Multiyear practical study of strip cropping: Nature Field

Cosun, CZAV and farmer Eugène van den Eijnden have started a unique experiment with the support of their partners in the supply chain to determine whether profitable farming can go hand in hand with nature development. The feasibility of strip cropping, an ecologically balanced method of arable farming, is being studied in a 12 hectare field in west Brabant.

The Nature Field is located on the Dassenberg estate close to Steenbergen. The land is farmed by Eugène van den Eijnden and the estate owner Henry Deckers. It is hoped the field will support a rich biodiversity, high soil fertility and economical and sustainable food production. Ten crops will be grown in strips 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 in keeping with the standardised size of harvesters and other farm machines. As well as potatoes, sugar beet and chicory, the crops will include rye, summer wheat and marrowfat peas. 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.

The Nature Field concept was initially floated by HAS University of Applied Sciences 's-Hertogenbosch. “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
To determine whether this will be the case in practice, Van Woudenberg looked for a farmer and other parties who would be willing to participate. Through its business groups Suiker Unie, Sensus and Aviko, Cosun has taken the initiative alongside farmer Eugène van den Eijnden and CZAV to test the theory in practice. “The Nature Field is a perfect match for Cosun’s sustainability ambitions,” says René Schunselaar, Agro manager at Sensus. “We will fund any additional costs of the demonstration 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.”

Exemplary project
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. “In the meantime we will look for other parties who are engaged in biodiversity and sustainability and who want to join in. Several parties in the Circular Sugar Beet Green Circles, such as North Brabant province, Naturalis and ZLTO, are already working with our Cosun business groups,” says Schunselaar. “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.

Breda, 7 May 2020

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