Conventional oil palm agriculture relies heavily on chemical herbicides to control weeds in plantations. The overuse of chemical herbicides has adverse impacts on the environment and biodiversity. Scientists Tohiran et al. show for the first time that targeted cattle grazing can control weeds and improve avian biodiversity. The application of targeted grazing as a biological control method for weeds is in line with the expectations of greater sustainability sought by palm oil consumers and certification bodies.
Direct-seeding rice production is increasing due to declining farm labor forces and expanding water scarcity worldwide. In this production system, speed of germination, field emergence and crop yield depend prominently on rice seed vigor. Scientists Simma et al. showed that wood vinegar, a byproduct of wood burning, may be used as a sustainable alternative to chemicals for rice seed priming.
Maximizing crop production while improving soil carbon storage and nitrogen-use efficiency is a major challenge in the sustainable intensification of agro-ecosystems. Agronomists Castelli et. al. compared four arable systems and a no-till permanent meadow during a 30 year field experiment. All ecosystems caused clear trade-offs between services. Both the no-till permanent meadow and the most productive annual rotation lead to win-lose solutions. Farmers, however, may justify high fertilization practices if their management goal is to spare land for less intensive uses such as permanent meadow.
In a context of global change that increases uncertainty for agriculture, biodiversity-based techniques may reveal promising to enhance farming system resilience. Scientists Casagrande et al. tracked the use of such techniques in five regions of France. They observed that the level of diversification is related to farm characteristics. Farmers under organic farming apply a large number of biodiversity-based techniques, but surprisingly, this is not the case for farmers under conservation agriculture. Enhancing knowledge exchange through networks could favor the broader application of such techniques.
Crop rotations and residues fulfill important agronomic functions but they are inadequately considered in product carbon footprint calculations. Scientists Brankatschk and Finkbeiner recalculated carbon footprints for bread, milk, first-generation biodiesel and second-generation bioethanol and showed that crop rotations and residues influence the results and should be considered in the process. Without inclusion of crop rotation effects, environmental advantages of improvements in agricultural practices enabled by crop rotations will remain undetected.
Sustainable heat-based techniques and exploiting solar energy, are promoted worldwide for the eradication of plant pathogenic fungi, weeds and nematodes. Agronomists Castello et al. showed for the first time that soil solarization with innovative films can also be a sustainable option for growers, especially in the Mediterranean basin, to control effectively the natural infections caused by phytopathogenic bacteria on greenhouse tomatoes.
The conventional cultivation of globe artichoke triggers high nitrogen surpluses rendering this production poorly sustainable. Scientists Deligios et al. tested over ten years in Italy, the effect of crop residue incorporation into soil, the use of soil-building crops and crop rotations on artichoke cropping. Adopting biannual rotation with cauliflower together with the use of cover crop, maintained crop yield and promoted valuable nutrient recycling. Shifting from traditional to alternative artichoke cropping system prevented head disorders, yield losses and avoided environmental problems.
Vegetable production in sub-Saharan Africa faces numerous agronomic constraints that must be overcome to feed the increasing population and to fight malnutrition. Scientists Nordey et al. reviewed low-tech protected cultivation techniques using soil and/or plant covers, affordable to smallholders. They reckon that such techniques are promising. However, they are not always suitable and need to be combined with other methods to ensure adequate pest control. Their profitability is dependent upon market requirements and product prices.
Weedy rice has become one of the most common weeds infesting rice fields in the world. Agronomists Nadir et al. review the biological features of this weed and explore ways for its sustainable management and utilization. Weedy rice has several traits potentially useful for breeders, such as tolerance to drought, cold, salinity and many diseases. Exploiting the weedy germplasm natural variation gives hopes of improving the rice crop.
Adoption of conservation agriculture in Cambodian smallholder commercial household farms, is a profitable conversion. Scientists Edralin et al. demonstrate that minimum soil disturbance, continuous mulch and cultivation of diverse crop species in space and time improve yield and reduce labor costs. They also show that cover crops and surface mulch significantly reduce manual weeding in all cropping seasons.