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A lot has been going on around the 11 MultiActor Platforms all across Europe! Here is an update.
Spanish MAP: A mobile machinery to separate post-harvest grain for farmers involved in mixing crops (by Cristina Virto)
For the third year the Spanish MAP is focused on organic crop mixtures for human consumption. The mixture wheat + legume aims to improve wheat quality, reducing weeds and helping legumes not to lodging. INTIA is testing mixtures of wheat + chickpea and wheat + lentil using two different density seeds and sowing dates in field trials. Although results were very variable between years, a promising Land Equivalent Ratio (LER) above 1 was obtained in the last season showing yield benefits, legume height was higher in mixtures than in monocrops. Since 2019, some farmers started to mixture this kind of crops concluding that post-harvest grain separation is the most expensive and time consuming step, this year a total of 5.8 hectares (1.8 ha of wheat + chickpea and 4 ha of wheat + lentil) was harvested. With the help of a pilot project, belonging to the RDP Measure 16.2, a group of 15 organic farmers is creating an association to acquire a mobile machinery to clean and separate grain. After a training day (picture) carried out on June 11, 2020, the machinery is ready to be used.
Spanish organic farmers during the training day learning how to use the mobile machinary (@Cristina Virto)
SWEDISH MAP: Dry weather conditions affecting performances, especially of fava bean (By Raj Chongtham)
The results and experiences from 2019 field trials were shared and discussed among MAP actors in a workshop held on 16 January 2020 (Fig 1). Poor crop performances (especially fava bean) in two of the satellite fields due to dry weather conditions (summer of 2019) and light sandy soil were reflected upon in the workshop. In 2020, different intercropping strategies (spatial and sowing densities) of spring wheat and faba bean were tested in the Central field only. Due to Covid-19 situation, only one advisor and three researchers could visit the Central field to observe and discuss the performance of crops in response to pests, diseases and water availability (Fig 2). There will be an oral presentation on the potentials of growing crop mixtures from the results of Swedish MAP in the ‘Intercropping for Sustainability Conference’, 2021.
Figure 1. Swedish MAP workshop on 16 January 2020 (@Raj C.)
Figure 2: Examining the roots of fava bean in Central field, Sweden on 13 August 2020 (@Raj. C.)
West-France MAP: ReMIX trials confirm on-farm interest in rapeseed companion plants to reduce flea beetle (by Bertrand Pinel)
On the West-France MAP, 5 crop mixtures were planned to be tested during the 2019-2020 crop season: i)winter barley sowed under summer intercrop against aphid attacks, ii) oilseed rape with leguminous, iii) durum wheat with lentil, iv) maize with companion-barley against wireworm attacks and v) sunflower with companion-barley against bird attacks. But because of the winter weather conditions (it had been raining every two days between October and March) it was decided to cancel two of the five: winter barley and lentil-wheat.
To date (September 2020), results are not available for the sunflower test. However, ReMIX trials confirm on-farm interest in rapeseed companion plants to reduce flea beetle (Psylliodes chrysocephalus) attacks. But it is too early to turn this result into agronomic advice (reduction of pesticides) for farmers. Regarding the corn trials, unfortunately the 2020 results are less optimistic than those for 2019. Perhaps due to drought conditions in the last spring, the density of barley (the same as the one which was used in 2019) triggered too much competition with corn and so, a yield reduction.
Busy times at the UK MAP, despite COVID (by Robin Walker)
The UK MAP undertook a series of activities during the year, including visits and demonstration of the MAP hub field trials, demonstration plots at third party events (e.g. Arable Scotland held in July each year), as well as events linked to some of the MAP farms themselves, and joint events with colleagues from the sister EU project, DIVERSify as part of a series of Field Labs run by Soil Association Scotland and attended by some of the MAP farmers, as well as other interested parties. The MAP hub trial was demonstrated on a number of occasions to several groups during the year through physical visits to the trials themselves, or through presentations at farmer and advisor focussed events, often hosted by SRUC’s consultancy staff. The audiences for these activities ranged from farmers, students, advisors and teaching staff (the image shows a visit in August 2019 which included students, advisors and teaching staff), mostly from Scotland, but sometimes from further afield. During the last year, the UK MAP was also involved in several multimedia activities, these included maintaining the closed Facebook Group which acts as an opportunity for the MAP group, especially the farmers, to update each other of their intercropping exploits, how their crops are growing, issues raised and suggestions for others within the group within a small but focussed intercropping community. Several of the MAP group (farmers and advisors) were also involved in two sessions in February 2020 used to help develop the Interplay “game” with French colleagues from the ReMIX project. During the Covid19 lockdown, activities have still taken place, but have been targeted through virtual delivery of information, e.g. through tours using video footage and images which included aspects of the MAP hub trials, as well as some of the MAP satellite farms, as well as inclusion in podcasts covering a range of topics, including intercropping.
Students, advisors and teaching staff visiting the fields at the UK MAP (@Robin Walker)
NL MAP: learning sessions “walking-through” trial fields with cereal-fava bean and cereal-white lupine (by Boki Luske)
On June 29 2020 two of the central trial fields with crop mixtures in the Netherlands were visited by 45 stakeholders including traders, food processors, farmers and researchers. Due to Covid19 measures, the visitors were divided into small groups with a different time slot. Each group had a ‘walk-through’ the two trial fields with cereal-fava bean and cereal-white lupine plots. Several researchers explained in the field about the results and effects of crop mixtures on crop growth, nitrogen efficiency, pollinators, yield, product quality and biodiversity. A report of the successful day was published in two agricultural journals and one journal for the baking industry.
Mixtures of wheat-white lupine and in the background oat-white lupine (@Boki Luske)
Udo Prins of the Louis Bolk Institute explains the stakeholders about lupine and cereal mixtures (@Boki Luske)
Harvest remains a concern among farmers at the Greek MAP (by Christos Dordas)
During November and December of 2019 we established the MAPs and we demonstrated to the students of the School of Agriculture (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) the use of intercropping in farming systems. In addition, we had a field day on March 4th, 2020, demonstrating to farmers and stakeholders the intercropping experiments of WP 1.
The presentation in the field covered the activities of the project and the benefits of crop mixtures. Farmers, researchers, and other stakeholders interested in intercropping, visited the MAP in Greece. The crops were well established and grew well and we obtained a good yield. The farmers think that it will be a useful alternative to mono-cropping and showed a good adaptability. One of the main concerns is the harvest. It was agreed to do it all at the same time and separate the grains later. The lack of market for mixed grains is another concern.
Fields at the Greek MAP (@Christos Dordas)
German MAP: Tackling the separation challenge for species mixtures (by Johannes Timaeus)
This season the German MAP-Team focuses on a key challenge concerning species mixtures for food: separation of the harvested mix of seeds for high purity food. In our case we aim for high quality baking wheat. On the 1st of August we harvested an on-farm experiment with two different wheat-pea species mixtures. The farmer mixed two different pea varieties with wheat to test which pea fits best in mixtures with wheat. A tall, small-grained variety (EFB33) and a short, large-grained (Fresnel) variety were mixed with wheat. At first glance it is clear that EFB is much more competitive resulting in a larger proportion of peas in mixture compared to Fresnel. Moreover, EFB seems to be less prone to mechanical damage caused by the threshing process (no half peas visible compared to Fresnel showing lots of half peas). The next step is to bring the mixture to a well-equipped separation facility, start separation and to document the process. The goal is to estimate whether separation effort with existing separation technology for baking wheat quality is an economically viable option. In addition, colleagues from the Agricultural Engineering Department test an alternative separation technology based on acoustics. Another line of work are simple baking tests with varying additions of pea to wheat flour to estimate the impact of pea on baking quality, exploring the option of avoiding separation altogether.
On-farm harvest at the German MAP (@Timaeus)
EFB (pea) (@Timaeus)
Fresnel (pea) (@Timaeus)
Danish MAP: discussing on-farm equipment for separation and purification (by the Danish team).
The Danish MAP activities have left the central demonstration field to allocate all resources to satellite farmer activities. To address challenging economic barriers for the satellite farmers’ producing species mixtures connected to sale including possible separation (and purification) requirements the association of Danish food and feed retailers (DAKOFO; www.dakofo.dk) and a key high-end cereal buyer on the Danish market (Viking Malt; www.vikingmalt.com) were interviewed.
DAKOFO explain that they do not see a problem in retailers receiving mixed fractions. However, at the current moment the supply is too small and geographically spread-out making it less attractive in a sector very determined by logistics where big volumes are expected. DAKOFO encourage farmers to initiate pilot projects with local retailers to investigate the possibilities. Viking Malt finds species mixture attractive from a perspective of corporate social responsibility, including food safety, product quality and sustainability in the food supply systems. The company foresees possible plant protein requirements relative to starch production according to the reduction of meat intake to feed a growing world population agenda making it attractive to receive e.g. barley for malt mixed with one or several grain legumes. Interestingly, the companies R&D department regard such potential plant protein side streams as profitable new food ingredients for the company to develop further. In general, retailers were not expressing the same reluctance towards receiving mixed fractions as satellite farmers were experiencing in the local social and economic context in which they operate.
In a follow up workshop at the University satellite farmers were interested in the open attitude within DAKOFA and Viking Malt but skeptical about the circumstances (price, flexibility etc.) including e.g. high price for sorting. Several satellite farmers highlighted the history of Danish farmers ability to create new cooperative structures and capacities through multiple and locally embedded stakeholders. However, the group agrees that the specialized farms and a more independent and competitive environment makes such potential collaboration challenging. Many satellite farmers expressed the difficulty in being innovative due to social pressure among both co-workers and colleagues. The satellite farmers explained that one of the main benefits of the group was the mutual understanding (of being different/innovative) creating room for exchange of ideas and acknowledgement. Onwards activities in the group were priorities as: i) market relations; ii) technical/agronomic challenges; iii) knowledge related including policy and institutional issues; iv) logistics and v) cultural need to change.
Satellite farmers visiting Roskilde University (@Aare)
In the early summer one of the farmers was invited to discuss on-farm equipment for separation and purification. This farmer bought an old wooden separator for renovation and was satisfied to show how simple and efficient it was. The farmers group recognized the potential. Depending on conventional or organics harvests all farmers agreed that the grains usually contain undesirable materials which must be removed during processing to obtain clean seeds for sale. The cost for external processing is often regarded too high and sometimes even not responding to the actual need – the seed buyers offer a fair price but downgrade the actual net farmer profit due to cleaning expenses. Sharing equipment, creating local central storage and maybe also quality control was discussed to break the seed buyer influence on field-scale farm decisions. The farmers with animal husbandry underline their flexibility of using the grains for internal fodder use leaving the dialogue with skeptical seed buyers behind.
Farm separation equipment (@Aare)
A document describing 42 species mixtures delivered by the French Southern MAP (by Laurent Bedoussac)
At the Southern French MAP, this year was dedicated to the production of a technical document describing 42 crop mixtures (see image below). This document was written with the help of Lisa Albouy an intern from EIPurpan School. After a first trial in 2019 we have evaluated the ability to harvest a wheat-lentil mixture which has been later separated in the factory of Etablissement Denis (ReMIX partner). Due to COVID-19 the harvest planned with AGCO (also reMIX partner) could not be performed in South France and was moved to the Danish MAP with the harvest of two mixtures in August (rapeseed-pea, barley-pea) and a third one which was harvested in early September.
Catalogue of 42 species mixtures
Swiss MAP: the focus remains in blue lupine, while white lupine, less sensitive to a fungal disease (anthracnose) is being tested (by Marina Wendling)
In the Swiss MAP, the focus is still in blue lupine to increase local protein production. The season began with a workshop in January with the objective to present the results of last year and define the following experiments. Nine farmers have grown lupine this year in addition to the central platform set up at an agricultural school. As last year, the majority of the farmers have sown a mixture of lupine and oat by halving the sowing density of oat compared to last year to reduce its competitiveness against lupine. Emergence conditions were very difficult this year due to dryness and led to a strong heterogeneity with high weed pressure. Even if weeds remained under control, they still have complicated the harvest and increased the humidity. Oat seeding density was satisfactory regarding competition on lupine but in one field, where lupine was very well developed, it was not sufficient to avoid lodging. New trials are necessary to find a good partner for lupine with a good resistance to lodging, maturity synchronicity with lupine and moderate competitiveness. A novelty of this year was the test of white lupine varieties less sensitive to a fungal disease (anthracnose). These varieties seem promising in terms of yield but their resistance potential could not be tested in the conditions of this year where no symptoms were observed, even on the very sensitive variety.