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Steering organic farming transition

Project description

Shortening the transition from conventional to organic farming

Global food demand is increasing rapidly. In fact, production needs to double to feed a growing global population using only currently available land. This means greater agricultural intensification. The EU-funded SOFT project will investigate how to shorten the transition period from conventional farming to a more organic type of farming. Specifically, it will test if inoculation may be a promising tool to speed up the transition from high-yield conventional to high-yield organic agriculture. The project will also study whether it can help to overcome ‘soil legacy effects’ due to impoverished soil communities. A chronosequence of farmers’ fields (converted from conventional to organic farming) will be conducted in the Netherlands.

Objective

A key challenge for sustainable intensification of agriculture is to reduce hunger and poverty by producing increasing amounts of food, feed, and bioenergy for a growing world population, but with minimal loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. In intensive conventional farming systems yields are high, but soil biodiversity and ecosystem functioning are often reduced, and soil food webs are simplified. Organic farming provides a more environmentally sustainable alternative, but it typically produces lower yields, particularly in early years after conversion.

In SOFT (Steering Organic Farming Transition), I will test if soil inoculation may be a promising tool to speed up the transition from high-yield conventional to high-yield organic agriculture and can help to overcome ‘soil legacy effects’ due to impoverished soil communities. First, I will use a chronosequence of farmers’ fields throughout The Netherlands that have been converted from conventional to organic farming to study the role that the structure of soil networks may have in soil functioning. Then, I will use soil collected from these sites to test the potential of soil inoculation to aid the transition of soil communities and coupling of soil networks in organic farming systems.

By revealing the potential of whole soil inoculation to regenerate soil networks, and how soil networks relate to functioning in agroecosystems, SOFT will be a ground-breaking advancement compared to current efforts to understand the transition from conventional to organic systems and may serve as a baseline for downstream manipulation studies in which certain soil communities may be engineered as inoculants to steer and speed-up this transition. Taken together, SOFT will contribute to establish new management practices that may help to shorten the transition period from conventional farming to a more organic type of farming that maintains high crop yields while having less negative environmental impacts.

Coordinator

KONINKLIJKE NEDERLANDSE AKADEMIE VAN WETENSCHAPPEN - KNAW
Net EU contribution
€ 187 572,48
Address
KLOVENIERSBURGWAL 29 HET TRIPPENHUIS
1011 JV AMSTERDAM
Netherlands

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Region
West-Nederland Noord-Holland Groot-Amsterdam
Activity type
Research Organisations
Links
Total cost
€ 187 572,48