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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Co-designing a landscape experiment to investigate diversified cropping systems

Grahmann, Kathrin; Reckling, Moritz; Hernandez-Ochoa, Ixchel; Donat, Marco; Bellingrath-Kimura, Sonoko; Ewert, Frank


CONTEXT: Intensive food and feed production in sole -cropped, large fields with high fertilizer and pesticide inputs to achieve high yields, has contributed to detrimental environmental impacts. To move towards more sustainable agricultural landscapes, cropping system diversification has been suggested as a promising practice for which the use of digital technologies could be potentially beneficial. Understanding the impact of diversified, newly arranged cropping systems and their management requires long-term experimental data at the landscape scale and practical experiences in using digital technologies which are hardly available. Experimental platforms in an agricultural landscape setup with farmers ' involvement could meet such demands but have not been set up in many regions nor has the process of designing such platforms been described systematically. OBJECTIVE: The overall objective of this study was to describe how an experimental platform can be co -designed jointly by researchers and practitioners to study and understand the impact of diversification practices compared to current cropping systems in Eastern Brandenburg, Germany. Specifically, we aimed to re -design an intensively managed field into smaller field segments that we called patches and to assess the potential of a co -created landscape experiment for sustainable agricultural production focussing on both, the practitioners and scientists perspective. METHODS: We used the DEED research cycle (Describe, Explain, Explore and Design) as a conceptual framework to co -design the landscape experiment called patchCROP within a commercial farm. Patches were implemented as 0.5 ha fields within the original field based on yield and soil maps using advanced cluster analysis which considered soil heterogeneity. The original narrow crop sequence was diversified by integrating new crops, cover crops and flower strips for a five-year crop rotation. To cultivate the patches, large machinery was used during the first years but will be replaced over time with autonomous field robots. Workshops and various methods such as a SWOT analysis were used to adjust the management practices towards pesticide reduction. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: The SWOT analysis revealed opportunities and drawbacks to develop such a research platform in a participative manner from both the scientific and practical farming perspective. We found that the farmer -centric position focused mainly on the economic return and feasibility of future field operations in the diversified field. The scientific perspective on the other hand described needs and potentials about the research process for evaluating dynamic, interdependent or opposing natural processes and their interactions like productivity, biodiversity and ecosystem service changes in an agricultural landscape context. SIGNIFICANCE: Co -designed landscape experiments have the potential to simultaneously assess the impact of newly developed cropping systems on biodiversity and ecosystem services beyond the field level, crop perfor- mance and soil quality at multiple scales, and the implications for multiple actors. This is a step forward to extend systems -based research from single plot to landscape research in an on -farm environment, allowing the exploration of diversification measures with new digital technologies in the long run.


Biodiversity; Ecosystem services; DEED; Digitalization; On-farm experimentation; Soil heterogeneity

Published in

Agricultural Systems
2024, Volume: 217, article number: 103950

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use
    Agricultural Science

    Publication identifier


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