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Legume-supported cropping systems for Europe

Periodic Report Summary 2 - LEGUME FUTURES (Legume-supported cropping systems for Europe)

Project context and objectives:

This report describes progress made from 1 March 2011 to 31 December 2012 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 (EU).

The outcomes supported by LEGUME FUTURES are:

- Agricultural, economic, environmental:
(1) reduced nitrogen fertiliser use;
(2) more diverse rotations including legumes;
(3) increased use of European legumes in animal feeding.
- Scientific impact and dissemination
(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 are:

(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 pedoclimatic 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, effect 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.

Project results:

Work package (WP)1: Case studies and cropping systems

Following the development of experimental protocols and the establishment of experimental sites in year one, historical datasets were gathered and synthesised in the current reporting period. This task includes the provision of the case studies that were designed to capture the expert knowledge available within the network. The experimental site network has provided a core resource to the project, delivering data to other project WPs.

WP2: Data management and novel system design

A secure server has been established and those who wish to access the server have this realised via the JHI database manager. Current datasets stored relate only to the so-called 'historical data-sets' gathered before the LEGUME FUTURES programme of research had begun. New data gathered in the course of the EU-funded programme is currently being sent to WP2. A nitrogen-balance approach was used to express the performance of the various cropping systems represented by each of the historic datasets in a comparative way. N balance determination was possible for individual crops, crop / sub-crop combinations and crop rotations / sequences on a 'farm gate' basis: That is, N entering / leaving the system via the 'farm-gate'. This approach allows N inputs and outputs (and therefore N-balance), to be assessed relative to productivity (yield). A resource centre, open and accessible to the public, has been constructed at One of the main aims of the resource centre is to enable sharing of information on legumes beyond the life of the project.

WP3: Environmental impact

A further year of sampling for N2O, N leaching and N2 fixation has been completed for the experimental sites. Joint with WP2 a central database has been initiated with a common reporting protocol spreadsheet distributed to each partner covering all key drivers for modelling. Data are being analysed with respect to preparation of journal articles and project reports which constitute the key deliverables for WP3. The bulk of the non-United Kingdom (UK) / Ireland N2O samples have been processed through SRUC-Scotland. In addition to the LEGUME FUTURES book chapter, a key role of WP3 is the preparation and publication of key journal papers analysing the environmental consequences of incorporating legumes into European agriculture. The number of planned publications has increased from the initial work plan with work on two publications already started. A second season of field surveys of vegetation and earthworms has been conducted at the majority of partner sites. Bait-lamina surveys of soil faunal feeding activity were designed and implemented at three sites. Samples and data have been received at TCD for processing and analysis. Vegetation data have been compiled and community composition analyses initiated. Invertebrate samples have been sorted to taxonomic Order with the assistance of lab interns, and progress is being made towards sorting key taxonomic groups to species level for further analysis. Earthworm samples are currently being identified with the help of University College Dublin.

WP4: Socioeconomics

A coordinated economic and agronomic survey was undertaken in five case study regions on farming practises (IT, RO, UK, SE and DE) with emphasis on rotational effects of legumes. Partners were supported with the survey via phone and e-mail and during workshops in Uppsala and to conferences in Athens and Helsinki. The background and structure of the survey has been described in the Deliverable 4.1 'Structure of farm survey'. Biophysical modelling in WP6 has been supported by collecting a set of typical crop rotations for all case study regions and alternative legume-supported rotations which could need to be promoted. The work has included the provision of survey data on cropping practises and regular discussions / meetings on modelling linkages between WP4 and WP6. Based on the survey, first agronomic rules for the crop rotation generator have been derived which have been discussed and improved with experts. These rules were implemented into a software solution that allows generating large numbers of crop rotations. This has been successfully done for the German and the Swedish case study region. The output was discussed in internal meetings, with and without partners from the project. A crop rotation generator has been developed based on earlier modelling tools such as ROTOR. For crop rotation evaluation, the nitrogen budgeting module of ROTOR has been modified and adapted to conventional farming conditions. The crop rotation generator as well as the nitrogen and economic budgeting approach have been tested for two data sets (DE and SE). We developed a linear programming based farm model and started the implementation for the case study region Brandenburg. Therefore, Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) data for Brandenburg were analysed, delivering information on actually grown crop sequences and basic farm structure (arable land, pasture and livestock). Based on these data a typology of farms in Brandenburg is developed and will form the basis for the farm model application.

WP5: Knowledge interaction and research delivery

The WP is being progressed as planned. Due to the increased relevance of policy arising from the current common agricultural policy (CAP) reform process and also because of initiatives at national level to develop policies for legume-supported cropping systems, work in interaction with the policy community has been brought forward and has been more intensive than expected when the project was planned A strategic approach to communications, delivery and publication was completed by DMB in the first reporting period in August 2010, revised in August 2011 and thoroughly reviewed / updated in August 2012. The latest version comprises a complete plan for all project outputs and communications up to project completion. The Secretariat was provided to the scientific steering committee by DMB. A new member (Dr Eric Justes) was recruited. It met in March 2011 and 2012 and which conducted a special review in October 2011. The SSC received the revised delivery plan from Task 5.1) in October 2012. An overview of the project internal knowledge base was provided in the first reporting period. A new domain name (see online) was registered by DMB in early 2012 to provide a new project website which was built and kept updated. It has been structured to provide complete access to all the project results in a logical user-friendly framework. As part of reprioritisation and informed by the delivery strategy (Task 5.1) which identified the challenging communications programme, this task has been integrated with Task 5.5. The knowledge and technology review now serves the planning of the LEGUME FUTURES book. The review is being drafted parallel to the early stages of the book drafting process, based on short state-of-the-art statements from lead book authors. The review is now well advanced. The LEGUME FUTURES book has been coordinated by DMB with support from SRUC (Christine Watson) and UH (Fred Stoddard). The book plan was completed in mid-2012 with all authors identified and briefed. The plan has also been subject to successful peer review and has resulted in an offer of a publishing contract from Springer. Managing the editing of the book involves very regular contact between DMB and all LEGUME FUTURES authors and several author teams outside LEGUME FUTURES. All but three partners are contributing to the book. There are also several authors from outside the consortium. The strategic stakeholder forum was maintained. The role of the forum is to provide advice on how to optimise the project non-scientific impact, particularly with policy and commercial stakeholders. A total of 15 LEGUME FUTURES local stakeholder fora have been maintained during the reporting period. These include two strategic fora that produced a German strategy for research for legumes and the group of European policy makers in regular contact with LEGUME FUTURES. Interactions the policy community have been particularly intensive with contributions from SRUC, UH and DMB. There is direct contact with both the European Commission and Parliament. Regular contact between SRUC and DMB with all partners through email, telephone and direct meetings through the wide ranging involvement with the wider legumes research community. All insights gathered are made available by DMB to the project coordinator, the scientific coordinator and project steering committee.

WP6: Biophysical modelling

During the second year of the project, historic data sets (WP2) and current experimental data from all the sites in the project were assessed for their suitability for use as validation data sets for modelling purposes. Sites for which appropriate data were available represented a range of crops and cropping systems and different agro climatic zones. The biophysical modelling, during the last year, has focused on the Bush (UK), Foulum (Denmark) and Tulloch (UK). Most of the analysis for these sites has been completed and the modelled results for the site in Denmark were presented at the annual meeting of LEGUME FUTURES in Athens. The biophysical modelling focuses on analysis of grain yield, N2O emissions, nitrates and ammonium in the soil and water-filled pore space, but comparisons with the measured data depends on the existence of the measurements in each site. Over the forthcoming months the analysis of the other two sites (Italy, Romania) will take place. Since 2011, UK-DNDC has been used instead of DNDC (v. 9.5) because this model provides better representation of UK and European agriculture than the generic, global model of DNDC. In consultation with Prof. Chang-Sheng Li (University of New Hampshire, United States of America) several programing bugs and input data handling errors have been identified and corrected, which have improved the quality of the model’s output. For the biophysical modelling in WP6, the soil-crop model FASSET was run against an experiment (conventional) in which grain and pea were grown with catch crops at a seven year rotation. In addition, NDICEA has been used for the organic, integrated and conventional systems at Experimental Station in Osiny, Poland. For the lifecycle assessment (LCA) in WP 6, we have chosen to analyse locally produced grain legumes in Europe, especially field pea and faba beans, and comparing the environmental impact with imported soybeans. Carbon footprint values (greenhouse gas emissions), non-renewable energy use and N balances will be estimated as part of the LCA study. The lifecycle stages included will be input, farm and transport stage until the delivery at a local feed company in Europe. Strong linkages with the WP4 team in Germany have been established in order to finalise the list of the legume- and non-legume-based rotations for the scenario testing phase of the modelling. Rotations proposed by the socioeconomics team of WP4 were selected according to the range of legume crops they contained and the ease with which they could be modelled. The aim was to identify rotations of similar duration and similar crops that involve, but with or without legumes in order to make some interesting comparisons. A provisional list has been agreed by both the UK and Danish modelling teams.

WP7: Coordination

Project coordination is undertaken within WP7. Activities have included the planning and organisation of the annual meeting in Athens, organisation of management group meetings and reports, financial reporting and the coordination of the scientific activities within the project.

Potential impact:

(1) Robust information (including case studies) on agronomic, economic and environmental impacts (particularly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity) of increasing the legume component of farming systems in the main agroclimatic regions of Europe. This will include models of new European farming systems based on the use of legumes for arable, mixed and livestock farming systems. We anticipate this will stimulate interest in production, processing and novel end-uses of legumes in Europe. This has the potential to help European agriculture adapt to and mitigate climate change.

(2) An improved scientific understanding of the role of legumes in crop rotations will add to the European scientific knowledge base and stimulate new research. We hope that the inter-disciplinary nature of the LEGUME FUTURES project will serve as an example of the benefits of inter-disciplinary approaches to agricultural research in Europe. This will be the first major assessment of the potential value of legume use in European agriculture.

(3) Increased access to information (through the European Legume Crop Biological Resources Centre) on legume based systems in Europe suitable for immediate use by farmers, advisors, the food and non-food supply chain, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and policy makers. The case study approach being used is anticipated to be of particular value to the farming community.

List of websites: