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.
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.