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DiverIMPACTS project meeting – Alnarp (Sweden)

The second annual general meeting of the arable crop diversification related research project called DiverIMPACTS was held this summer. A total of 34 institutions from 11 countries took part. The event was held at the Alnarp campus of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). Erik Steen Jensen, professor of the Department of Living Systems and Technologies, welcomed the participants on behalf of the university. He talked about how the university works, emphasizing the unique 3:1 ratio of students to lecturers (with PhDs) and he eulogized the institution’s exceptional atmosphere and its welcoming and green environment.

The rest of the day was taken up by a workshop during which groups of 20 participants discussed the lessons learned from the meta-analysis of the results on arable crop diversification research and the results of the project’s own professional survey. Based on a European survey it led itself, the Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi) produced a brief practical guide on the most important advantages and disadvantages of diversification initiatives:

There was a poster exhibition on diversification case studies, which was the main subject of the project. Participants could look at the posters throughout the event and they explained topics to be consulted on and who should consult on them to achieve more intensive progress. The posters also presented small plot field experiments conducted at the research institutions working on the project.

In spite of the busy schedule, on the first day, we managed to find some time for sightseeing in Malmo, where we stayed the night. We found a community garden on the outskirts of the city, close to the shore of the Øresund pass. A student from Malmo told us that the garden was built for the city’s university students, who can apply for a small box, irrespective of their field of studies, so they can get some experience in gardening. Once they have the box the students have to provide the inputs themselves, except for the water. They usually use online groups to discuss who is going to tend to the gardens and when. This way the boxes are always watered and volunteers usually weed the neighboring boxes as well. Unlike Hungarian community gardens, these places are open to everyone, and although anybody can have a look at what is in the boxes, only the owners pick the fruits and vegetables.

On the second day, activities other than the case studies were presented in detail by sharing examples. An Italian group talked about how an organic wheat-hemp system they use differs from the conventional durum wheat-artichoke crop rotation on a farm in San Martino. They also mentioned how diversely hemp can be processed (into flour, pasta, oil, tea, etc.), and what the greatest challenges are during its production (mostly keeping the THC content of the plants below the legally set limit value). The field experiment was analyzed by using the indicators developed by one of the project workgroups, including the sustainability, profitability and diversity-related review of the system from environmental aspects, which enabled the complex multi-approach assessment of crop rotations.

That day we had lunch in the campus garden, and we tasted what local university students eat during the week. After lunch Mark People, representative of the Australian Novel Plant Products company, showed us how arable crop production developed in Australia and how cereal monoculture could be diversified through the use of oilseed rape and legumes, even though it is not possible to irrigate 98% of Australian arable land, and annual precipitation reaches only 200-400 mm.

Then Gunnar Backman, employee of the production company Nordisk Råvara (Northern Raw Material), presented the results of one of the Swedish case studies. He listed the special legumes they produce through contracts growing, such as the ancient Gotland lentils, winter peas, beans (white, red, green and black) and various lupines. The origin of the majority of the plants is still unknown, and it is most likely that the Vikings brought them more than 1,000 years ago. Although these species and varieties have been crowded out of production during the years, they should be produced and used more because they are resistant, have a strong chemical composition, a good flavor and other valuable traits. Mr. Backman talked about how these ancient seeds made their way into top restaurants with the help of professional chefs. He also mentioned that they are gradually being introduced into public catering because people noticed that young people are becoming more adverse to consuming animal products of industrial origin, and they are more open to sustainably produced plant proteins. Since they are the consumers of the future, in the coming years demand will be defined by the changing tastes of children and teenagers, which in turn will depend on what kind of food they eat day to day now.

After the presentations, we visited a local organic farm in Staffanstorp where our hosts are cultivating hundreds of hectares of land. Although they still have conventional fields, they plan to gradually switch to organic farming on all of their land because they do not agree with the use of conventional input materials, and they do not want to pollute, the environment and sell food to consumers that have chemicals and residues on it. They showed the machines they use for cultivation, and then we saw what a spring oat-pea mix looks like.

Next, we visited the educational farm of SLU, where first we observed a long-term experiment comparing different cultivation technologies including agroforestry, organic and integrated farming systems of various diversification levels. The long-term experiment only started three years ago, with the aim of providing opportunities for scientific investigation for several researchers. Consequently, the experiment is regarded as a “common infrastructure” to be used, and interested students and researchers are welcome at the site.

We finished our day in another part of the educational farm, where the Swedish small plot experiments of DiverIMPACTS were started. Here a number of organic crop rotation systems have been modeled. Several of them included plant mixes such as barley and lupine sown together.

The last day was also spent with workshops in small groups, during which we tried to find out which methods and tools should be used to develop a market-dominant element from an innovative production technology. We also talked about the value chain that could be built on this and that would help spread the use of sustainable plant production systems. Finally, the auxiliary research project of DiverIMPACTS (called DIVERFARMING) working on the diversification of horticultural plant production systems was presented, followed by a summary of the meeting and a review of the tasks for the forthcoming period.


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