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

With the long-term view of increasing diversification and biodiversity in Europe and fostering sustainable development of bioeconomy, the Diverfarming consortium come together to develop and deploy innovative farming and agribusiness strategies. 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 under low-input agronomic practices that are tailor-made to fit the unique characteristics of six EU pedoclimatic regions (Mediterranean south and north, Atlantic central, Continental, Pannonian and Boreal), and by adapting and optimising the downstream value chains organization. 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. The diversified cropping systems will be tested in field case studies for major crops within each pedoclimatic region. In the end, Diverfarming focuses on research and innovation for rural development, with emphasis on developing new framework systems and business models adapted to the rural context of each pedoclimatic area of the EU, to foster sustainable growth through adoption of diversification, sustainable practices and efficient use of resources.

Universidad de Córdoba

Farming lies at the heart of much of the EU's socio-economic framework. In 2015, it provided 9.2 million direct jobs and a GDP over € 500 billion. However, the food, feed and industrial products production and delivery involve many sectors, since the processing of agricultural commodities, safety standards, packing or transport are part of the chain. Indeed, the value chain links all market players of the bio-economy, which are essential for the European economic, social and environmental welfare. Altogether, the total agricultural value chain makes more than 5% of European value-added and 7% of employment. Hence, the link among the actors is complex, and the entire system must be adapted and optimised in response to environmental, technical and socioeconomic constrains derived from unsustainable and low resource-efficiency production models.
The recent intensification of agriculture based on intense mechanization, use of external inputs and monocultures has resulted in soil degradation, reduced biodiversity and increased economy risk for Europeans farmers. In view of socioeconomic and environmental problems arising from monocropping and high-input systems, there is now a growing emphasis on crop diversification and optimised use of resources. Increase in land productivity by crop diversification with decreases in production and environmental costs with adaptation of the entire value chain could contribute to the growth of the European agrarian sector.

The applicants belong to three different research groups coordinated by Dr Beatriz Lozano-García and Dr. Luis Parras-Alcántara, with expertise in agronomy, ecology and plant production, soil science, and socioeconomics, belonging to the Faculties of Sciences, Agronomy and Economy. This interdisciplinary is needed to carry out the tasks assigned in the proposal, with duties on crop production and quality, soil management and delivery of ecosystem services and analysis of the value chain and economic assessment.
In addition, to increase the efficiency, the project management and coordination of Diverfarming will be based on a hub and spoke model with the Project Management Board (UPCT) supported by the Scientific Board, and six regional coordinators for each pedoclimatic region. Dr. Beatriz Lozano (female, UCO) will be regional coordinator for Mediterranean south.
UCO will be coordinating the WP10 "Communication, Dissemination and Stakeholders Engagement", through the Unit of Scientific and Innovation Culture (UCC + i). This is the service in charge of disseminating the research results and the knowledge generated in UCO to society in general, strengthening the work of other university services. This is a strategic service within the social responsibility policy of the institution, as it contributes to improving education, culture and scientific knowledge of citizens. Creativity and innovation aimed at both the design of their annual plans of communication and dissemination of science, as the choice of tools for it and its relations with the various public and stakeholders in their work. Networking and collaborative and interdisciplinary inclusión in national and international groups dissemination and promotion of scientific culture are two of its hallmarks. The UCC + i at the University of Cordoba, created to improve training, culture and scientific knowledge of citizenship and accredited by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, pursues the following objectives: i) The information and dissemination of scientific knowledge, ii) The promotion of scientific culture in their environment and promoting scientific vocations and innovative talent, iii) The communication of the results of research, iv) The research training in dissemination and communication of science and v) Research on the processes of social dissemination of Research, Development and innovation.

-Higher arable land productivity, and land-equivalent ratio for intercropping systems
To understand the mechanisms involved in complementarity and facilitation in diversified cropping systems, and to enhance them, different crop associations, cultivars, densities and patterns will be assessed in the case studies so that increased land productivity is ensured. The use of crop rotations, multiple cropping or intercrops and their synergistic effects with sustainable agronomic practices (conservation agriculture, nutrient management, integrated pest management, etc.) achieves a combined production per unit area greater than mono-cropping (relative yield total and land-equivalent ratio >1).
-Diversification and increase of farmers' revenues by access to new markets and reduced economic risk
The adoption of diversified cropping systems through the Communities of Practitioners and further engagement will contribute to increase of farmer's revenues by increased land productivity, access to new markets, reduced economic risk and reduced production and environmental costs.
- Lower environmental impact of diversified cropping systems with reduced use of external inputs
Diverfarming will provide strategies to reduce the negative environmental impact of crop production in Europe. Correct use of crop associations, fertilisers, amendments, bio-stimulants, machinery, mulching, crop residues, integrated pest management and suitable irrigation will reduce the consumption of fertilisers, pesticides, water and energy, improving the long-term sustainability of agro-ecosystems.
- Improved delivery of ecosystem services
Diverfarming will improve the delivery of ecosystem services by adoption of sustainable diversified cropping systems. We will apply a framework of multiple ecosystem services (defined by MEA, 2005) for assessment. Crop diversification has advantages in terms of plant nutrition by increments in soil fertility and efficiency of nutrient uptake, breakage effect on pest/disease cycles, development of populations of beneficials for crop defence, increase in biodiversity, abatement of soil erosion and GHG emissions, decrease in soil/water pollution and increase in C sequestration.
-Organization of resource-efficient downstream value chains, relevant actors and decreased use of energy
In order to gain better insights on mechanisms to facilitate adoption and diffusion of diversified cropping systems, Diverfarming will focus on value chain/contractual conditions by assessing preferences of the value chain actors for participating in re-designed value chains and business models. Diverfarming will define guidelines/best practices in each case study, focusing on the specifics derived from each socioeconomic, cultural and environmental context.
-Market provision of food, feed and industrial products from diversified cropping systems
Diverfarming will use real case studies that directly involve agri-food industry actors. Thus, there will be food coming from multiple crops, rotations and intercrops in olive groves, horticulture, legumes, cereals and flowers (honey); feed from fodder, legumes and residues from horticulture, cereals and legumes; and industrial products from olive groves, vineyards, cereals, horticulture, sunflowers and flowers to produce oil, wine, processed food, biodiesel and cosmetics. Crop residues can be also processed to commercialize soil amendments/fertilisers.
-Increased awareness and knowledge exchanges among actors on the benefits of diversified cropping systems (covering different pedo-climatic conditions and crops) and on value chain organisation
The awareness increase and knowledge/data exchange among actors have been included in the tailoring of the diversified cropping systems in each pedoclimatic region, with participatory workshops for all partners and stakeholders to open a plenary discussion (Stage 1; WP2). During the entire duration of the project different workshops, forums, field days and training courses will be organised, besides participation in different conferences and EIP-AGRI related events for knowledge/data exchange; increased social awareness will be achieved by release of public website, communication with media, ICT tools, production of publications and creation of "Communities of Practitioners".

Uso y manejo sostenible de suelos

Code PAIDI: RNM-922

Luis Parras. Partner. 

Universidad de Córdoba

Budget of Andalusian group: € 462.998,75 €


Keywords: Crop diversification, ecosystem services, land productivity, crop quality, production costs, agricultural value chain, efficient use of resources, policy framework, Business models
Duration: 60 months. May, 1th 2017 to April, 30th 2022
Project cost: € 9.999.278 €