An example of mixed cropping is that of wheat in combination with a legume. This enhances diversity in the crop rotation system, acts as a weed suppressant, make the wheat less prone to lodging, increases the protein yield and improves soil diversity and soil function. There is ample scientific evidence for the benefits of mixed cropping. The EU-funded project Remix (2017-2021) focuses on how mixed cropping can be applied in practice. Another EU-funded project, Liveseed (2017-2021), includes looking at breeding varieties that would be more suitable for mixed cropping.
Mixed cropping in practice
Some farmers already have experience with mixed cropping — merging wheat–clover or wheat–lupin mixturs into their production system. Legumes, such as clover and lupin, fix atmospheric nitrogen and mobilise phosphate. However, mixed cropping in practice can be challenging; sowing, field maintenance and harvesting a mixed product is more complicated than doing so with single corps. Also, the overall result can vary, sometimes mixed cropping works out more positive than using single crops, while, at other times, the results are less positive.
The Remix project investigates how mixed cropping can best be implemented on farms and involves no fewer than 23 European research institutes and universities. On a national level, the project studies biodiversity, both above and below ground, as well as the effect of mixed cropping on prevalent soil-borne diseases and pests, such as plant-parasitic nematodes. At the Louis Bolk Institute, we specifically study the methods applied in production chains and how to cultivate Dutch arable crops that are suitable for mixed cropping.
Every year, we conduct multiple field trials with cereal crops and legumes, such as faba beans and lupins. This research contributes in the development of healthy crops and nature-inclusive production systems. The field trials provide wide-ranging insight and focus on opportunities for exchanging and sharing knowledge.
Multi-actor approach in research
Because of the participation of all stakeholders in the chain (i.e. farmers, traders, the processing industry and manufacturers), the chances of a successful future implementation of mixed cropping are increasing. Over the course of the research project, stakeholders can work together to overcome any practical obstacles. The project also pays a large amount of attention to knowledge dissemination; for example, by organising field days, each year, and, at the end of each growing season, a meeting is held to share our results with stakeholders and all those interested. In addition, portals are developed by other partners in the EU projects to provide accessible information, such as on the pros and cons of mixed cropping, suitable combinations of crops, and efficient use of nutrients.
The projects Liveseed and Remix run from 2017 to 2021 and are funded through the European Horizon 2020 programme. Liveseed involves 50 partners from 17 countries and is coordinated by IFOAM organics Europe. Remix is coordinated by the French research institute INRA, and involves 11 EU Member States.