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.
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.
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.
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.
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.