Main research question/goal
What is the value of agro-ecological service crops (ASCs) for the different aspects of soil quality and soil conservation? This project focuses on roller-crimper machinery, used to crush the ASC in the generative stage (just before flowering) just prior to sowing or planting the main crop on top of the plant residues. Field experiments will be established to verify if the use of the roller-crimper technology for ASC termination will i) maintain yield of the cash crops and vegetable product’s quality ii) enhance soil quality and increase soil fertility, iii) reduce fossil fuel energy consumption, iv) create an effective suppressive environment for pests, diseases and weeds and (v) reduce nutrient losses from the soil/plant system (i.e. nitrate leaching) and GHG emission from the soil. ASCs are non-marketable intercrops introduced in the agro-ecosystems to provide or enhance ecological services.Research approach
SOILVEG is a research project funded by a European network (CORE Organic Plus ERANET) with 14 scientific partners from 8 European member states. For Flanders, the partners are ILVO, Inagro and UGent. Field experiments with ASCs established in all participating countries focus on the termination management of the ASC as main experimental factor. ILVO constructs a roller-crimper to test its performance in Belgian (Flemish and Walloon) field trials. The ASC will be grown in the cold/rainy season, and after full development it is destructed prior to sowing a spring-summer cash crop. Two treatments are compared: (i) green manure in which the ASC biomass is chopped and plowed into the soil and (ii) the decomposition of the ASC residues on the soil surface after flattening the ASC by a roller-crimper, in comparison with a negative control (no ASC). Indicators of the main crop (growth, health, yield, etc.) and the soil condition, in addition to management aspects, are considered and related to the experimental treatment. The second factor is selected to verify additional hypotheses and adapt the study aims to the local conditions and to the specific interests.Relevance/Valorisation
Organic vegetable growers are expected to benefit from the project outcome as they have to control weeds and pests without synthetic pesticides and they intend to increase the profitability of their system by reducing nutrient losses from their soils by increasing crop nutrient use efficiency. The system may reduce the dependence of on farm import of animal manure and the fossil fuel energy consumption. The knowledge of the benefits of the roller-crimper technique for termination of ASCs will also reach conventional farmers. Policymakers could use the project outcomes in setting or improving standards for organic vegetable production for EU Regulations and for rural development plans and premium schemes. The researchers will disseminate the project results online (among others) during the project period (January 2017) via the project website, ILVO’s website and the open access newsletters BIOpraktijk (published by CCBT). The information will stay available at least five years after the project ends.