Current Dutch agriculture favours cropping systems that produce high yields through monocultural production, which requires high inputs of chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides and pesticides. This renders soils disease-prone, reduces biodiversity, and makes plagues and diseases resistant to chemical pesticides, which in turn may curtail productivity. To turn the tide, the Netherlands has set the goal to make the arable farming sector sustainable by 2030, and to effectively connect agricultural systems to natural ecosystems. To maintain a productive and resilient arable agriculture, the reduction of pesticides and fertilizers should be supported by alternative cropping systems.
This 10 million euro research project will support and accelerate the sustainable agriculture transition by investigating and experimenting with the potential of mixed cropping systems and crop diversity as a way forward. The CropMix research programme aims to develop knowledge about which crop combinations and rotations most benefit ecosystem services, and on how such a cropping system can be economically feasible and practically doable. This knowledge can be used to develop scalable innovations and mixed cropping systems in the Netherlands. At the heart of the project are 24 farms that experiment with new mixed cropping systems.
The project adopts a systems perspective in combination with a transdisciplinary approach to integrate insights from studies in the agroecological interactions between soil, crops, external inputs and biodiversity. It combines these insights with studies on socio-economic aspects of crop farming, value chain dynamics and logistics on farm and regional levels as well as research on institutional innovations and consumer perspectives. Learning and reflection between farmers, researchers, governments, nature organisations, banks, supermarkets, and other food chain partners is organised in Living Labs.
The Athena Institute plays a key role, together with partners from Wageningen UR and HAS in organising the Living Labs, and leads activities directed at integrating consumer and citizen perspectives in the ecological, economic, and institutional research, and in Lab exchanges. Athena will articulate ‘consumer profiles’ and help facilitate information exchange and learning processes on the subject and on the role of the consumer in transformative change, in particular in a transition to mixed cropping systems.