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Solutions for improving Agroecosystem and Crop Efficiency for water and nutrient use

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - SolACE (Solutions for improving Agroecosystem and Crop Efficiency for water and nutrient use)

Reporting period: 2020-05-01 to 2021-04-30

SolACE's overarching goal is to help European agriculture dealing with more frequent combined limitations of water and nutrients (N and P) in the coming decades, through the design of novel crop genotypes and agroecosystem management innovations to improve water and N or P use efficiency. To achieve this, SolACE is focusing on 3 major crops - potato, bread and durum wheat - and aims to identify the (i) optimum combinations of above- and below-ground traits for improving resource use efficiency, (ii) best-performing genotypes under combined water and N or P stress and (iii) novel practices that make better use of plant-plant and plant-microbe interactions to access such resources in conventional, organic and conservation agriculture. A double interactive innovation loop is implemented, based on agroecosystem management and breeding strategies, and implying the engagement of end-users across the production chain. The tested innovations include crop genotype mixtures, legume-based crop rotations, consortia of microbial inoculants, improved decision support systems and hybrids or products from genomic selection and participatory evolutionary breeding schemes. Complementary approaches are used, from data mining, modelling, phenotyping in high throughput platforms and field conditions, to experiments in research stations and farmer networks in contrasted pedoclimatic zones. Through co-designing and co-assessing with end-users the tested breeding and management innovations to increase resource use efficiency, SolACE outputs shall be available for dissemination to a broad range of stakeholders, including policy-makers.
The Handbook of Protocols and Methodology is a harmonized document continuously updated to collect the approaches developed/used by SolACE partners. It is linked to the Data Template, a repository for data collected by SolACE with harmonised formats. These data are being used to parameterise models that will be produced according to the published protocols. The ultimate goal is to model wheat and potato production in Europe based on present and projected climate.
Complementary experiments have been conducted with diverse germplasms for each species to identify key plant/microbiome traits and aboveground traits (or combinations of) contributing to crop tolerance to combined water and N or P limitations. A substantial effort has been dedicated to root system and shoot architecture phenotyping in controlled environments and in field trials (yield and phenology) in large diversity panels for each crop. Smaller scale field trials for finer analyses of crop responses to combined stress and simulation with coupled crop / root architecture models have also been part of the strategy. Current results suggest that genotype-specific plasticity may be overwhelming at root architecture level, thereby preventing the isolation of unique traits (or combinations of) supporting performance.
First, different microbial strain combinations, crop rotations and durum wheat genotype mixtures were assessed in greenhouse conditions for their potential to alleviate drought and N or P stress. Besides, formulations and additives for microbial inoculants have been developed and tested. Then, numerous field trials have been performed across Europe to test different management practices to improve stress resilience. Crop performance and relevant plant traits have been assessed as well as belowground microbiome characteristics. The analyses of the produced datasets is ongoing, as well as last field trials. Stakeholder workshops were held to collect feedbacks on tested innovations.
Novel breeding strategies and tools have been designed, such as new germplasm panels for investigating marker-trait associations and new Quantitative Trait Loci for above- and belowground traits of crop adaptation to combined stress. Based on these, gene-derived markers have been developed. Genomic selection models have been developed in bread and durum wheat, based on root traits, for coping with combined stress. Wheat genotypes derived from this approach have been produced and are now tested. A participatory breeding strategy in durum wheat was applied in 3 European farmer communities. An evolutionary experiment produced lots of phenotypic and genotypic data to investigate evolutionary changes driven by combined stresses in a unique durum wheat population. New F1 hybrids in diploid potato and bread wheat have been produced for adaptation to combined stresses.
Seven farmer networks have been set-up to test combinations of novel genotypes and management practices on-farm with contrasting pedoclimatic conditions throughout Europe. Farmers are enthusiastic about trying such innovations, but need evidence that these will provide a verifiable benefit to their bottom line. The on-farm experiments provided some evidence, particularly highlighting the potential of grain legumes in a rotation to reduce the carbon footprint of cereal crops and provide an improved margin to farmers through lower costs. On-farm experiments are ongoing to further assess inoculants, potato or wheat hybrids and conservation agriculture approaches together with farmers. Life cycle analysis is used to conduct a multicriteria assessment of these innovations.
SolACE partners have engaged a diversity of stakeholders via 3 Stakeholder Events, interviews, emails, newsletter, etc. A range of dissemination materials have been produced, including practice abstracts, videos and training materials, on top of publications in specialised and scientific press or communications at conferences. First policy briefs are close to completion. All dissemination materials are communicated through SolACE website, social media and partner channels.
SolACE aims at advancing our knowledge of the impact of combined water and N/P limitations on yield and quality of conventionally- or organically-grown potatoes, bread and durum wheat, and at finding solutions to overcome such stress. Including novel traits identified by phenotyping large diversity panels in genomic selection and new ideotypes for breeding schemes is part of such solutions. The potential benefits of potato and bread wheat hybrids is a novel strategy conducted with breeders to stack traits associated with distinct stress tolerance. A participatory breeding approach is engaging farmers to assess a durum wheat evolutionary population with a large diversity of traits. On top of such solutions, a range of management innovations are tested, targeting techniques to better exploit belowground interactions and biodiversity to use soil resources more efficiently for an ecological intensification of European agriculture: consortia of microbial inoculants, mixtures of genotypes or rotational legumes. The use of models and their application for improving decision support systems is also tested. Combinations of these novel genotypes and management innovations are assessed on-farm across Europe involving a range of end-users. The agronomic, economic and environmental evaluation of these solutions will be instrumental for securing their rapid uptake by stakeholders. Various media are used to engage stakeholders at all steps of SolACE development.