Farmers define key questions for the research on saline farming

23 March 2020 - Published by Dorte Storper
In September 2019 the SalFar project organized the Saline Futures conference in Leeuwarden. This academic conference brought together experts on saline farming from across the globe. In addition, the farming community from the North Sea Region was invited to discuss salinization and the potential of saline farming in an international farmers’ café, part of the Saline Futures conference.

Today these discussions have been summarized in a report. Besides an evaluation of the international farmers’ café, the report defines key questions for the research on saline farming. So what do the North Sea Region farmers think about and expect from saline farming? We interviewed Jeroen De Waegemaeker (ILVO) organizer of the international farmers’ café and lead author of the report.


Who participated in the International Farmers’ Café on Salinization and Saline Farming?
A total of 32 practitioners came to the international farmers’ café in Leeuwarden. The participants came from four countries across the North Sea Region: Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. These participants represent a wide range of ‘saline stakeholders’, including farmers, agricultural advisors and consultants, policy workers, dike reeves, and employees of an NGO.

Why did SalFar organize this international farmers’ café?
The international farmers’ café had multiple objectives. Firstly, the event aimed to inform the farming community of the North Sea Region about saline farming via multiple workshops and an excursion to the SalFar test field on the island of Texel. Secondly, the international farmers’ café facilitated an exchange of experiences with salinization and knowledge on saline strategies across borders. Last but not least, the event created an opportunity for feedback from the farming community to the SalFar project, and all research on saline farming by extension.


What feedback did SalFar get from the farming community?
We asked the farmers which salt-tolerant crops must be developed for the North Sea Region. The discussions highlighted that there is an interest in a wide range of crops, from conventional to innovative. Hence, the concept of saline farming can’t be limited to the cultivation of halophytes such as Salicornia and Lambs’ Ear. What is more, there is much more enthusiasm amongst farmers for the cultivation of salt-tolerant grass, potato, wheat and barley varieties than for any other crop. This preference showcases that most farmers conceptualize saline farming as an incremental substitution of the current agricultural production by salt-tolerant cultivars rather than the cultivation of new, unknown crops.

Interesting! What other feedback did you get?
In addition, we moderated a series of open discussions in order to grasp the farmers’ perspective on salinization and saline farming. Through their daily work farmers acquire unique expertise. This ‘tacit knowledge’ is highly valuable and supplements the knowledge acquired through the SalFar project. Following the international farmers’ café, we summarized the open discussions into guidelines for research on saline farming. These guidelines can be found in our report on the event.

Can you highlight some key guidelines?
Of course! Firstly, farmers stress that there is little awareness about salinization, and the subsequent risks. Hence, a first guideline is the need for more research on salinization in the North Sea Region. Secondly, the farming community highlighted that research on saline agriculture mustn’t lose sight on the other characteristics of crops. Indeed, multiple crop parameters define a farmer’s choice, not just the crop’s salt-tolerance. Examples are the productivity and digestibility of a variety, the variety’s use to improve soil quality and the taste of a variety. Thirdly, the farmers often cited that the crops of passed times provide a useful gene pool for the development of saline crops for the future. As such, they advise researchers to look into the salt-tolerance of old varieties. Finally, the participants had big concerns about crop rotation. They stressed that crop rotation is essential in order to avoid overexploitation. Hence, the implementation of saline agriculture in the North Sea Region requires the development of ‘saline crop rotations’.