Soil erosion rates are high in rainfed olive mountain plantations applying conventional practices, compromising, therefore, their long-term sustainability. Implementing sustainable soil management strategies is essential for hillslopes and low-fertility soils where plantations cover vast tracts of land. Researchers Durán et al. revealed potential environmental benefits of the organic system in controlling water erosion and improving soil health restoration compared to the conventional system.
Coffee plantation productivity is threatened by both climate change and decreasing revenues of growers. Scientists Piato et al. analyzed how growing robusta coffee under shade trees impacts coffee growth, yield, and quality. They found that the effects depend on tree age and the robusta clone tested. Whereas moderate shade can increase growth and yield, excessive shade may alter cup quality.
Citizen science promises an innovative approach to participation in research but its potential in agricultural research has not been systematically examined. Scientists van de Gevel et al. reviewed the literature and found that citizen science opens up four opportunities for creatively reshaping research: (i) new possibilities for interdisciplinary collaboration, (ii) rethinking configurations of socio-computational systems, (iii) democratization of science, and (iv) new accountabilities.
Legumes have a key role to play in agriculture transition towards greater sustainability, due to their ability to provide ecosystem services. However, choosing the right grain legumes to provide specific ecosystem services remains difficult because references are lacking for a diversity of species. Guinet et al. characterized and distinguished ten-grain legumes according to their ability to deliver contrasted nitrogen-related ecosystem services. Their study provides a rationale for choosing legumes species according to intended objectives and for adjusting N management in cropping systems.
Food security and environmental protection require optimizing crop N fertilization. Scientists Wang et al. reviewed studies on Chinese potato production to determine the optimal N-fertilization rate at a regional scale. The recommended rate improved N use efficiency and agronomic efficiency without sacrificing potato yield. These practices establish a reasonable trade-off between potato production and N-fertilizer management for the development of more sustainable agricultural systems.
It is a challenge to understand how on-farm diversity can be mobilized to design sustainable agricultural systems. Scientists Lurette et al. used a model to represents the diversity in the organization of several farms composing a territory in the South of France. They showed how diversity impacted farm performances, and how external inputs or subsidies impacted their sustainability. Pairing territory composition diversity with on-farm diversity will help in designing sustainable agricultural systems.
Improved tropical forages include annual/perennial grasses, herbaceous/dual-purpose legumes, and multipurpose trees/shrubs. They have been promoted in Sub-Saharan Africa to address food scarcity limiting smallholder livestock productivity. Scientists Paul et al. reviewed 72 studies, demonstrating tropical forages’ multiple benefits on livestock and food crop productivity, household income, and soil quality.
Intercropping is a common sustainable practice that improves land productivity in smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa. Namatsheve et al. reviewed the main cereal-cowpea intercropping systems, comprising maize, sorghum, and pearl millet. Intercropping increased land productivity by 25-40% compared to monocropping systems, with cowpea intercropped being able to contribute significant amounts of nitrogen to the system. The authors suggest several ways to improve these systems.
Energy plays a key role in farm systems and many approaches are available to compute energy flows in these systems. Hercher-Pasteur et al. recently analyzed ten approaches and evaluated their ability to address sustainability issues. They showed that a systemic/circular perspective helps to assess farm systems as an agro-ecosystem. They highlighted the importance of managing the internal circulation of flows, the reuse of biomass, and the soil organic matter in this assessment.
Silphium species are perennials able to optimize water use, reduce erosion, and deposit more carbon than annual crops while producing food. Their domestication is often slowed by inflexibility in how plants mate to produce seeds. Scientists Reinert et al. revealed that Silphium species self-pollinate and cross-pollinate, even among closely related species. This provides breeders with the flexibility to introduce new genes and enhance their expression.