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Co-designed action research to address mixed farming challenges

Over the previous months, MIXED Networks have run a series of field workshops with their farmer members to develop mini-projects to address priortised challenges to mixed farming and agro-forestry systems within their network.

Tree protection from pigs in the French agro-forestry system. Photo by Hélia Marguerat, Agroof, FR
Apple-hen mixed agro-forestry system in Austria. Photo byReinhard Gessl, BOKU AT
Collecting crop samples for feed analysis in Blackoat/Phacelia cover crop lamb grazing trial in Scotland. Photo by Rosie Boyko, SRUC, Scotland

The design and implementation of these mini-projects is a collaboration between the network farmers, network leaders and academic partners in MIXED. The mini-projects planned for implementation spring and summer 2023 are described below and include a range of activities from small-scale field trials to 'serious games' to develope collaborative arrangements between specialised crop and livestock farmers. 

In Scotland a lamb grazing trial of Blackoat/Phacelia cover crops is planned - the objective being to quantify the impacts (soil, crop yield, livestock growth, financial cost/benefit) of this livestock/arable farm collaboration. Field trials are also taking place in Switzerland and Germany looking at the effects of flower thinning on the yield and quality of high fruit apple trees and the impact of water buffalo treading damage on the Carbon content of grazed wetland soils, respectively. In the agro-forest network in France, small field trials will focus on determining the nutritional value of trees and fruits to pigs, developing better tree protection from pigs and vegetated pig housing for shade purposes.

Farmers in the Netherlands and France are using «serious games» and simulation models in a participatory approach to design more effective collaboration scenarios between livestock and arable farms. Developing collaboration/cooperation between existing mixed farms for marketing purposes is the focus in Romania. They are planning to demonstrate good examples of existing collaboration (through network visits) and working with farmers and other local stakeholders to identify the best platforms for collaboration/cooperation. In Portugal a series of workshops are planned with network members to share best practices in minimising climate change impacts in the Montado, discussing how legislation can be interpreted in the context of the Montado and sharing of best practice in preventing pests and diseases.

In Austria and Denmark the mini-projects focus on increasing farmer knowledge. In Denmark through Agro-Forestry system design field days and in Austria through the production of housing design fact sheets for 'apple hen systems'. Existing network farmers are also working together to design a strategy for recruiting more members to their 'apple hen project'. In Poland expertise are being brought in to 'train the trainers' i.e. upskill the farm enterprise managers in mixed farming skills so that their knowledge can be disseminated to co-workers on the farm.

The experiences of the networks conducting the mini-projects and their outputs will be shared via the MIXED website and social media throughout mid-late 2023. 

> The field workshops form part of the MiFAS knowledge and innovation co-creation process that is central to the MIXED project.