Together with Dutch agricultural cooperation CZAV and a local farmer, Cosun has started a unique experiment to determine whether profitable farming can go hand in hand with nature development. The feasibility of this called ‘strip cropping’ is being studied in a 12 hectare field in the south of the Netherlands. Cosun business groups Aviko, Sensus and Suiker Unie are involved in this 7-years study.
Strip cropping is an ecologically balanced method of arable farming. Ten crops will be grown in strips of six metres wide. Useful insects will be able to jump from one strip to another but harmful ones will not, academic research suggests. The width of the strips is also adjusted to the standardized size of harvesters and other farm machines. Next to potatoes, sugar beet and chicory, strips of rye, summer wheat and marrowfat peas will be included. Other strips will feature flowers, hedges and beetle banks.
Fields that are strip cropped are less vulnerable to diseases and pests than monoculture fields and suffer far less crop loss. Crop protection is left largely to insects. The use of herbicides and pesticides is kept to a minimum. It is hoped that the studied field, called Nature Field, will support a rich biodiversity, high soil fertility and economical and sustainable food production.
The Nature Field concept was initially floated by HAS University of Applied Sciences (the Netherlands). “To assure global food supply and enabled by mechanisation, arable farming mainly focused on producing as much as possible at the lowest possible cost for decades”, explains lecturer Erwin van Woudenberg. “Combining nature and arable farming is an important next step. It stimulates biodiversity, creates a beautiful landscape and reduces the use of crop protection agents.” HAS University of Applied Sciences has therefore studied how we can develop a nature area with regular crops that produce a profitable harvest. That’s the Nature Field. Theoretically, it should be feasible. We have to find out whether it will also be economically viable.”
Cosun’s sustainability ambitions
With its business groups Suiker Unie, Sensus and Aviko, Cosun has taken the initiative together with CZAV and a local farmer to test the theory in practice. “The Nature Field is a perfect match to Cosun’s sustainability ambitions,” says René Schunselaar, Agro manager at Sensus. “We will fund any additional costs of the study project and support the farmer with advice.” That the time is right to study alternative cropping systems is also due to the precision farming methods that are emerging. “They open the door to small-scale but robust arable production methods,” Schunselaar explains. “Cosun is willingly taking the initiative to gain practical experience, also of the commercial side.”
Spring crops were recently sown in the Nature Field. The experience gained will be used over the years to refine and experiment with, for instance, the use of insects and other crop protection agents. “If the Nature Field is a success, it will be an exemplary project for all arable farmers, not only in the Netherlands, but throughout the world,” Erwin van Woudenberg concludes.