Research project Crop diversification in forage production in livestock: focus on forage sorghum and mixed crop silage maize-climbing bean


Crop diversification for forage production on animal farms: focus on forage sorgho and mixed cropping of silage maize-climbing beans

maize beans

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General introduction

The aim of the project Farmers’ Benefits is to diversify crops used as forage in livestock farming. By diversification of cultivated crops, the often narrow crop rotation of silage maize and grass or the monoculture of maize on certain fields can be expanded. ILVO explores two alternatives: forage sorghum and mixed cropping of silage maize with climbing beans. Special attention will be given to soil quality, nitrogen cycle, forage yield and forage composition.

Research approach

We set up trials on our experimental farm as well as in collaboration with farmers. The cultivation of forage sorghum and silage maize – climbing beans requires adapted fertilization and soil management strategies. The impact on soil quality and nitrogen cycle is followed up by analyzing soil and plant material and by using drones. Feed management is examined as well: farmers feeding these new crops receive expert guidance as these roughages may require some adjustments.


By diversifying the crops, the dairy farmer obtains a risk spread in the supply of roughage and adds many benefits in terms of soil quality and nitrogen management. The research is also climate adaptive: compared to corn, fodder sorghum needs less water to produce the same amount of biomass. In dry years, therefore, fodder sorghum can contribute to sufficient forage production, especially on drought-prone plots. This project is funded by the 'EU blue deal' investments (VLAIO).

The mixed crop silage corn-climbing bean can rely on the nitrogen fixation of the climbing beans, which reduces the need for fertilization. In addition, the harvested product will have a higher protein content, which may mean that less protein-rich supplementary feed (such as soybean meal) will need to be purchased.