There is a need to improve sustainability in farming systems particularly through soil care and improvement, but not at the expense of productivity. One approach is to focus on a comprehensive advance in conservation tillage. This will be developed from improved ways of integrating subsidiary crops (SC) as living or dead mulches or cover crops with the main crops in rotations so as to simultaneously improve crop nutrition, health, and productivity. The SC will deliver multiple ecological services by increasing the duration of soil cover in the rotation overall while increasing species diversity, minimising the use of tillage and agrochemicals, enhancing biological N fixation and soil C content, and both reducing water demand in dry climates and improving soil workability in wetter climates.
The research will draw on a wide range of previous and ongoing EU and related projects and will be based on 11 coordinated field experiments in different climatic regions together with three long-term experiments in Europe and Brazil. These experiments will all be assessed for economic and ecological impact including the often neglected issue of legume root health. Breeding companies and manufacturers of agricultural equipment from all regions of interest will be involved in finding adapted solutions for the different environments by extending the range of potentially useful plant species and by developing appropriate machinery to promote adoption in practical agriculture. The potential for useful chemical extraction from the existing and novel SCs will also be investigated.
A central deliverable will be a database supported 'Cover Crop and Living Mulch Toolbox' and Decision Support Tool which will encourage multilingual stakeholder exchange and dissemination during and beyond the lifetime of the project so as to capture farmer experience. The results of the project as a whole will be of use for and improve sustainability in low-input, organic, and conventional farming systems.
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