Discrepancies between sheep farm strategy and meat industry demands

Picture copyright Benoit et al.

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.

Intercropping maize with legumes improves biological control of arthropod pests

Picture copyright C. Nicolas, Inra

Inter-cropping non-Bt-maize with legume crops increases the role of predatory arthropods in naturally regulating herbivorous arthropod pests. Scientists Nickson Otieno et al. recently observed stronger predator-herbivore interactions within maize intercropped than in monoculture fields, both in organic and conventional farming systems. The results are useful in prescribing field practices for sustainable small-scale agriculture from sub-Saharan Africa.

Diversifying crop rotation improves agroecosystem robustness

Picture copyright Li et al.

Coordinating the activity of key agronomy practices can enhance agroecosystem robustness. Scientists Li et al. recently found that including N2-fixing legume crops in the rotation improved resistance to stresses, causing agricultural systems to become more resilient and constant in productivity across rotation cycles. This enhanced robustness led to average increases in crop yield and farm net financial return of 5-8% and 12-23%, respectively.

Could homemade plant-based pesticides be an alternative to conventional pesticides?

Picture copyright Basudev Mahapatra

Smallholder farmers in low-income countries often use plant extracts (‘botanicals’) to prepare homemade pesticides. This practice has remained controversial due to a perceived lack of evidence that such home remedies are effective and safe. Scientists Dougoud et al. reviewed commonly used botanicals and found evidence that they can reduce pests and crop damage. However, results are highly variable, depending on how the homemade pesticides are prepared and used.

Agrophotovoltaic systems for integrated food and renewable energy production

Picture copyright BayWa r.e.

The expansion of renewable energies aims at meeting the global energy demand while replacing fossil fuels. However, it requires large areas of land, leading to competition for limited land resources. Agrophotovoltaic systems can spare land resources by combining food and solar energy productions. Scientists Weselek et al. recently reviewed that such synergetic combination might increase overall land productivity by up to 70%. They concluded that agrophotovoltaic systems can be a valuable technical approach for more sustainable agriculture.

Vermicomposting to improve waste management and increase yields

Picture copyright Compostador, Wikimedia

Vermicomposting is a process whereby earthworms transform organic residues into compost used as a growing substrate for plants. Scientists Blouin et al. recently showed that on average, vermicompost increased by 26% the commercial yield of cultivated plants. Cattle manure appeared the best original material, and the effect of vermicompost was stronger when no fertilizer was added.

A new approach of crop nutrition and fertilization for sustainable agriculture

Picture copyright Vidal, Inra

Sustainable nutrient management requires timely diagnostic of crop nutrition status to support yield while avoiding over- and under-fertilization and their associated environmental impacts. Lemaire et al. reviewed the concept of N, P, and K accumulation in proportion to crop growth and their allocation within plants and canopies. They show their potential usage to diagnose crop nutrition status, to analyze genotype-environment-management interactions driving crop yield and to phenotype crops.

Sustainable intensification may increase labor demand for smallholder farmers

Picture copyright Dahlin and Rusinamhodzi

Sustainable intensification of agricultural production is needed to ensure increased productivity but for farmers, this may alter the yield-to-labor ratio. Scientists Dahlin and Rusinamhodzi recently reviewed the relationship between maize grain yield change and labor input for a range of practices proposed for sustainable intensification of smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa. They show that the examined options may increase both crop yield and labor demand for smallholder farmers.

Using insects to manage pre-consumer organic wastes

Picture copyright Fowles and Nansen

Insects can be useful allies to sustainably manage organic wastes. They constitute also alternative sources of proteins and fats for humans. Scientists Fowles and Nansen recently reviewed the potential for using insects to convert wastes into value-added materials. After describing the “ideal insect bioconverter”, they conclude that targeted breeding of insects and their gut microbes is necessary to convert specific waste streams. More research is needed to explore the existing insect diversity and to identify new bioconverter species.

Forage crops for sustainable intensification of livestock production

Picture copyright Philp et al.

Sustainably intensifying smallholder farming systems on sandy soils is critical to the development of livelihoods in the Mekong region of Cambodia and Laos. Scientists Philp et al. recently reckoned that forages could intensify livestock production in rainfed lowland rice farming systems. Varieties must be adapted to both flooding and drought. Furthermore, soil acidity, low soil fertility, drought and the continual removal of nutrients in harvested forage must be carefully managed.