Case: New high-value, multifunctional crops for organic farmers

The research project MultiPlant is developing new crop mixtures for organic arable farmers to ensure the economic and practical viability of farming without the import of conventional animal manure.


By Ulla Skovsbøl

Scientists from Aarhus University together with Organic Denmark, SEGES, Agro Business Park, DLF-Trifolium, PlanEnergi, University of Copenhagen and Vestjyllands Andel are developing new crop mixtures for organic arable farming. The new mixtures must at the same time be less dependent on fertiliser input and improve nitrogen supply, yields and biodiversity. The crops are also designed for new and different purposes such as a refined protein feed or biogas production.

The background to the project is that stockless organic arable farms are facing major challenges because the import of conventional manure is likely to be banned in a few years’ time. Arable farmers therefore need to grow more nitrogen-fixing plants to secure the nitrogen supply, and to ensure a viable economy they must also find new markets for these crops.

Organic farmers are also in a situation where weeds can only be controlled through robust crop rotations. MultiPlant therefore intends to develop mixtures with perennial, nitrogen-fixing crops that increase the robustness of the system and provide high-value products such as animal feed protein, energy and good quality roughage.

Part of the project will involve optimising the growing of crops that can be refined into marketable organic protein feed – products that are very much in demand among organic poultry and pig producers. The scientists behind the project will examine how the biorefined products function as a source of protein for the two species and look at both the feed value and economy.

Another part of the MultiPlant project involves optimising the growing of crops to be used in biogas plants. MultiPlant will therefore examine the ability of different plant species to fix nitrogen and the fertiliser value of the digested plant material from the biogas plant.

MultiPlant will also be looking at other high-value crops that may be of interest to arable farmers who need to grow nitrogen-fixing plants. This could, for example, be hay with a high content of forbs. Hay with forbs enhances biodiversity and having a larger presence of flowering plants in the fields is good for pollinating insects.

Finally, the project will look at the broader environmental and economic benefits of the perennial mixtures in terms of energy, protein and biodiversity and on that basis develop advisory concepts that target specific farm types. The idea is to invite a number of farmers and help them to put the project results into practice on their own farms.

MultiPlant runs until the end of 2017.

Read more about the project