 2021-04-30

The interrelationship among the actors in the agricultural value chain is complex, and the entire agricultural system must be adapted and optimised in response to environmental, technical and socioeconomic constraints derived from existing unsustainable and low resource-efficient production models. The recent intensification of agriculture has resulted in soil degradation, reduced biodiversity and increased economic risk for farmers. So, there is now a growing emphasis on crop diversification and optimised use of resources. The increase in land productivity by crop diversification coinciding with a decrease in production and environmental costs could contribute to the growth of the European agricultural sector through adaptation of the entire value chain.
With the long-term view of increasing diversification and biodiversity in Europe and fostering sustainable development of bioeconomy, the Diverfarming consortium has come to develop and deploy innovative agribusiness models. Diverfarming will increase 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 practices that are tailor-made to fit the unique characteristics of six EU pedoclimatic regions, and by adapting and optimising the downstream value chains organization through executing field case studies. 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.
Data mining and decision making was developed, with establishment of the baseline for the experimental design in RP1. 24 case studies started their activities to assess the effects of diversified cropping systems on i) crop yield, crop quality and nutritional status; ii) biodiversity; iii) soil quality; iv) soil erosion; and v) carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions; and vi) gross margins (RP1-RP2). All case studies performed the selected crop management such as tillage, sowing, fertilization, or harvest during three growing seasons. There has been also a monitoring of pests/diseases, identifying damage proportion and plants affected (RP1-RP3). Soil from field case studies has been sampled three times for physical, chemical and biodiversity analyses, together with vegetation richness and cover. In RP3 last soil sampling took place, and most analyses have been finished. Measurements of soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions are almost finished in 6 case studies. Overall emissions through Life Cycle Analysis are being calculated (RP3). A questionnaire of machinery innovation has been made involving stakeholders in Europe (RP3). The prototype for machinery innovation has been definitively designed and approved by the machinery manufacturer partner, and is being constructed in the factory (RP3). We have performed a value chain analysis and mapping (RP2) and are now assessing value chain conditions on adoption and diffusion of different cropping systems under sustainable practices (RP3). The model to simulate C and N dynamics was fully calibrated and is now able to simulate accurately in all pedoclimatic zones (RP3). The development of methods for upscaling modelled and measured data from point/farm level up to landscape scale has started in RP3. A set of soil and crop indicators to assess sustainability of diversified cropping systems at field and farm scale was selected (RP2) and now we are working to integrate them to create the DST (RP3). Non-market valuation in three different countries was carried out (RP2). Evaluation of gross margin calculations is finished (RP3), and we have initiated the ecomomic analysis along the value chain (RP3). We investigated the current agricultural policies to understand how the theme of diversification is dealt with (RP2) and what are the tools that policy makers have "devised" to encourage the adoption of certain practices (RP3). We have followed the communication and dissemination plan with continuously updated Diverfarming website and profiles in social media with release of dissemination materials (RP1-RP32)
Scientific and technical efforts have previously focused on the effects of farming systems and agricultural practices on crop yields and quality and delivery of ecosystem services, and little attention has been paid on the economic, social and cultural effects of these systems/practices. Few show data about the positive effects of crop diversification on farm productivity and ecosystem services, and even less about the reduction in economic and environmental costs. Moreover, previous projects did not provide sound scientific data about the adaptation pathways of the value chain to crop diversification to gain optimisation and resilience, since there are no successful cropping systems if the value chain is not optimised with high resource-efficiency and resilience so that products reach the final target, ensuring real consumer demands. Within Diverfarming, the most adequate crop associations by technical, economic, social, cultural and environmental terms, agreed by all actors, will be assessed. Diverfarming perceives the European agricultural sector as a whole, but will be addressed under different approaches according to the specific needs, strengths, barriers and opportunities of each agroecosystem. Application of a bottom-up decision-making process through a multicriteria model and multi-actor approach is novel in agrarian management.
The outputs of Diverfarming will be: Decision Support Tool (RP4), Guidelines for sustainable diversified cropping systems (RP4), Protocol for the correct implementation of diversified systems (RP4), Methodological guidelines and toolbox for value chain adaptation (RP4), Qualified machinery prototype for intercropping (RP4), Communities of Practitioners as volunteer early adopter farmers and agribusinesses recruited to develop diversified cropping systems in their farming systems as real scenarios, and ensure longevity beyond the project (RP2); White Paper to scientifically support relevant policies (RP4).
The potential impacts of the project are: a) higher arable land productivity, and land-equivalent ratio, b) diversification and increase of farmers’ revenues by access to new markets and reduced economic risk, c) lower environmental impact of diversified cropping systems, d) improved delivery of ecosystem services, e) organization of resource-efficient value chains and decreased use of energy, f) market provision of food, feed and industrial products from diversified cropping systems, g) increased awareness and knowledge exchanges among actors, h) support to relevant EU policies, i) territorial cohesion benefits from enhanced agricultural productivity and more resilient agricultural holdings, j) strengthening of the competitiveness of a range of companies and organizations active in the value chain and bioeconomy, by creating opportunities for growth and new job positions. All these impacts will be validated in RP4.
10 reasons why you should forget monoculture and become "diverfarmer"
Combinations of crops valued in field case studies in Diverfarming
Diverfarming general overview
Diverfarming field case studies: short-term (blue) and long-term (orange; > 10 years)