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Legume-supported cropping systems for Europe

Periodic Report Summary 3 - LEGUME-FUTURES (Legume-supported cropping systems for Europe)

Project Context and Objectives:
This report describes progress made between 1/11/2012 to 28/02/2014 of the Legume Futures research project. This work has been undertaken by a research consortium of 19 partners in 13 Member States of the European Union. The outcomes (agricultural, economic, environmental) supported by Legume Futures were:

1. Reduced nitrogen fertiliser use.
2. More diverse rotations including legumes.
3. Increased use of European legumes in animal feeding.
4. Raised awareness in society/policy community.
5. Cooperation in supply chains.
6. Scientific publications for impact, QA and recognition.
7. Scientific publicity for recognition, profile and sustained investment.
8. Education for legacy etc.
9. Better access to enriched knowledge resources.
The research objectives to deliver these were:
1. To conduct 18 case studies across Europe based on established field experiments which inform and validate new cropping system designs and provide a focal point for the local development of the role of legumes in new cropping systems.
2. To design new cropping systems for Europe’s pedo-climatic zones using modelling drawing on data from the case studies networked by the project.
3. To quantify, with the use of biophysical and economic models, the resource use (e.g. fossil energy), socio-economic and environmental effects of contrasting cropping and agricultural system scenarios at a range of scales (from local to global).
4. To identify the wider environmental effects (e.g. carbon and nitrogen cycling, greenhouse gas emissions, soil quality, biodiversity, affect on pests and diseases) of legume use within farming systems which includes systematic measurements of nitrous oxide emissions.
5. Drawing on data from existing and new field experiments and stakeholder interaction, to assess elite germplasm of a wide range of legume species and their symbiotic organisms with respect to their suitability in the new cropping systems designed.
6. To provide assessed scenarios to support the development of supply chains, including livestock feeding systems (including aquaculture), based on these cropping systems in conjunction with ongoing research in the Consortium, input from our local and international Stakeholder Fora and the wider literature.
7. To provide a comprehensive and full assessment of the potential of legumes in the non-food sector and the implication of this potential for the design of cropping systems.
8. To facilitate access to the wider knowledge base on legumes and disseminate information on new agronomic, environmental and social impacts of legumes in farming systems.
9. To develop and enhance legume knowledge resources through the collection and linkage of data and knowledge leading to a European Legume Crop Biological Resources Centre. Work performed since the beginning of the project and the main results achieved.

Project Results:
The project is divided into seven closely linked Work Packages (WPs). The overall strategy of the work programme has been to generate data from case studies (WP1) and environmental assessments (WP3) which were be used to develop a new understanding of the role of legumes in European farming systems and provide an evidence base on which to design novel cropping systems (WP2) (Fig. 1). To facilitate this, a Europe-wide network of experimental sites on legume-based cropping systems was established and has been used to deliver an improved understanding of the range of ecosystem services that are provided by legume-containing systems. Data was processed within a internet based Data Resource Centre (WP2) which supported an analysis of the socio-economic impacts of legume based systems (WP4) and their impacts on nutrient and energy cycling (WP6); both of which were considered at scales ranging from the farm to Europe. The results of these interacting analyses were fed back into the Data Resource Centre which has also compiled the available genetic material and used this to develop recommendations for novel system designs (taking account of the range of genetic resources and their interactions with the environment). An essential component of the project was the knowledge interaction and research delivery work package (WP5). This has developed a Communications and Delivery Strategy to guide the delivery of research outputs to users for maximum impact tailored to users’ needs and according to the outcomes sought. The Delivery Strategy was informed by a Stakeholder Forum, and local Fora around case-study sites and it prioritised the full range of possible communications/delivery products and the media used, tailored to local conditions and the target users. Stakeholder Interaction, farm demonstrations, academic publications, conferences, policy workshops, and a web portal, are examples of communication activities that were delivered by the project. A management work package (WP7), ensured effective administration and management of the whole project, that there was effective communication and dataflow between work packages and that project deliverables and milestones were achieved. WP7 also organised all consortium events and provided appropriate secretarial support. A Scientific Steering Committee, composed of senior scientific experts in the range of subject disciplines used provided independent advice on scientific and technical progress.


Potential Impact:
It is well established that legume crops contribute more to the farming system than simply the harvested part: they fix atmospheric nitrogen into forms available for plant metabolism, they break the cycles of diseases that attack the major cereal crops, and they can replace other food, feed, fibre and fuel crop products that are imported from other continents. Nevertheless, they are under-represented in European agriculture, and Legume Futures aimed to solve that problem. Legume Futures set out to support the development of legume-supported cropping systems that reduce the environmental impact of European agricultural systems. It also aimed to support public policy and related commercial objectives: reducing fossil energy inputs into agriculture, nitrogen emissions to the environment, and the global environmental impact of European agriculture; increasing the economic competitiveness of legume crop and forage production in Europe, and contributing to the development of sustainable European agricultural production systems more generally. We set out to identify the risks and benefits of the cropping systems for farm businesses at a range of scales across Europe major agricultural pedo-climatic zones, and support assessments of impacts for the wider agricultural economy and environment. Agricultural policy that more explicitly couples public support to environmental outcomes may also play a role and a significant part of our research set out to support policy development. The key to farm level change is identifying the whole system risks and benefits of legumes from a farm business perspective. This needs to be complemented by support policies built on a more complete understanding of the consequences of these new systems for the environment at scales ranging from the local to the global. To support the required technical change and policy development, our research objectives were:
1. To conduct 18 case studies across Europe based on established field experiments which inform and validate new cropping system designs and provide a focal point for the local development of the role of legumes in new cropping systems.
2. To design new cropping systems for Europe’s pedo-climatic zones using modelling drawing on data from the case studies networked by the project.
3. To quantify, by using biophysical and economic models, the resource use (e.g. fossil energy), along with the socio-economic and environmental effects of contrasting cropping and agricultural system scenarios at a range of scales (from local to global).
4. To identify the wider environmental effects (e.g. carbon and nitrogen cycling, greenhouse gas emissions, soil quality, biodiversity, effects on pests and diseases) of legume use within farming systems, including systematic measurements of nitrous oxide emissions.
5. Drawing on data from existing and new field experiments and stakeholder interaction, to assess elite germplasm of a wide range of legume species and their symbiotic organisms with respect to their suitability in the new cropping systems.
6. To provide assessed scenarios to support the development of supply chains, including livestock feeding systems (for ruminants, monogastrics, poultry, and fish), based on these cropping systems in conjunction with ongoing research in the Consortium, input from our local and international Stakeholder Fora and the wider literature.
7. To provide a comprehensive and full assessment of the potential of legumes in the non-food sector and the implication of this potential for the design of cropping systems.
8. To facilitate access to the wider knowledge base on legumes and disseminate information on new agronomic, environmental and social impacts of legumes in farming systems.
9. To develop and enhance legume knowledge resources through the collection and linkage of data and knowledge leading to the establishment of a European Legume Crop Biological Resources Centre.
These project objectives were pursued in six work packages: Case studies of cropping systems; data management and novel system design; environmental impact; socio-economics; biophysical modelling; and knowledge interaction and research delivery. Within the first year of the research, we identified seven key research outputs upon which the impact of our research would be founded. These were: new cropping system designs; case studies; enhanced access to information/technology; environmental emissions and assessments; socio-economic data and assessments; resource use assessments; and assessments of non-traditional uses. This final project report is framed around those outputs.

List of Websites:
www.legumefutures.eu