Stability and diversity

Experimenting with strip cultivation

ERF has been experimenting with strip cultivation for a number of years. After a small-scale start in the 2014-2015 growing year, this was expanded to 40 hectares in 2016-2017, later to 100 hectares. Working with strips of different crops ensures a more diverse and robust system. ERF investigated, among other things, the yields and practical applicability. Pioneering is bearing fruit, biodiversity and with it the number of natural enemies are increasing, which means that major outbreaks of disease are less likely. The crop yields are good.


Largest experiment in Europe

In 2017, ERF and Wageningen University & Research (WUR) started the strip cultivation experiments: the largest in Europe. In Flevoland, several crops have been sown in strips of 6, 12 and 24 meters wide. Think of spinach (later replaced by soy), potatoes, cauliflower, carrot and grass clover. The strips were compared with a control plot of 48 meters.

The narrower the strip, the better

The ideal strip widths and the best combinations of crops, that's what it's all about. One of the main conclusions of recent years was: the narrower the strip, the less quickly diseases and pests spread, without it taking more time. That is why a new experiment was set up at the end of 2019, with only strips of six meters. This benefits biodiversity. Dirk van Apeldoorn is researcher Farming Systems Ecology and open crops at WUR. “We detect many more natural pest fighters in these narrow strips, such as ground beetles, spiders and beetles,” he says. "These are essential for the prevention and spread of pests."

No extra work

An important point is the editability. Van Apeldoorn: 'At ERF it appears that strips with different crops do not result in extra work. Working hours remain the same. You have to think about the processing of each crop in advance. You need a good plan.' The employees also enjoy it. ‘At first the thought sometimes prevailed: this is not efficient, is it? Until we started working on it together. Employees give back that they feel really responsible every year for the success of the cultivation. They are proud of their plots.”

Good yields

An essential question remains, of course: what does strip cultivation actually yield? Van Apeldoorn: 'In the middle of the strips we have not measured any difference with large-scale cultivation in terms of yields. At the edges we do see differences, positive and negative. As soon as we know even better which crops are each other's most optimal neighbours, we can move to narrower strips everywhere. Then we will have both better biodiversity and a higher yield.' This will be the subject of further research. In addition, it is also being mapped out which flowers and small mammals (such as hedgehogs and mice) occur in strip cultivation. There will also be more research into birds. Van Apeldoorn: 'Things have been going badly for a long time with farmland birds, such as the yellow wagtail. We think strip farming can help bring them back.”

It's alive

The research area was expanded in 2019 by about 60 hectares. This brought the total for ERF to about 100 hectares, on plots along the A6 near Almere. “People come here regularly to take a look. Sometimes they start harvesting themselves, which is of course not the intention. It does show that strip cultivation is becoming more and more popular, also among a wider public. Awesome.'

Learn about strip farming

Every year, Van Apeldoorn provides the 'Innovation training for strip cultivation'. In several meetings, growers discover how they can get started with strip cultivation on their own farm. It's about learning from current experiences. Participants go home with their own building plan to actually take the step. For example, an ever-increasing network of strip cultivation growers is being built up in the Netherlands. The meetings are organized by WUR, ERF, Organic Network and Land & Co. Together with the Hemus Foundation, ERF was also present at the Floriade Expo 2022. At this world horticultural exhibition in Almere, they promoted strip cultivation and agroforestry.

Watch the video from Flevo Campus with our employee Roy Michielsen about strip cultivation, and our contribution to the Floriade Expo 2022 

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