Preserving remnants of the forest in agricultural landscapes supports biodiversity conservation and the provision of agriculturally-relevant ecosystem services such as pollination or biological control. In Brazil, scientists Medeiros et al. recently found that forests in the surrounding landscape reduce the occurrence of a widespread economic pest in sun-coffee monocultures by enhancing natural enemy diversity. Remnants of the forest maintain a permanent reservoir of natural enemies and therefore, these habitats should be protected.
In the context of the agroecological restoration, exploiting soil biodiversity is the top priority for reducing crop dependence on chemical inputs. Focusing on mycorrhizae, scientists Chave et al. elaborated a methodological framework for designing efficient agrosystems. This method reveals various constraints and levers. It fosters local innovation and develops both systemic reasoning and collective actions. Such a global approach allows farmers to understand that all of them are potential “mycorrhizae producers”.
Planting more trees in the landscape is a spreading strategy to provide multiple ecosystem services in human-dominated environments. Scientists Kuyah et al. recently found in sub-Saharan Africa that agroforestry practices increase provisioning services such as crop yield while maintaining the delivery of regulating and maintenance services such as soil fertility, erosion or water regulation. They reckoned that selecting appropriate agroforestry practices and a suitable management of tree canopies can minimize trade-offs resulting from competition and shading.
Pennycress is underused in agriculture, despite multiple agronomic benefits as a winter annual and a potential to produce an oilseed feedstock for industrial uses. Scientists Cubins et al. recently reviewed the promise shown by this plant for successful integration on agricultural land in the Upper Midwest. They reckoned, however, that information regarding basic management practices, such as seeding rate, row spacing, and nutrient requirements is lacking. Henceforth, further breeding efforts are needed to develop commercially viable varieties.
The use of mulch-based no-tillage is limited in organic cropping systems despite its benefit to soil quality and savings in both labor and fuel. Scientists Vincent-Caboud et al. recently reviewed the production issues of this technique in organic agriculture. They showed that the main problems were cover crop establishment and termination, nutrient management and adequate seed-to-soil contact when planting into thick mulch. More research is needed on cover crops and on developing adequate equipment with farmers’ constraints.
The sustainability of genetic improvement programs in developing countries depends on breeders’ participation. Scientists Camara et al. evaluated the motivations of breeders and the factors influencing their participation in the N’Dama cattle-breeding program in Senegal. They found that social, family and institutional relationships are factors as important -as distance or production systems features.
Biochar is a technology proposed to mitigate climate change, improve soil fertility, energy production, and organic waste treatment. Scientists Müller et al. showed how a place-based assessment and a local knowledge analysis allow designing sustainable biochar systems in South India. Combined with agronomical and biogeochemical evaluations of the biochar effect on soil, this new approach will improve biochar development in tropical regions and beyond.
Herbicides jeopardize the sustainability of agriculture. Unfortunately, no alternative weed management tool can level with their efficacy. Based on 17-years of observations, Scientists Adeux et al. showed that diversified crop rotation allowed low herbicide use, long-term weed management, and high productivity in grain-based cropping.
Weeds represent one of the most important pests in agroecosystems. Recently, scientists Scavo et al. found that globe artichoke, cultivated and wild cardoon significantly reduced the number of seeds in the soil thanks to their allelopathic activity. They also observed a positive effect on some bacteria involved in the soil N-cycle. The introduction of these species in Mediterranean crop rotations could hence decrease the utilization of synthetic herbicides.
Comparing five highly efficient and contrasted sheep farming systems across France and Ireland, scientists Benoit et al. showed that optimization of fodder self-sufficiency strategy led to the best economic and environmental performances, while also reducing feed/food competition. However, these systems do not fully fit with the meat industry demand for a regular lamb-meat supply throughout the year and lamb conformation.