Sep 2021, Volume 8 Issue 3

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  • Crop diversity is one of the important pathways for sustainable agricultural development and can be achieved by simultaneously growing a range of crop species or other plant species on farmland. Crop diversity can be improved by farmers locally through intercropping, crop rotations and cover crops, as well as by increasing plant diversity in non-crop habitats through tree lines, agroforestry, grasslands and flower strips. Crop diversity enhances agroecosystem functioning via [Detail] ...

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    Long LI, Wopke VAN DER WERF, Fusuo ZHANG
    Wen-Feng CONG, Chaochun ZHANG, Chunjie LI, Guangzhou WANG, Fusuo ZHANG

    •Agricultural green transformation of China requires restructuring of cropping systems.

    •Ecosystem services enhanced by crop diversification is key to sustainable agriculture.

    •Crop diversification improve ecosystem services at field, farm and landscape scales.

    •Cropping system design should meet regional characteristics and socio-economic demand.

    Intensive agriculture in China over recent decades has successfully realized food security but at the expense of negative environmental impacts. Achieving green transformation of agriculture in China requires fundamental restructuring of cropping systems. This paper presents a theoretical framework of theory, approaches and implementation of crop diversification schemes in China. Initially, crop diversification schemes require identifying multiple objectives by simultaneously considering natural resources, limiting factors/constraints, and social and economic demands of different stakeholders. Then, it is necessary to optimize existing and/or design novel cropping systems based upon farming practices and ecological principles, and to strengthen targeted ecosystem services to achieve the identified objectives. Next, the resulting diversified cropping systems need to be evaluated and examined by employing experimental and modeling approaches. Finally, a strategic plan, as presented in this paper, is needed for implementing an optimized crop diversification in China based upon regional characteristics with the concurrent objectives of safe, nutritious food production and environmental protection. The North China Plain is used as an example to illustrate the strategic plan to optimize and design diversified cropping systems. The implementation of crop diversification in China will set an example for other countries undergoing agricultural transition, and contribute to global sustainable development.

    Hao YANG, Weiping ZHANG, Long LI

    • Intercropping is a useful practice when agricultural sustainability is emphasized.

    • We integrate biodiversity-ecosystem functioning and intercropping.

    • Intercropping optimizes ecosystem services such as stabilizing yield and reducing use of chemicals.

    • Intercropping benefits are attributed partly to complementarity and selection effects.

    • Application of ecological principles is key to sustainable agricultural development.

    Intercropping is a traditional farming system that increases crop diversity to strengthen agroecosystem functions while decreasing chemical inputs and minimizing negative environmental effects of crop production. Intercropping is currently considerable interest because of its importance in sustainable agriculture. Here, we synthesize the factors that make intercropping a sustainable means of food production by integrating biodiversity of natural ecosystems and crop diversity. In addition to well-known yield increases, intercropping can also increase yield stability over the long term and increase systemic resistance to plant diseases, pests and other unfavorable factors (e.g. nutrient deficiencies). The efficient use of resources can save mineral fertilizer inputs, reduce environmental pollution risks and greenhouse gas emissions caused by agriculture, thus mitigating global climate change. Intercropping potentially increases above- and below-ground biodiversity of various taxa at field scale, consequently it enhances ecosystem services. Complementarity and selection effects allow a better understanding the mechanisms behind enhanced ecosystem functioning. The development of mechanization is essential for large-scale application of intercropping. Agroecosystem multifunctionality and soil health should be priority topics in future research on intercropping.

    Eric JUSTES, Laurent BEDOUSSAC, Christos DORDAS, Ela FRAK, Gaetan LOUARN, Simon BOUDSOCQ, Etienne-Pascal JOURNET, Anastasios LITHOURGIDIS, Chrysanthi PANKOU, Chaochun ZHANG, Georg CARLSSON, Erik Steen JENSEN, Christine WATSON, Long LI

    ● The 4C approach considers intercropping performances as the result of joint 4C effects.

    ● Partial land equivalent ratios indicate which effect(s) are the major one(s).

    ● A major effect of complementarity is related to a better capture of abiotic resources.

    Modern agriculture needs to develop transition pathways toward agroecological, resilient and sustainable farming systems. One key pathway for such agroecological intensification is the diversification of cropping systems using intercropping and notably cereal-grain legume mixtures. Such mixtures or intercrops have the potential to increase and stabilize yields and improve cereal grain protein concentration in comparison to sole crops. Species mixtures are complex and the 4C approach is both a pedagogical and scientific way to represent the combination of four joint effects of Competition, Complementarity, Cooperation, and Compensation as processes or effects occurring simultaneously and dynamically between species over the whole cropping cycle. Competition is when plants have fairly similar requirements for abiotic resources in space and time, the result of all processes that occur when one species has a greater ability to use limiting resources (e.g., nutrients, water, space, light) than others. Complementarity is when plants grown together have different requirements for abiotic resources in space, time or form. Cooperation is when the modification of the environment by one species is beneficial to the other(s). Compensation is when the failure of one species is compensated by the other(s) because they differ in their sensitivity to abiotic stress. The 4C approach allows to assess the performance of arable intercropping versus classical sole cropping through understanding the use of abiotic resources.

    Odette Denise WEEDON, Maria Renate FINCKH

    • Agronomic performance of wheat populations comparable to modern cultivars.

    • Performance of populations depends on parental cultivar selection.

    • Agronomic advantage of populations under particular environmental stresses.

    • Heterogeneous populations better suited to low-input conditions.

    Since the F5 (2005), three winter wheat composite cross populations (CCPs) based on germplasm specifically suitable for low-input conditions were subjected to natural selection under organic and conventional management. In the F6, each CCP was divided into two parallel populations (12 CCPs in total) and maintained continuously until 2018. Commonly used modern cultivars with different disease susceptibilities were grown alongside to assess the agronomic performance of the CCPs. The organically managed CCPs were comparable in yield and foliar disease resistance to two continuously used reference cultivars, Achat and Capo. In contrast, under conventional management the cv. Capo outyielded the CCPs (Achat was not tested), highlighting the importance of parental cultivar choice for specific management systems. The CCPs were found to be moderately resistant to brown rust and even to the newly emerged stripe rust races prevalent in Europe since 2011. Differences between the CCPs were mainly due to parental genetic background and were significant in the first five generations, but were no longer so in the last five generations. In addition, these differences tended to vary depending on the experimental year and the environmental stresses present. In conclusion, the CCPs despite being derived from older cultivars are able to compete with more recently released reference cultivars under organic farming practices and represent a dynamic germplasm resource.


    ● A framework for multicrop advantage under varying watering conditions is provided.

    ● This framework clarifies the relation between multicrop overyielding and land use efficiency.

    ● A novel experimental setup was used to evaluate these theoretical developments.

    ● Theory and experiment conveyed precise understanding of overyielding scenarios.

    Absolute yield and land use efficiency can be higher in multicrops. Though this phenomenon is common, it is not always the case. Also, these two benefits are frequently confused and do not necessarily occur together. Cropping choices become more complex when considering that multicrops are subject to strong spatial and temporal variation in average soil moisture, which will worsen with climate change. Intercropping in agroecosystems is expected to buffer this impact by favoring resistance to reduced humidity, but there are few empirical/experimental studies to validate this claim. It is not clear if relatively higher multicrop yield and land use efficiency will persist in the face of reduced soil moisture, and how the relation between these benefits might change. Here, we present a relatively simple framework for analyzing this situation. We propose a relative multicrop resistance (RMR) index that captures all possible scenarios of absolute and relative multicrop overyield under water stress. We dissect the ecological components of RMR to understand the relation between higher multicrop yield and land use efficiency and the ecological causes of different overyield scenarios. We demonstrate the use of this framework with data from a 128 microplot greenhouse experiment with small annual crops, arranged as seven-species multicrops and their corresponding monocrops, all under two contrasting watering regimes. We applied simple but robust statistical procedures to resulting data (based on bootstrap methods) to compare RMR, and its components, between different plants/plant parts. We also provide simple graphical tools to analyze the data.

    Qi WANG, Zhanxiang SUN, Wei BAI, Dongsheng ZHANG, Yue ZHANG, Ruonan WANG, Wopke VAN DER WERF, Jochem B. EVERS, Tjeerd-Jan STOMPH, Jianping GUO, Lizhen ZHANG

    • Intercropping intercepted more light than sole peanut but less than sole maize.

    • Maize light use efficiency (LUE) increased with plant density in the intercropping.

    • Intercropping did not affect LUE of maize but increased peanut LUE.

    Intercropping increases crop yields by optimizing light interception and/or use efficiency. Although intercropping combinations and metrics have been reported, the effects of plant density on light use are not well documented. Here, we examined the light interception and use efficiency in maize-peanut intercropping with different maize plant densities in two row configurations in semiarid dryland agriculture over a two-year period. The field experiment comprised four cropping systems, i.e. monocropped maize, monocropped peanut, maize-peanut intercropping with two rows of maize and four rows of peanut, intercropping with four rows of maize and four rows of peanut, and three maize plant densities (3.0, 4.5 and 6.0 plants m−1 row) in both monocropped and intercropping maize. The mean total light interception in intercropping across years and densities was 779 MJ·m−2, 5.5% higher than in monocropped peanut (737 MJ·m−2) and 7.6% lower than in monocropped maize (843 MJ·m−2). Increasing maize density increased light interception in monocropped maize but did not affect the total light interception in the intercrops. Across years the LUE of maize was 2.9 g·MJ−1 and was not affected by cropping system but increased with maize plant density. The LUE of peanut was enhanced in intercropping, especially in a wetter year. The yield advantage of maize-peanut intercropping resulted mainly from the LUE of peanut. These results will help to optimize agronomic management and system design and provide evidence for system level light use efficiency in intercropping.

    Yuxin YANG, He ZHANG, Yuting FANG, Ying LI, Xinyue MEI, Huichuan HUANG, Fei DU, Shusheng ZHU, Min YANG, Yixiang LIU

    • The roots of non-host plant interfere infection of Phytophthora nicotianae.

    • Vanillin and other compounds play key roles in antimicrobial activity of fennel roots.

    • ROS accumulation is the potentially mechanism involved in inhibition of antimicrobial compounds on P. nicotianae.

    Crop rotations are widely used because they can significantly reduce the incidence of pests and diseases. The interactions between non-host roots and pathogens may be key in the inhibition of soilborne pathogens in crop rotations. Interactions between fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) roots/root exudates and Phytophthora nicotianae were investigated because of the known allelopathy between fennel and tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum). The effects of the key compounds in the fennel rhizosphere on the mycelial growth and zoospore behavior of P. nicotianae were assessed. The roots of fennel attracted P. nicotianae zoospores and inhibited their motility and the germination of cystospores, with some cystospores rupturing. 4-ethylacetophenone, vanillin and N-formylpiperidine were consistently identified in the fennel rhizosphere and were found to interfere with the infection of P. nicotianae, especially vanillin. Hyphae treated with these compounds produced more abnormal branches and accumulated reactive oxygen species. These interspecific interactions between non-host roots and pathogens were found to be an important factor in the inhibition by fennel of infection by P. nicotianae.

    Henrik HAUGGAARD-NIELSEN, Søren LUND, Ane K. AARE, Christine A. WATSON, Laurent BEDOUSSAC, Jean-Noël AUBERTOT, Iman R. CHONGTHAM, Natalia BELLOSTAS, Cairistiona F. E. TOPP, Pierre HOHMANN, Erik S. JENSEN, Maureen STADEL, Bertrand PINEL, Eric JUSTES

    ● Challenges in reconciling multi disciplinarity with clear expressions of single disciplinary concerns.

    ● Participant involvement was created bridging the gap between academia and practice.

    ● Collaboration potentials with actor networks to co-produce shared visions were recognized.

    ● A common language was developed concerning unfounded perceptions of barriers for change.

    ● The workshop was effective for producing a shared picture of research needs.

    The EIP-Agri multiactor approach was exemplified during a 3-day workshop with 63 project participants from the EU H2020 funded project “Redesigning European cropping systems based on species MIXtures”. The objective was to share firsthand experience of participatory research among researchers who were mostly not familiar with this approach. Workshop participants were divided into smaller multidisciplinary groups and given the opportunity to interact with representatives from eight actor positions in the value chain of the agrifood cooperative Terrena located in Western France. The four stages of the workshop were: (1) key actor interviews, (2) sharing proposed solutions for overcoming barriers, and (3) developing possible interdisciplinary concepts. Expressions of frustration were recorded serving both as a motivation for group members to become more aware of the scientific concerns and practices of their colleagues, as well as a recognition that some researchers have better skills integrating qualitative approaches than others. Nevertheless, the workshop format was an effective way to gain a common understanding of the pertinent issues that need to be addressed to meet overall multiactor-approach objectives. Working with the actor networks was identified and emphasized as a means to overcome existing barriers between academia and practice in order to coproduce a shared vision of the benefits of species mixture benefits.

    Antoine MESSÉAN, Loïc VIGUIER, Lise PARESYS, Jean-Noël AUBERTOT, Stefano CANALI, Pietro IANNETTA, Eric JUSTES, Alison KARLEY, Beatrix KEILLOR, Laura KEMPER, Frédéric MUEL, Barbara PANCINO, Didier STILMANT, Christine WATSON, Helga WILLER, Raúl ZORNOZA

    • Crop diversification is a dynamic pathway towards sustainable agrifood systems.

    • Technological and institutional barriers restrict uptake of crop diversification.

    • More coordination and cooperation among agrifood system stakeholders is required.

    • The European Crop Diversification Cluster calls for multiactor networks.

    European cropping systems are often characterized by short rotations or even monocropping, leading to environmental issues such as soil degradation, water eutrophication, and air pollution including greenhouse gas emissions, that contribute to climate change and biodiversity loss. The use of diversification practices (i.e., intercropping, multiple cropping including cover cropping and rotation extension), may help enhance agrobiodiversity and deliver ecosystem services while developing new value chains. Despite its benefits, crop diversification is hindered by various technical, organizational, and institutional barriers along value chains (input industries, farms, trading and processing industries, retailers, and consumers) and within sociotechnical systems (policy, research, education, regulation and advisory). Six EU-funded research projects have joined forces to boost crop diversification by creating the European Crop Diversification Cluster (CDC). This Cluster aggregates research, innovation, commercial and citizen-focused partnerships to identify and remove barriers across the agrifood system and thus enables the uptake of diversification measures by all European value-chain stakeholders. The CDC will produce a typology of barriers, develop tools to accompany actors in their transition, harmonize the use of multicriteria assessment indicators, prepare policy recommendations and pave the way for a long-term network on crop diversification.

    Wopke VAN DER WERF, Lizhen ZHANG, Chunjie LI, Ping CHEN, Chen FENG, Zhan XU, Chaochun ZHANG, Chunfeng GU, Lammert BASTIAANS, David MAKOWSKI, TjeerdJan STOMPH

    •The literature on intercropping comprises thousands of papers.

    •Evidence synthesis is needed to develop general conclusions.

    •Quantitative evidence synthesis requires meaningful comparative performance metrics.

    •The background, meaning, and limitations of some performance metrics is explained.

    •Future challenges are identified.

    Intercropping is the planned cultivation of species mixtures on agricultural land. Intercropping has many attributes that make it attractive for developing a more sustainable agriculture, such as high yield, high resource use efficiency, lower input requirements, natural suppression of pests, pathogens and weeds, and building a soil with more organic carbon and nitrogen. Information is needed which species combinations perform best under different circumstances and which management is suitable to bring out the best from intercropping in a given production situation. The literature is replete with case studies on intercropping from across the globe, but evidence synthesis is needed to make this information accessible. Meta-analysis requires a careful choice of metric that is appropriate for answering the question at hand, and which lends itself for a robust meta-analysis. This paper reviews some metrics that may be used in the quantitative synthesis of literature data on intercropping.