Universiteit Leiden

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Research projects launched into biodiversity in food and horticulture production

Two Leiden research projects that focus on increasing the biodiversity of Dutch production systems for food and ornamental horticulture have started thanks to funding from the Dutch Research Council's KIC research programme.

Production systems for food and ornamental plants in the Netherlands generate very high yields but also rely on the heavy use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides and concentrate on growing a limited number of crops in monocultures. This means that one type of crop is grown on the same field per season.

These methods impoverish soil life and impair the quality of the natural environment in the vicinity of arable fields and in water. The resulting decline in biodiversity makes crops more vulnerable to diseases. It also leads to the loss of natural pest control agents, thereby increasing the impact of pests on crops. The two research projects focus on increasing biodiversity and increasing the resilience of important crops in the primary production systems.

Five million euros

In total, five million euros are available, shared between three projects. Leiden University is the principal applicant of two of the three projects. For each project a consortium has been set up in which researchers work together with businesses and civil-society partners.

The projects that Leiden University is involved in are:

Project: Boosting Biocontrol with Biodiversity in and around greenhouse production systems
Main applicant: Peter van Bodegom, Professor of Environmental Biology

Nature-inclusive horticulture that makes use of biodiversity inside and outside greenhouses may be a solution to current high pesticide and nutrient emissions and biodiversity poverty. We examine the biological mechanisms, the social barriers as well as possibly viable business implementations to promote nature-inclusive horticultural systems resilient to pests and diseases.

Project: Increasing above- and belowground biodiversity in arable leek cultivation to stimulate pest control by natural enemies
Main applicant: Martijn Bezemer, Professor of Ecology of Plant-Microbe-Insect Interactions

Leeks are an important crop, especially in sandy soil. Thrips are a growing pest problem on leeks, requiring pesticide applications several times during the season, which causes biodiversity loss and health issues. With representatives from the entire sector, the researchers will develop practical knowledge on how to encourage the natural enemies of thrips with flowering plants and soil amendments. They will do so in field experiments and – with growers – on commercial leek fields. Together, they will accelerate the transition to sustainable thrip reduction in leeks and other field crops, with minimal pesticides, more biodiversity and improved soil health.

Photo: Pixabay

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