Sprint 2: Development

Three convergent systems, geo-data, ecosystem services and nature inclusive practices are coming together...
Here you can find our latest updates on the sprints which are part of the Regenerative Agriculture intervention. We aim to develop a simple open free web app with and for farmers to quantify, value and visualise their climate impact when adopting and/or practicing regenerative farming methods.

The goal of Sprint 2

The goal of Sprint 1 was to converge the three systems consisting of finding suitable geo-data, ecosystem services research and the research of most commonly used practices of nature inclusive agriculture. These three systems have been converging in the form of a clickable app prototype. 

System 1. Ecosystem Services 

As we have seen in the previous sprint, within a framework of Nature inclusive agriculture, all ecosystems are enhanced. So not only, the provisioning once, like the provision of food, but also all the supportive, regulating and cultural ecosystem services, which include respectively ecosystem services like soil building which ensures soil fertility, pollination and a visual attractive landscape where educational and cultural activities can be enhanced as well. All these services are interconnected with each other and build upon each other. Overall, this makes a long lasting and resilient system.

A Nature inclusive agricultural framework enhances ecosystem services while ensuring the continuity of food production 

Historically, intensive conventional farming has been producing high yield, however no other ecosystem services (See Figure here below) – and of course in the wild you can see a bit of an opposite scenario. Nature inclusive agriculture sees nature and food production as ecosystems that can be integrated into one system through agro-ecological practices. If the interactions between the ecological element of this system and the food production element of this same system are positive, then this will be also favourable for the food production overall. It can be that, in the short term the food production is not as high as in a conventional farming situation, however these positive interactions between the ecological part and the food production part will be a lot more resilient to disturbances, like plagues and changing climatic conditions. So, in the long run there will be more food production and more healthy crops and more healthy living organisms on and around the land that produces food. 

Historically, land sparing has been the main agricultural strategy where wildlife has been separated by land designated for intensive agricultural practices. Within this model regulating, supportive and cultural ecosystem services cannot be manifested. Food production seems to be very high though in this situation. Of course the highlight is on the word seems since it is clear that the intensive usage of pesticides and fertilisers in a till plus monocultural fashion has negatively affected soil fertility, biodiversity, natural pest control, natural pollination and water regulation on the land. Nature inclusive agriculture aims to increase food production by integrating the natural system with the food production system (land sharing). The more positive interactions there will be created between one system and the other, the more ecosystem services will be enhanced within this integrated system, and the more resilient, healthy and long lasting it will be. The latter will result in an overall – over a larger time scale – enhanced food production.

System 2. Nature inclusive practices 

Based on the scientific literature on regenerative agriculture in Netherlands by Wageningen University & Research, research from the Louis Bolk institute, the Drawdown Report, the goals of the Gelders Klimaatplan for 2030 (carbon sequestration, expansion of forestry areas, circular agriculture), and the platform Landbouw met de Natuur, 12 Nature inclusive agricultural practices have been established. Some practices are relevant for crop farmers, some for dairy farmers, and some for both. For each practice, it is explained how this improves one, or more ecosystem services. In the image below, you can see how implementing nature-inclusive agriculture can affect the landscape for both crop and dairy farmers. Visibly, more species of plants, trees, shrubs and birds are present with a more nature-inclusive farm system. You can imagine what happens to the invisible (water regulation, air quality, insect biodiversity, etc.) as well.

Niveau 0

Compliance with legal provisions only (e.g. manure) 

Niveau 1   

Practices for specific species (e.g. meadow birds)

Niveau 2

Optimisation of cycles on the farm. More room for natural animal behaviour, management of landscape elements and management for the benefit of species.

Niveau 3       

Adaptive system. Cycles, crops and livestock varieties suited to the environment. Construction and maintenance of landscape elements, measures for specific species. The farm forms one system with the surrounding landscape.

Each nature inclusive practice improves various ecosystem services

Take for example the practice no-till, where the soil is not ploughed (deeply, as in the figure below). No till improves the carrying capacity of the soil and preserves the soil organic carbon content. It also improves the diversity of soil organisms (worms, fungi, bacteria). No-till also has great potential for carbon sequestration. Especially in combination with cover crops and crop rotation, no tillage can optimise soil quality. Together, it will also improve water filtration and reduce soil erosion by water and wind. Finally, no-tillage systems require less fuel. When switching from a conventional to a no-till system, the soil needs time to recover. This will require extra nitrogen inputs (via green manure or cow manure) for the soil to perform well. A risk of non-inversion tillage is also that the old crop residues can cause and spread above-ground pathogens (Agriculture with Nature). Something to consider with switching to a no-tillage system is that the soil needs time to recover. This will initially require extra nitrogen inputs (via green manure or cow manure) for the soil to perform well. A risk of no-tillage is also that the old crop residues can cause and spread above-ground pathogens.

Conventional tilling (Left) and Herbal grassland (Right)

Whereas switching to no-till agriculture is mostly relevant for crop farmers that want to prevent insects and weeds from taking over, this work also includes nature-inclusive practices that are relevant for dairy farmers. Take herbal grassland for example. Sowing various types of functional grasses, legumes, and herbs in a farmer’s grassland brings many ecosystem benefits. This is also referred to as herbal grassland. It is one of the important components of functional agrobiodiversity on a dairy farm. A grassland rich in herbs is functional for dairy farmers in several ways. It contributes to animal and cow health due to the diversity of plants (vitamins and minerals). This protein production also reduces the demand for (external) feedstock. At the same time, herbs improve the soil structure through deeper rooting and a greater fixation of organic matter and nitrogen. This in turn improves water retention and resilience in times of drought. Finally, diverse grassland attracts more insects and meadow birds. One point of attention: the introduction of herbs into a grassland does bring in competition. It is important to work with the right sowing depth and grass:herb ratio. Competition is especially a challenge on peaty soil. Peat soil provides a lot of nitrogen, which allows grass to grow very well compared to the herbs. Research is currently being conducted into the effectiveness of overseeding as opposed to reseeding over time.