New participatory research on soil health in the Homokhátság (Sand Ridge, Central Hungary)
A new collaborative research project focusing on soil health in the Homokhátság (Sand Ridge) region was launched in form of a workshop on September 21st at Kujáni Farm in Kecskemét. This workshop served as the basis for ÖMKi’s new Living Laboratory as part of the Climate Farm Demo project, where ÖMKi researchers teamed up with local farmers, advisory services, NGOs, and other stakeholders. The purpose of the workshop was to co-create and collectively define the direction and key areas for future soil health research based on the stakeholders’ interests and needs. The ultimate goal is to establish a national research project in the Homokhátság, utilizing the Living Lab methodology, to develop specialized technologies and practices for soil conservation in the region.
The event, supported by the Climate Farm Demo project, began with informative presentations. Initially, Csillag Bittermann, a researcher from ÖMKi's Agricultural Policy Research Group, introduced the EU project, its objectives, and the role of the institute. Subsequently, Judit Berényi Üveges, a Senior Researcher in the Arable Farming Research Group at ÖMKi, explained the functioning and benefits of participatory research, paving the way for a co-creationworkshop involving local farmers.
The Homokhátság region is now officially labelled as a semi-desert and farmers are facing various challenges, primarily concerning water management and conservation due to heavily droughts as well as other negative effects of climate change. To effectively tackle these issues and positively impact farmers' livelihoods, it is imperative to engage in discussions and conduct on-farm trials in collaboration with local farmers and other stakeholders in the region. These on-farm experiments will yield insights and expertise over the next few years, benefiting not only farmers in the Homokhátság region but also those in other European areas grappling with similar difficulties.
Throughout the workshop, farmers and other stakeholders identified several critical areas where experiments could yield promising results in the future. A primary objective is the development of soil management practices that are adaptable to the local conditions of farming in sandy soil. This includes a strong focus on water conservation and soil retention through techniques like shallow or no-tillage, reduced tillage, and the cultivation of drought-resistant alternative crops. The community also aims to maintain soil cover for as long as possible using intercropping and cover crops suited to conditions in the Homokhátság while also taking into account the economic factors. Additionally, there's a focus on developing technologies to minimize soil disruption, with a potential improvement in machinery for small farms. Furthermore, there's a need to explore the impact of water retention on arable crops, which may necessitate closer collaboration with concerned authorities, a facet yet to be fully explored.
The workshop concluded with the formulation of a one-year action plan to initiate technology development trials. Experiments on arable crop production will be conducted at five farms in the Homokhátság, and there is also interest in experimenting with intercropping in orchards. The first year will be dedicated to learning how farmers, who have not conducted such experiments yet, can seamlessly integrate this new task into their daily practices. In alignment with the overarching objectives of the Climate Farm Demo project, the research outcomes are expected to contribute to better adaptation to climate change in the region.