Sustainability in agriculture is high on the EU agenda, and a field of peas and lentils on the Danish Island of Lolland plays an important role in this. Despite a very challenging year, the first peas and lentils have been harvested and now the results will be evaluated in the IntercropVALUES project co-led in Denmark by the Danish business development organization Business Lolland-Falster.

Project manager Benjamin Plensou paid extra attention to the weather forecasts last year. He is heading an international development project called IntercropVALUES in which Business Lolland-Falster alongside the Danish Quinoa Group is investigating the possibilities of co-cultivation of crops.

As such he was very satisfied with the weather at the beginning of May 2023, when the seeder was heading to the four-acre field. Firstly, the peas were sown after which it was the lentils’ turn to enter the ground in the field at Brandstrup on the island of Lolland.

The fine weather in May continued with plenty of sun and absolutely no rain and it led to a long period of drought.

“The growth of both peas and lentils suffered a lot from the drought. Many seeds did not germinate at all due to the dry weather and those that did, did not grow optimally,” says Benjamin Plensou.

Picture above: The intense drought in the growth period combined with heavy rainfall in the harvesting period, affected the yield and harvesting process. By BLF.

The IntercropVALUES project focuses on investigating the potential of cultivating several crops simultaneously in the same area on an industrial scale. The goal is to contribute to a more sustainable production.

In the framework of the project, Business Lolland-Falster aims to create a value chain where both the supply of products and the sale of cultivated products are ensured. The project investigates how best to cultivate two crops simultaneously on the same field and how a market for co-cultivated products can be developed. In the Danish case, peas and lentils are the subject of testing.

“It has been an interesting process. We were challenged by the weather and after the long period of drought, the crops suffered an aphid attack. The drought was then replaced by a lot of rain, which ultimately made the harvest difficult. In fact, we came very close to not being able to harvest the peas and lentils at all,” says Benjamin Plensou.

Video: After swath laying, the crops are harvested, deshelled, and rinsed from other plant material eg: leaves, stems, and thistles. By BLF.

By the end of August 2023, it was decided to swathe the crops to give them one last chance to dry. Luckily, the peas and lentils dried on the field and after a week it was dry enough for the combine harvester to harvest the results. The weather turned and the dry sunny weather returned.

“The yield is not satisfactory. We expected a total yield of peas and lentils of 5 to 8 tons, but we ended up harvesting only 2.5 tons. However, after a season of severe drought, aphid infestation, and finally non-stop rain, which caused us to almost give up harvesting altogether, it is somewhat satisfactory. In any case, it was better than expected after a very challenging year,” says Benjamin Plensou.

A sustainable form of cultivation

27 participants from 15 countries spread over 3 continents take part in the IntercropVALUES project. Through 13 different case studies, the project examines what is needed to expand the co-cultivation of crops as a replacement for traditional monocultural agriculture.

“It is a topic that is very high on the EU sustainability agenda within agriculture. How can we find new ways to grow food while simultaneously focusing on Ecosystem Services? Our attempt to cultivate several crops in the same area is thus very interesting and there is potential in co-cultivation,” says Benjamin Plensou.

The peas and lentils are now dried before the next phase of the Intercrop project begins. In this phase, the Community Kitchen in the small town of Sakskøbing will start developing dishes based on the harvested peas and lentils.

This news item was written by Benjamin Plensou, from Business Lolland-Falster (BLF), in Denmark.