Making peatland use more sustainable

Peat meadows are important, both as an economic basis for dairy farming and as meadow bird areas. However, growing a grass crop requires peatlands to be drained. Such drainage causes the peat to degrade and subside, which subsequently results in greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient emissions to water and pressure on biodiversity. Rewetting is seen as an important solution, but also puts pressure on the economic perspectives of current land use. The Louis Bolk Institute carries out both detailed and systems research on peatlands, with an eye to making peatland use more sustainable.

Peat formation

The wetland forests and peat marshes of the past have become a unique Dutch cultural landscape: the peat meadows. Peat is really nothing more than organic matter consisting of tree and plant residues that have been accumulating over thousands of years into dense layers that can often be several metres thick. Drainage introduces oxygen into this package of layers, which causes the peat to decompose, in turn resulting in more organic matter being broken down than is brought in by grass cultivation.

Peat soil and high groundwater level

The themes we work on are therefore directly or indirectly focused on the soil. For example, we are studying the introduction of clay in peat, herbs in grassland, grazing, biodiversity and meadow birds, circular agriculture, water quality and systems research of agriculture with increased groundwater levels. Examples of studies that we are working on, are how the formation of a clay-humus complex could slow down the decomposition of organic matter, what plantain could do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands, what the relationship is between land use and meadow birds, and what the potential is of wet crops such as reed, cattail and grass in locations where groundwater levels are increased. In addition, we are doing research into the significance and perspective of dairy farming under conditions of increased groundwater levels.

Wide-ranging expertise 

At the Louis Bolk Institute, we work both for and together with farmers, the business community, knowledge institutes, water boards, national government, local and regional authorities and other stakeholders and organisations active in peatland areas. We have a team with wide-ranging expertise in the fields of grassland and plant cultivation, soil and organic matter, biodiversity, animal husbandry, nutrient cycles and economics, which means that we can study issues from both an overall and a detailed perspective.

Example projects and scientific output

The Louis Bolk Institute is participating in a large number of projects, some of which are described below.

Krimpenerwaard experiment: resilient agribusiness on peatland

In the Krimpenerwaard experiment (Trots op de Krimpenerwaard), dairy farmers, LBI researchers, consultants and others are working together on a lasting role for agriculture on peatland. This means observing and following the natural resilience of both soil, crops and animals — and investigating what is effective and what is not, as well as the reasons why this is so. We call this adaptive agriculture. See here for more information.

Farming at increased groundwater levels

This pathway focuses on questions such as: 'Can farming be successful in locations with increased groundwater levels?' and 'What does an increased groundwater level mean for soil, crops and cows?' At such a farm in Zegveld (the Hoogwaterboerderij), we are exploring the possibilities — the things that are either effective or ineffective. In this project, knowledge, technology and innovation are applied in a collaboration of researchers, farmers, water boards and government authorities.  See here for more information. See here for more information.

Meadow benefits

Meadow benefits (Weidewinst) is an initiative by various parties committed to increasing biodiversity and conserving meadow birds in the Dutch Province of South Holland. To this end, the Louis Bolk Institute is contributing knowledge, experience, and practical and fundamental scientific research. This input is subsequently translated into practical tips and measures for dairy farmers to implement on their farms. All this in close collaboration with the farmers themselves, which is why the field research is done on their farms and why the measures are developed in close consultation with them. The experiences of farmers are taken into account when tips and measures are formulated or adjusted. It is a partnership with VIC Zegveld, PPP-Agro Advies and Van Hall Larenstein.  See here for more information.

Peat, feed and more... 

Peat, feed and more is a project to investigate the possibilities of the cultivation of ‘wet crops’, such as cattail, reed and wild rice, in peat meadow areas. In certain parts of these areas, groundwater levels have been or will be raised. A higher groundwater level may prevent soil subsidence and peat losses. In addition, this measure is applied so as to store and purify water, increase nature values and reduce CO2 emissions. Dairy farming is the current land use in the peat meadow areas. From the point of view of dairy farmers, deliberate raising of the water table will put pressure on their operational management and, therefore, also on their farm’s revenues. See here for more information..

Scientific publication resulting from this project:  

Herbaceous dairy grassland with plantain for environmental quality  

This is a project that studies the impact of plantain within a grass-herbaceous mixture in terms of reducing nitrate leaching, nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions and, thus, ultimately achieving a higher N-utilisation at both soil and farm level. The project is conducted in collaboration with KTC Zegveld, with financial support from the Dutch dairy organisation ZuivelNL. See here for more information. See here for more information..

Peat meadow experiment

The Peat Meadow Experiment — now completed — was an innovative programme in which dairy farmers, researchers and consultants worked together to create development opportunities in the peat meadow area. The experiment was an initiative by a branch of the Dutch Federation of Agriculture and Horticulture (LTO Noord) and the peat meadows innovation centre Zegveld (Veenweiden Innovatie Centrum Zegveld), financially supported by the Province of South Holland, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the dairy cattle fund (Melkveefonds) and the innovation fund of LTO Noord (LTO Noord Innovatiefonds). It was a three-year programme implemented by LTO Noord, Wageningen University & Research, VIC Zegveld, PPP-Agro Advies and the Louis Bolk Institute. See here for more information.

Scientific publications resulting from this project:

Scientific publications other projects