Proposals will lay the ground for a better understanding and management of highly dynamic processes of combined abiotic variations and their effects on crops. More specifically, activities will establish how combined water and nutrient stresses act upon plants taking into account complex interactions between plants/roots, soils and below ground biodiversity. Knowledge of these basic processes should be linked to overall system resource- use efficiency in crops on the basis of a thorough understanding of the interplay between crop genetics, crop management and the environment. Findings will be applied to the development and testing of strategies and tools for soil, water and crop management. Also, they will serve to identify (combinations of) above- and below-ground traits associated with improved plant performance under restricted water and nutrient availability to develop crop breeding strategies and tools.
Proposals should fall under the concept of the 'multi-actor approach' [See definition of the 'multi-actor approach' in the introduction to this Work Programme part.] to ensure that knowledge and needs from various sectors including farming are brought together. The topic is open to all types of crop production and farming systems (e.g. arable farming, horticulture, grassland, fruit trees, agro-forestry) and should benefit both conventional and organic agriculture in various pedo-climatic conditions.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 6 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
Water, soil quality and nutrients are key determinants of plant growth and crop productivity. With supplies of these inputs becoming increasingly variable and scarce, improvements in water use efficiency (WUE) and nutrient use efficiency (NUE) are of particular importance for both plant breeding and crop management, as are issues of yield stability.
Activities will enhance our capacity to deal with multiple abiotic stresses in cropping systems. More specifically project outputs will serve to
- reveal how different combinations of water and nutrient stresses interact and impact on crops, in particular on agriculturally important traits;
- increase the range of farm-level crop management strategies and tools to respond better to variable levels of water and nutrient supply;
- support breeding strategies and tools to develop crops that can adapt better to water and nutrient stresses and ensure high product quality;
- identify combinations of genotypes and management practices suited to increase water and nutrient use efficiency of crops (this could include exploiting the natural variation e.g. in traditional crops).
More generally and in the long term, outputs and results will help to increase the resilience of crop production in more variable environments and ultimately secure productivity. They will also contribute to optimising water use and reducing nutrient losses in agricultural systems, thereby also reducing the environmental impact of agricultural activities, in particular with regard to water quality.