Agronomy for Sustainable Development

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Stubble grazing sustains soil quality and carbon in wheat crop drylands

Stubble grazing is traditionally perceived as a practice that degrades soils. As potential consequence is the decrease of soil carbon, which is transferred to the atmosphere as CO2, a greenhouse gas. To check this assumption scientists Stavi et al. studied stubble grazing following wheat crops in drylands. They found that moderate stubble grazing does not degrade the soil and does not decrease the quantity of soil organic carbon.

 
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Smart fertilisers for fit rice and less water pollution by nitrates

Classical fertilisers have a low efficiency becasue only a minor part of the fertiliser reaches plant roots. As a consequence a major part of classical fertilisers escapes rapidly toward groundwater, thus polluting drinking water with nitrates. Research has therefore invented controlled-released fertilizers to feed the plant slowly in the long run. Controlled-released fertilizers include polymeric material – a kind of plastic – to slow down fertiliser feeding. In other words controlled-released fertilizers are comparable to pasta that provide energy slowly in the long run, whereas classical fertilisers are similar to sweets that provide high energy fast. Agronomists Wang et al. have evidenced improved nitrogen uptake and reduced nitrogen loss using a polymer-coated urea fertiliser to grow flooded rice in southeast China.

 
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A new tool to optimize fodder production under climate change

Milk and meat production highly depends on the availability of fodder, which is obtained by mowing grass in summer wet conditions. However, grass production is projected to decrease due to lower rainfall in the summer. The grassland surface is indeed already decreasing worldwide. In order to improve grassland management Dusseux et al. designed a new model named PaturMata to study grassland production under climate change.

 
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How to identify soil microbes of agricultural interest ?

Soil contains a huge number of very diverse living organisms such as worms, fungi and bacteria. Many of these organisms work for the benefit of agriculture by recycling organic water, cleaning pollution and transforming atmospheric dinitrogen gas into free fertilisers. So far soil organisms are underutilised because many organisms are not even identified, and their beneficial expertise is often unknown. Microbiologists Degrune et. al set up a new method that allows to distiguish microbial communities in soils cultivated with different cropping practices.

 
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Food is contaminated by nicotine from tobacco

The toxic alkaloid nicotine, a natural component of tobacco, has been detected in many food crops, medicinal plants and plant food such as spices and teas, thus threatening food security. So far the origin of such nicotine contamination was unknown. Plant scientists Selmar et al. studied the possible contamination of peppermint by soils enriched in nicotine from cigarette residues. They also checked whether peppermint could take up nicotine from cigarette smoke. They found that peppermint take up nicotine from soil and from smoke. The tobacco industry and users are therefore responsible, at least partly, by the wide contamination of many crops and food by nicotine.  Selmar et al. also explain that the passive incorporation and metabolisation of nicotine by peppermint is surprising and unprecedented with respect to current knowledge in allelopathy.

 
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New indicator for better N fertilisation in crop-livestock farms

Nitrogen (N) fertilisation is essential for crop and food production. However actual N fertilisation is not often very efficient and can induce pollution, e.g. by nitrates. There is therefore a need for indicators to compare farming systems. Scientists Godinot et al. developed a new indicator named ‘relative N efficiency’, which is specifically well suited to compare farming systems with different proportions of animals and crops.

 
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Smart tactics of weed management in organic farming using rotation and no-tillage

Organic producers in the United States would like to no-till, but are concerned about managing weeds without tillage.  Agronomist Randy Anderson shows that weeds can be controlled without tillage in experiments in the Great Plains of the USA. One favorable tactic is to include a 3-year interval of red clover in the rotation.  Red cover suppresses both annual and perennial weeds, and it can be converted to cropland by fall mowing in the 3rd year (Photo).  The complex rotation increases the impact of no-till on weed seed decay in soil and provide numerous opportunities for cover crops to replace tillage for controlling weeds.  These benefits suppress weed growth and interference such that organic producers may be able to continuously no-till in their farming systems.

 
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75% higher maize yield in maize-soybeans rotations using no till strip row farming

Industrial monoculture is often leading to the depletion of soil life and quality as a result of intensive tilling. New advanced techniques such as no-till and strip-till farming allow to restore soil fertility in the long run. No-till farming increases soil water, soil organic matter and decreases soil erosion. In strip till the farmer tills only the portion of the soil that will contain the seed row. Islam et al. studied no-till strip farming of maize-soybeans rotations. They observed a 75% increase of maize yield, amounting to 18.4 tons per hectare, after 5 year of cultivation.

 
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