In the region, agriculture consist of intensive livestock production with some dairy farming in combination with arable farming and horticulture. In this context maize is an important feed crop in dairy farming. Many dairy farmers use contractors to take care of the cultivation of maize. Advisory services on maize cultivation are provided by Agrifirm, independent advisors and contractors.
The main stakeholders in the Living Lab are farmers, advisors and contractors involved in maize cultivation in the south east of the Netherlands. More specifically, we are working with the stakeholders involved in the project ‘Grondig Boeren met Mais’.
Due to changes in legislation and public perception the sense of urgency to improve the sustainability of maize cultivation has increased considerably over the last years. However substantial uncertainty and divergence exists over upcoming legislation, the relations between stakeholders, farmers’ effect on water quality and the feasibility of solutions.
In this field it is the purpose of the Dutch-Belgium living lab to develop innovation support services and tools that supports the ability and willingness of farmers to engage in more sustainable maize production. The Living Lab aims to contribute to the following changes in the perspective of farmers, advisors and contractors: Short term production to long term farm management, general farm solutions to field specific solutions and to broaden the perspective from maize cultivation to sustainable feed production.
The aim of the Dutch Belgian living Lab is to contribute to more sustainable maize cultivation, creating awareness among farmers with respect to nitrate leaching and the individual influence of each farmer and enabling farmers to improve their maize cultivation.
Working together with farmers, advisors and contractors to develop and test advisory support has provided more detailed insights in the dynamics around agricultural advisory system on sustainable maize cultivation.
In order to multiply resources and be able to build on an existing network, the Living Lab was first established in the Netherlands in the context of the project ‘Grondig Boeren met Mais’. This project supports farmers in achieving sustainable maize cultivation. The first step for the Living lab was a series of exploratory interviews with farmers, advisors and contractors about their perspective on maize cultivation and the challenges and opportunities for sustainability. This gave the interest of the involved stakeholders.
It also showed a weak sense of urgency for improving maize cultivation, the need to change is mostly caused by legislation push in that direction. Also the modest role of advisory system in maize cultivation and of sustainability of this system became visible.
Nevertheless, three possible support tools were identified:
- Catch crop decision support tool
- Nitrate tour to provide insight to influence on water quality
- ‘Sustainability at the kitchen table’: checklist for constructive pre-season talk between farmer contractor and advisor
Through follow up interviews, meetings with the stakeholders and a co-creation session the perspective of all three tools was further explored. The checklist for kitchen table talk was found too big a step from the informal modus that currently shapes this conversation. Due to sensitivity of the subject, the Nitrate tour evolved from an organised bus tour visiting diverse farms, to measurements of nitrate in the fields of the satellite farmers of ‘Grondig Boeren met Mais’, followed by a wider discussion.
For the development of the catch crop decision support tool a co-creation session was organised with the interested stakeholders. This resulted in the insight that though a similar interest existed to develop the tool, competition and different interest made it not feasible to develop one decision support tool together. Instead each stakeholder developed their own catch crop decision support.
In three exchange visits between Belgium and Netherlands the perspective of the developed tools was explored. Though the exchange was valuable by the stakeholders involved, the relevance of the Dutch innovation support tools was considered modest in the Belgian context.
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