Integrating horticultural and arable crops : a sustainable way to increase vegetable production in Scania?

University essay from SLU/Department of Biosystems and Technology (from 130101)

Abstract: Modern arable production is associated with a highly homogenous landscape with few cultivated species and is relying heavily on external chemical inputs. Intensive vegetable production, on the other hand, is associated with environmental costs such as increased risk of nutrient leaching and loss of soil organic matter. A high crop diversity is instrumental in minimizing the negative environmental impact of agriculture and increasing the ability of agroecosystems to deliver ecosystem services. Increasing the complexity of the crop sequence by integration of horticultural and arable crops is a way to increase temporal and spatial diversity. The national food strategy of Sweden calls for increased production and for meeting consumer demand for locally produced food. This suggests that an increase in production of vegetables and other horticultural crops is desirable. Integration of horticultural and arable crops has the potential to mitigate some of the negative effects of a pure vegetable rotation. Integrated rotations also afford benefits of a greater diversity that are lacking in short arable rotations or monocultures. In this study, the aim has been to explore the opportunities associated with integrating arable and horticultural crops as a way to increase the amount of vegetables grown in Scanian fields. This was done by exploring the current prevalence of integrated crop rotations, based on data provided by the Swedish Board of Agriculture, and the perceptions and attitudes of farmers through a web-based questionnaire and a series of semi structured interviews. If potatoes are categorized as a horticultural crop, 10.0 percent of the Scanian farm enterprises produce both arable and horticultural crops according to the results of this study. If potatoes are categorized as an arable crop, the percentage is 6.9 instead. Very few farmers grow exclusively horticultural crops. Integration is more common in the plains and middle farming area than in the northern parts of the region, and among farms with an area larger than 100 hectares. The results suggest that farmers believe that integrating horticultural and arable crops has a positive effect on profitability and that this comes at the price of a heavier workload when compared to crop rotations with only arable crops. The participants offer few opinions regarding the environmental impact of integrated rotations. Soil health is believed by the participants to be negatively affected by vegetable crops, due to more open soil, irrigation, and tillage, while grains and ley improve soil health by increasing soil organic matter and improving structure. Physical characteristics of the farm and economic factors rank highest among factors influencing decision making, in general terms. Workload and time constraints are also factors, and interest, personal well-being, and force of habit feature among the responses. Several participants express a wish to care for the environment but do not allow environmental concerns to motivate their crop choices. In terms of what is needed to take the step to change one’s crop rotation, better market opportunities and more knowledge are required. Obstacles to change are tangible constraints such as soil type and high investment requirements, and a vaguer notion of a high threshold to overcome. Networks and partnerships can make change easier. To promote integrated crop rotations, access to the personal and external components that are needed for that opportunity to be a viable option for farmers should be facilitated. This includes facilitating marketing and sales, improving access to capital, improving risk management mechanisms, funding research, and promoting advisory service, networking and collaborations.

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