Denmark is a highly and intensively cultivated country advancing from a high degree of specialisation. Approximately 50% of the agricultural area is grown with cereals for maturity, almost 70 % of this is used for fodder corresponding to €23 billion in exports, equivalent to around 20% of the national exports, dominated by pork and dairy.

Crop diversification through intercropping strategies challenges such dominating traditions and logistics in the Danish agricultural landscape from farmers to processors and consumers. However, with the introduction of new national dietary advices recommending increased intake of legumes, more farmers, food processors, and specialists are considering increasing national produce for more direct human consumption.

It is known that growing legumes in intercrops with typically cereals provides several benefits like i) leguminous biological atmospheric N2-fixation inputs to the cropping system reducing the requirements for fossil-based fertilizer use; ii) nitrous oxide (N2O) emission reductions; iii) reduced nitrate leaching as compared to the dominating cereal rich rotations; iv) reduced pests and diseases lowering pesticide needs; which all in all v) benefit water quality and vi) biodiversity.

Picture above: Pea and lentil intercrop. A dry summer has challenged the on-farm experiment of the Danish farmers’ group.  

A group of 16 farmers is part of the Danish CICS in IntercropVALUES. The farmers are self-organised targeting improved knowledge exchange while sharing the risk of engaging in new products. They are testing, among other things, pea and lentil intercrop combinations. By doing so, they are also getting to know how this involves reconsidering their business models. As an example, sorting is expensive requiring higher price settings compared to sole cropping strategies. Another added challenge is that such post-treatment might not be possible through the usual sales channels. Finding new markets and maybe more direct sales channels to public kitchens, restaurants, consumer shelfs in local on national shops, etc. requires new skills for market avenues and communication about own local produce in general.

The same is the case for selling intercrops as a bulk product requiring dialogue about the added agroecosystem value provided. Conventional wholesalers might be difficult to convince to increase prices and tell the story about the novel product including advances in species combinations, quality, etc. This is a motivating factor for increased collaboration between value chain actors to share the extra costs for sorting and marketing instead of leaving this for the individual farmers to deal with. In this way, intercropping is not just challenging the individual farmer in its farming technique but the whole value chain and the way the agri-food system is organised.

Picture above: Farmers group discussing crop synergies, yield, infestation rates, sales channels, food quality, etc. in their experimentation field of peas and lentils

This news item was written by the team at the Roskilde University (RUC): Ane Christine Aare and Henrik Hauggaard-Nielsen