The Belgian partners of SoildiverAgro organized a second discussion group with stakeholders on the 30th of June. This time for the Flemish case studies that included arable crops. The name of the event was: “Discussion group: soil life and soil quality in arable farming”. Due to the corona crisis this was still in digital format. We used our experience of the first digital event to make also the second discussion group a success.

Fifteen participants with different profiles and backgrounds took the opportunity to discuss the proposed experiments and to share experiences. Between them, a lot of researchers with different expertise attended, next to policy officers, industry advisors, and even a farmer took the time to join the session, despite of the busy period on the fields.

After a short introduction of the overall project by the regional project coordinator Lieven Waeyenberge, some general conclusions of the potato production survey were presented: What are the main problems and best fitting solutions in Flanders?

This was followed by presenting the case study conducted by Inagro that is based on the question of whether more diverse cover crop mixtures can be a promotor of soil biodiversity in potato crops. Subsequently the experimental design was debated. Topics were (similar to the first discussion group) introduced by a central question, which the attendees could answer by means of a live online poll (Mentimeter).

Together with the attendees, the choice of the frost-sensitive cover crops was discussed. In addition, the main crops, the fertilization and the way of destroying the cover crops during the multiannual trial were also addressed. Experiences were shared and advice was given about the ways to compose the cover crop mixtures. It was decided to compare cover crops mixtures composed of a large number of species (10-12) with cover crops with much less (5 and 2). The group also recommended that the possible release of nitrogen from the selected cover crops should be taken into account with regard to the choice of fertilization in function of the succeeding crop. Finally the importance of good initial sampling of the soil biodiversity was stressed by the group.

After this discussion. ILVO briefly presented their case study about optimization of soil management strategies in organic farming systems (integration of plant and animal production) and the experimental design that is already ongoing. This in order to discuss the choice of winter hardy cover crops that could be used in the years to come and the possibility of using them as cattle feed.

Two hours and a quarter later, Belgium partners thanked the attendees for the interesting input and advice. However a live session still is preferred, again we saw that an online system is a good alternative and has some advantages. Distance for example doesn’t give any problem.