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!
Future food systems will be shaped by policymakers and stakeholders through decisions taken at different levels. Scientists Karlsson et al. used a participatory approach, where researchers in agronomy, animal science, nutrition, and systems analysis and stakeholders worked together in an iterative manner, to develop a future food vision for the Nordic countries Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. They reckon that in the future, organic farming and limited livestock production will provide food for a large population while reducing environmental impacts.
Work organization is a central element to be taken into account when considering the future of livestock farms in a context of increasing uncertainties (market and climate). Scientists Cournut et al. presented the Work Assessment Method, a framework able to capture work organization, taking into account the specifics of the livestock activity.
Shortage of arable land creates unprecedented challenges to produce enough food to satisfy the increased food demands. Scientists Xie et al. show that the desert-like, non-arable land can be developed by building ‘clusters’ of solar-energy greenhouses in which land productivity is higher and crop water use efficiency greater than in traditional open-field, irrigated cultivation systems. Although many challenges remain to be addressed, this innovative system has potential for areas with available barren land.
Soil degradation in semi-arid West Africa can be reversed by intensive organic matter applications, in particular from woody perennials. Scientists Felix et al. recently reviewed the effects of agroforestry and wood amendments on soil properties and crop yields in semi-arid West Africa. They reckon that the presence of shrubs and trees on agricultural fields has overall positive but variable effects on soil carbon stocks and cereal yields.
The expansion of rubber cultivation into drought-prone areas of Northeast Thailand, calls for innovative management to increase drought resistance in young trees. Scientists Clermont-Dauphin et al. examined how intercrops affect the young tree root traits and resource availability for tree growth and survival. They found that intercrops improved drought resistance in young rubber trees.
Weedy rice is one of the worst weeds worldwide, capable of severely decreasing yield in rice fields. Scientists Gao et al. recently showed that combine harvesters are major agents of weedy rice seed dispersal within fields and across rice-growing areas. They recommend that fields severely infested with weedy rice should be harvested separately in order to avoid accumulation of weed seeds in the combine harvester and their subsequent dispersal.