Plant Protection and Agroecology

We take a holistic approach to managing natural resources and we develop practical solutions for doing so.

Growing crops creates imbalances in agroecosystems. Sustainable crop protection involves preventive measures so that no major problems arise in the first place. This encompasses the entire field of agroecology. If measures are insufficient, it becomes necessary to intervene directly, but with minimum interference.

Expertise

Plant protection

Holistic plant protection, control methods and strategies with assessment of their sustainability, alternative control options

Ecology, biodiversity

Ecological functions of biodiversity in the agricultural landscape, biodiversity and production, organic farming

Resource-conserving food production

Resource-conserving and efficient farming systems, permaculture

Projects

Honey bees, wild bees and other pollinators do not find enough food in the summer. This "summer gap" can be filled or at least reduced with flower mixtures. Pollinator fitness and honey bee colony development improve as a result. In a collaborative project with the Bern Farmers’ Association, apisuisse, Inforama and SBV that ran from 2011 to 2014, we developed flower mixtures and tested them for emergence, soil coverage, flowering behaviour, and attractiveness to pollinators and beneficials. The Swiss Federal Council approved a mixture for biodiversity-promoting flower strips on 1 January 2015. On the basis of the findings from previous study years, we are optimising existing mixtures in terms of agronomic aspects and for the pollinators. In addition, we are developing new mixtures – with emphasis on perennial mixtures. Improving the perennials in terms of attractiveness and suitable habitat for wild bees is another goal.

In the “Resource-conserving arable farming” (Ressourcenschonender Ackerbau) exploratory project, we used funding from the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG to evaluate 30 legume species in terms of their soil nitrogen exploitation and nitrogen fixation potential. Our goals were to prevent nitrogen losses in agriculture in an efficient manner, to introduce nitrogen into the system in a targeted fashion by using legumes and to demonstrate the potential of green manure/catch crops. In the follow-up project, we are focusing on green manure mixtures for organic farms with little or no livestock. The specific emphasis is on soil coverage, weed suppression, nitrogen fixation, biomass production and influence on the successive crop. Biosuisse is sponsoring the project.

Species-rich natural meadows harbour many regionally indigenous plants. By using indigenous seed harvested from existing species-rich extensive meadows, it is hoped that the plants will be better adapted to the site conditions. This should improve the stability of the newly-created area. In addition, the meadows should retain their biological quality longer than new plantings with commercial seed that is not adapted to the site. In this cooperative project with the nature promotion division of the Canton of Bern (ANF), we are testing efficient and cost-effective approaches for harvesting seed. We will also monitor the quality of the newly-planted extensive meadows over the long term. Using combine harvesters on species-rich meadows has proven to be both feasible and economical, and the results of the upgraded meadows are promising. The project is being funded by the Sur-La-Croix Foundation.

In order to ensure good yields and quality, farmers apply plant protection products to their crops to control diseases, pests and weeds. But even if used correctly, these products can have undesired side effects on the environment. For example, they may harm non-target organisms such as beneficials, contaminate waterbodies or have undesired impacts in the soil. The contamination of surface waters has been a particularly hot topic recently and has led to harsh criticism of the use of plant protection products.

The project goals are:

  • To reduce the input of plant protection products into the environment, especially into surface waters and sewage treatment plants
  • To cut back on herbicide, insecticide and fungicide use
  • To retain the production potential of the farm
  • To make farmers aware of the negative environmental impacts of plant protection products

We are directing and coordinating the scientific support aspect of the project and we are carrying out the component projects “non-use of insecticides in rape”, “non-use of fungicides in cereals”, “non-use of herbicides” ourselves. We are also winding up the component project “acceptance of the measures by the farmers”.

Cotton is by far the most important raw material for textile use. However, the intensive cotton production currently practised is very stressful on the environment and necessitates long-distance transport. There is a growing demand for organically and regionally produced products on the part of consumers. The goal of this project is to re-establish natural fibre use as a holistic value chain for agriculture, industry and society in Switzerland. We are currently focusing on flax. We will also conduct studies with hemp and fibre nettles. The project gave rise to Swissflax GmbH, a corporation serving as a liaison between Swiss flax growers and the textile industry.

Numerous small local and regional breweries have come into being in recent years. The demand for regional malt has risen as a result. BFH-HAFL has been conducting cultivar and fertiliser studies in cooperation with farmers since 2010, with the aim of creating ideal framework conditions for uniform brewer’s barley and malt quality and developing a specific production strategy to recommend to the farmers. Brewer’s barley is now being grown successfully according to these guidelines on more than 35 hectares, and 40 smaller to medium-scale regional breweries are being supplied with malt. The Mittellandmalz interest group, which arose from this project, aims to build up brewer’s barley and malt production in Switzerland and to promote dialogue among agriculture, breweries and consumers.

Team