Cover crops provide many different ecosystem services, increasing soil carbon storage and mineral nutrient recycling while reducing runoff and water pollution by nitrate. Scientists Meyer et al. recently showed that cover crops also reduce water drainage. Drainage reduction may represent a disservice due to its impact on the groundwater recharge. This is an important issue, particularly in a dry climate with shallow groundwater.
A transition from dominant unsustainable corporate food systems supported by fossil fuels and agrochemicals, to alternative socially just food systems incorporating ecological principals is needed. Scientists Gaitán-Cremaschi et al. reviewed the literature of transitions in food systems and present a framework of how food systems are configured in terms of production systems, value chains and innovation support structures. This overview can inform policies to support certain desired sustainability transition pathways.
Worldwide crop production sustainability is threatened by weed resistance to herbicides. Scientists Mascanzoni et al. demonstrated in Italy that a high risk of resistance evolution is associated with traditional rice cultivation systems opting for monoculture, water-seeding, and less diversified herbicide strategies. They showed that dry seeding and crop rotation rate are negatively correlated with resistance occurrence.
Foreseen climate change is expected to impair grapevine natural processes, hence decreasing yield and grape quality. Scientists Bernardo et al. reviewed the effects of environmental stresses on viticulture in a Mediterranean-like climate and the available adaptation strategies for winegrowers and researchers. Rational and focused management can improve grapevine resilience to stresses. Defining clear production objectives appear crucial to develop sustainable viticulture.
Scientists Baraibar et al. showed that in the fall, early planting resulted in larger weed biomass in all cover crop types, but grasses and mixtures were more weed suppressive than legumes and brassicas. In the spring, cover crops with large biomass consistently limited weed growth. Their results may help farmers achieve multifunctional cover crops coping with production and conservation.
There is an urgent need to render food production more sustainable in both economic and environmental terms. Scientists Carrillo-Reche et al. reviewed the potential of so-called ‘on-farm’ seed priming, a low-cost low-risk technology for agricultural intensification in developing countries. They concluded that on average crop yields from ‘on farm’ primed seeds were 21 % higher than conventionally sown seeds, suggesting that the technique can be adopted by resource-poor farmers.
Grain legumes such as pea, faba bean and lupin produce high-quality protein for food and feed. However, they are only grown on 1.5% of European arable land due to the belief that their yield is highly variable. Scientists Reckling et al. show that grain legume yields are actually as stable as other spring crops when evaluated in long-term experiments and with an appropriate indicator. These novel findings could overcome the current negative perception of grain legume cultivation and stimulate initiatives to improve the crops agronomy.
Crop diversification is a major lever to increase the sustainability of arable farming systems by reducing agricultural inputs, increasing biodiversity and reducing the yield gap associated with frequent returns of the same species. Scientists Meynard et al. recently highlighted that crop diversification was hindered by a socio-technical lock-in favoring the dominant species (wheat, rapeseed, maize…). They proposed to public authorities and stakeholders various levers for crop diversification.
Recommendations for rice management are often inferred from agronomic diagnoses made on plots, neglecting farmers’ perceptions in the evaluation process. Farmers may consequently dismiss recommendations that do not account for their own perception of yield determination. Scientists Diawara et al. conducted participatory research in Mali to identify rice yield indicators that are relevant to farmers. They found that farmers had complex and interesting perception of rice yield determination, valuable to improve rice cultivation.
Scientists Allain et al., using a modeling platform, revealed that reducing water use does not necessarily improve downstream river flows nor decrease crop yields. Symmetrically, they showed that a new distribution of reservoirs can highly impact the water consumption and the agricultural economy without changing the water storage capacity. These are new reasons to argue that solving water imbalances is not only a matter of storing versus economizing water!