Staff Publications

Staff Publications

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    'Staff publications' is the digital repository of Wageningen University & Research

    'Staff publications' contains references to publications authored by Wageningen University staff from 1976 onward.

    Publications authored by the staff of the Research Institutes are available from 1995 onwards.

    Full text documents are added when available. The database is updated daily and currently holds about 240,000 items, of which 72,000 in open access.

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    Crop pollination management needs flower-visitor monitoring and target values
    Garibaldi, Lucas A. ; Sáez, Agustín ; Aizen, Marcelo A. ; Fijen, Thijs ; Bartomeus, Ignasi - \ 2020
    Journal of Applied Ecology 57 (2020)4. - ISSN 0021-8901 - p. 664 - 670.
    agricultural management - bees - biodiversity - crop yield - decision-making - ecological intensification - farming practices - pollination

    Despite the crucial importance of biotic pollination for many crops, land managers rarely monitor the levels of crop pollination needed to guide farming decisions. The few existing pollination recommendations focus on a particular number of honeybee or bumblebee hives per crop area, but these guidelines do not accurately predict the actual pollination services that crops receive. We argue that pollination management for pollinator-dependent crops should be based on direct measures of pollinator activity. We describe a protocol to quickly perform such a task by monitoring flower visitation rates. We provide target values of visitation rates for crop yield maximization for several important crops by considering the number of visits per flower needed to ensure full ovule fertilization. If visitation rates are well below or above these target values, corrective measures should be taken. Detailed additional data on visitation rates for different species, morpho-species, or groups of species and/or flower-visitor richness can improve pollination estimates. Synthesis and applications. We present target values of visitation rates for some globally important pollinator-dependent crops and provide guidance on why monitoring the number and diversity of pollinators is important, and how this information can be used for decision-making. The implementation of flower monitoring programmes will improve management in many aspects, including enhanced quality and quantity of crop yield and a more limited spillover of managed (often exotic) pollinators from crop areas into native habitats, reducing their many potential negative impacts.

    Sustainability transition pathways through ecological intensification: an assessment of vegetable food systems in Chile
    Gaitán-Cremaschi, Daniel ; Klerkx, Laurens ; Duncan, Jessica ; Trienekens, Jacques H. ; Huenchuleo, Carlos ; Dogliotti, Santiago ; Contesse, María E. ; Benitez-Altuna, Francisco J. ; Rossing, Walter A.H. - \ 2020
    International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 18 (2020)2. - ISSN 1473-5903 - p. 131 - 150.
    alternative food system - conventional food system - ecological intensification - Food system - sustainability transition

    Ecological intensification has been proposed as a promising lever for a transition towards more sustainable food systems. Various food systems exist that are based on ecological intensification and may have potential for a sustainability transition. Little is known, however, about their diversity and about how they perform against dominant systems in terms of the multiple societal goals. The aim of this study is to contribute to knowledge about sustainability transitions in food systems through an empirical analysis of vegetable food systems in Chile. The study (i) characterizes the diversity of vegetable food systems in Chile (ii) evaluates the food systems in terms of multiple societal goals, and (iii) assesses their potential for supporting sustainability transition pathways from the perspective of ecological intensification. Results indicate that among the five vegetable food system types, the agroecological and the small organic have potential to foster a sustainability transition. Nevertheless, these systems are small and localized, and scaling them requires actions to remove barriers in the relations with the agri-food regime and among themselves. The broader relevance of this analysis is that there needs to be awareness in research on transitions about the diversity of food systems present in countries and how they interact.

    Crop traits drive soil carbon sequestration under organic farming
    García-Palacios, Pablo ; Gattinger, Andreas ; Bracht-Jørgensen, Helene ; Brussaard, Lijbert ; Carvalho, Filipe ; Castro, Helena ; Clément, Jean Christophe ; Deyn, Gerlinde De; Hertefeldt, Tina D'; Foulquier, Arnaud ; Hedlund, Katarina ; Lavorel, Sandra ; Legay, Nicolas ; Lori, Martina ; Mäder, Paul ; Martínez-García, Laura B. ; Martins da Silva, Pedro ; Muller, Adrian ; Nascimento, Eduardo ; Reis, Filipa ; Symanczik, Sarah ; Paulo Sousa, José ; Milla, Rubén - \ 2018
    Journal of Applied Ecology 55 (2018)5. - ISSN 0021-8901 - p. 2496 - 2505.
    climate change mitigation - crop residue - ecological intensification - leaf nitrogen - meta-analysis - organic farming - resource economics traits - soil carbon stocks

    Organic farming (OF) enhances top soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks in croplands compared with conventional farming (CF), which can contribute to sequester C. As farming system differences in the amount of C inputs to soil (e.g. fertilization and crop residues) are not enough to explain such increase, shifts in crop residue traits important for soil C losses such as litter decomposition may also play a role. To assess whether crop residue (leaf and root) traits determined SOC sequestration responses to OF, we coupled a global meta-analysis with field measurements across a European-wide network of sites. In the meta-analysis, we related crop species averages of leaf N, leaf-dry matter content, fine-root C and N, with SOC stocks and sequestration responses in OF vs. CF. Across six European sites, we measured the management-induced changes in SOC stocks and leaf litter traits after long-term ecological intensive (e.g. OF) vs. CF comparisons. Our global meta-analysis showed that the positive OF-effects on soil respiration, SOC stocks, and SOC sequestration rates were significant even in organic farms with low manure application rates. Although fertilization intensity was the main driver of OF-effects on SOC, leaf and root N concentrations also played a significant role. Across the six European sites, changes towards higher leaf litter N in CF also promoted lower SOC stocks. Our results highlight that crop species displaying traits indicative of resource-acquisitive strategies (e.g. high leaf and root N) increase the difference in SOC between OF and CF. Indeed, changes towards higher crop residue decomposability was related with decreased SOC stocks under CF across European sites. Synthesis and applications. Our study emphasizes that, with management, changes in crop residue traits contribute to the positive effects of organic farming (OF) on soil carbon sequestration. These results provide a clear message to land managers: the choice of crop species, and more importantly their functional traits (e.g. leave and root nitrogen), should be considered in addition to management practices and climate, when evaluating the potential of OF for climate change mitigation.

    Enhancing Soil Organic Matter as a Route to the Ecological Intensification of European Arable Systems
    Garratt, M.P.D. ; Bommarco, R. ; Kleijn, D. ; Martin, E. ; Mortimer, S.R. ; Redlich, S. ; Senapathi, D. ; Steffan-Dewenter, I. ; Świtek, S. ; Takács, V. ; Gils, S. van; Putten, W.H. van der; Potts, S.G. - \ 2018
    Ecosystems 21 (2018)7. - ISSN 1432-9840 - p. 1404 - 1415.
    aphids - arable farming - ecological intensification - fertiliser, soil organic matter
    Soil organic matter (SOM) is declining in most agricultural ecosystems, impacting multiple ecosystem services including erosion and flood prevention, climate and greenhouse gas regulation as well as other services that underpin crop production, such as nutrient cycling and pest control. Ecological intensification aims to enhance crop productivity by including regulating and supporting ecosystem service management into agricultural practices. We investigate the potential for increased SOM to support the ecological intensification of arable systems by reducing the need for nitrogen fertiliser application and pest control. Using a large-scale European field trial implemented across 84 fields in 5 countries, we tested whether increased SOM (using soil organic carbon as a proxy) helps recover yield in the absence of conventional nitrogen fertiliser and whether this also supports crops less favourable to key aphid pests. Greater SOM increased yield by 10%, but did not offset nitrogen fertiliser application entirely, which improved yield by 30%. Crop pest responses depended on species: Metopolophium dirhodum were more abundant in fertilised plots with high crop biomass, and although population growth rates of Sitobion avenae were enhanced by nitrogen fertiliser application in a cage trial, field populations were not affected. We conclude that under increased SOM and reduced fertiliser application, pest pressure can be reduced, while partially compensating for yield deficits linked to fertiliser reduction. If the benefits of reduced fertiliser application and increased SOM are considered in a wider environmental context, then a yield cost may become acceptable. Maintaining or increasing SOM is critical for achieving ecological intensification of European cereal production.
    Combined effects of agrochemicals and ecosystem services on crop yield across Europe
    Gagic, Vesna ; Kleijn, David ; Báldi, András ; Boros, Gergely ; Jørgensen, Helene Bracht ; Elek, Zoltán ; Garratt, Michael P.D. ; Groot, Arjen de; Hedlund, Katarina ; Kovács-Hostyánszki, Anikó ; Marini, Lorenzo ; Martin, Emily A. ; Pevere, Ines ; Potts, Simon G. ; Redlich, Sarah ; Senapathi, Deepa ; Steffan-Dewenter, Ingolf ; Świtek, Stanislaw ; Smith, Henrik G. ; Takács, Viktória ; Tryjanowski, Piotr ; Putten, Wim H. van der; Gils, Stijn van; Bommarco, Riccardo - \ 2017
    Ecology Letters 20 (2017)11. - ISSN 1461-023X - p. 1427 - 1436.
    Agricultural intensification - biological pest control - ecological intensification - fertilisers - insecticides - landscape complexity - soil organic carbon - yield loss

    Simultaneously enhancing ecosystem services provided by biodiversity below and above ground is recommended to reduce dependence on chemical pesticides and mineral fertilisers in agriculture. However, consequences for crop yield have been poorly evaluated. Above ground, increased landscape complexity is assumed to enhance biological pest control, whereas below ground, soil organic carbon is a proxy for several yield-supporting services. In a field experiment replicated in 114 fields across Europe, we found that fertilisation had the strongest positive effect on yield, but hindered simultaneous harnessing of below- and above-ground ecosystem services. We furthermore show that enhancing natural enemies and pest control through increasing landscape complexity can prove disappointing in fields with low soil services or in intensively cropped regions. Thus, understanding ecological interdependences between land use, ecosystem services and yield is necessary to promote more environmentally friendly farming by identifying situations where ecosystem services are maximised and agrochemical inputs can be reduced.

    Tradeoffs around crop residue biomass in smallholder crop-livestock systems - What's next?
    Tittonell, P.A. ; Gérard, B. ; Erenstein, O. - \ 2015
    Agricultural Systems 134 (2015). - ISSN 0308-521X - p. 119 - 128.
    sub-saharan africa - define conservation agriculture - soil fertility management - south-western niger - food-feed crops - ecological intensification - farming systems - impact assessment - appropriate use - 4th principle
    Much has been written on the tradeoffs that smallholder farmers face when having to allocate their biomass resources among competing objectives such as feed, fuel, mulch, compost or the market. This paper summarises yet a new body of evidence from 10 studies on tradeoffs in the allocation of cereal crop residue biomass between soil management and livestock feeding in developing regions, published in the special issue of Agricultural Systems ‘Biomass use tradeoffs in cereal cropping systems: Lessons and implications from the developing world’. The studies cover a diversity of socio-ecological contexts, farming system types and scales of analysis. We reflect on their main findings and methodological progress, and on the new and not-so-new implications of these findings for research and action in the development agenda. We propose stylised graphical models to portray tradeoffs and plausible trajectories towards synergies, in the hope that such generalisations would prevent further efforts to ‘reinvent the wheel’ in the realm of tradeoffs analysis. We advocate an ex-post impact assessment of recent investments in systems research to help focus such research further and clearly define its future role in prioritizing and targeting development interventions.
    Socioeconomic and environmental assessment of biodiesel crops on family farming systems in Brazil
    Belo Leitea, J.G. Dal; Barbosa Justino, F. ; Nunes Vieira da Silva, J.V. ; Florin, M.J. ; Ittersum, M.K. van - \ 2015
    Agricultural Systems 133 (2015). - ISSN 0308-521X - p. 22 - 34.
    nitrogen-use efficiency - land-use systems - integrated assessment - ecological intensification - cereal production - ammonium-sulfate - cropping systems - pest-management - yield - agriculture
    In Brazil, local agricultural research agendas are increasingly challenged by the search for sustainable biodiesel crop options for family farmers, especially under semi-arid conditions. The aim of this paper is to explore the suitability of different biodiesel crops (i.e. soybean, castor bean and sunflower) through a set of environmental and socioeconomic indicators in a semi-arid (Montes Claros) and a more humid (Chapada Gaúcha) municipality in the state of Minas Gerais, southeast Brazil. A technical coefficient generator (TechnoGIN) was used to assess current (maize, beans, soybean and grass seed) and alternative (castor bean and sunflower) crops grown with current and alternative production techniques. The quantification of the inputs and outputs was based on farm surveys, expert knowledge, literature and field experiments. Although castor bean and sunflower are economically competitive with maize in Montes Claros, feed and labour requirements may hinder farmers' adoption. In Chapada Gaúcha, the double cropping system soybean/sunflower presented small economic gains when compared to soybean; it also increased nitrogen losses and biocide residues. We conclude that the scope for alternative and sustainable biodiesel crops on family farms is limited. Their economic benefits are small or absent, while their introduction can lead to higher environmental impacts and there may be trade-offs with food and feed availability at the farm level.
    Fertilizer use should not be a fourth principle to define conservation. Response to the opinion paper of Vanlauwe et al. (2014)
    Sommer, R. ; Thierfelder, C. ; Tittonell, P.A. ; Hove, L. ; Mureithi, J. ; Mkomwa, S. - \ 2014
    Field Crops Research 169 (2014). - ISSN 0378-4290 - p. 145 - 148.
    zea-mays l. - soil quality - residue management - southern africa - ecological intensification - water relations - systems - maize - tillage - yield
    Epilogue: global food security, rhetoric, and the sustainable intensification debate
    Kuijper, T.W.M. ; Struik, P.C. - \ 2014
    Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 8 (2014). - ISSN 1877-3435 - p. 71 - 79.
    green-revolution - agricultural intensification - ecological intensification - 9 billion - systems - agroecology - challenges - opportunities - perspective - agronomy
    The need to feed nine billion people in 2050 has given rise to widespread debate in science and policy circles. The debate is largely framed in neo-Malthusian terms, and elements of global food security (resilience of the food system, food quantity and quality, right to and access to food) demand equal attention. High-intensive agriculture, which enabled population growth and food for a large proportion of the global population, is often regarded as incompatible with current environmental (and social) sustainability. Because of the often problematic nature of high-intensive industrialized agriculture, sustainable agricultural intensification has been called an oxymoron. Pathways to sustainably intensify agriculture vary from business-as-usual to claims that a radical rethinking of our agricultural production is imperative. Three terms have been coined to differentiate such pathways. Whereas conventional intensification, that is business-as-usual, is uncontroversial (but often considered unlikely to be able to achieve environmental sustainability), the phrases sustainable intensification and ecological intensification both have a complex history. Although one could think that they have similar meanings, the phrases represent very different perspectives in discourses in science and policy circles. The terms Utopians and Arcadians are introduced for adherents of those perspectives. We observe that they both devote insufficient attention to inevitable trade-offs. Agricultural intensification in developing countries was greatly accelerated by the Green Revolution, which largely bypassed sub-Saharan Africa. Discontent with that outcome has led to a plethora of new terms to indicate more successful next steps for sub-Saharan agriculture. Industrialized agriculture as currently practised in developed countries will not provide a universal solution. This epilogue of the special issue and the literature herein show that intense debates on sustainable agricultural intensification are needed. Such debates on intensification demand reflection on the role of scientists with regard to their uses of current and the generation of novel knowledge.
    Deconstructing and unpacking scientific controversies in intensification and sustainability: why the tensions in concepts and values?
    Struik, P.C. ; Kuyper, T.W. ; Brussaard, L. ; Leeuwis, C. - \ 2014
    Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 8 (2014). - ISSN 1877-3435 - p. 80 - 88.
    soil fertility management - resource use efficiency - food security - agricultural sustainability - ecological intensification - sugar-beet - innovation - quality - systems - conservation
    Assuming ‘ceteris paribus’ in terms of the viability of the planet during the coming half-century or so, the rising needs of a burgeoning, but also increasingly rich and demanding world population will drastically change agriculture. Crop yields and animal productivity will have to increase substantially, with the risk of further depleting the resource base and degrading the environment, making food production both the culprit and the victim. Future food security therefore depends on development of technologies that increase the efficiency of resource use and prevent externalization of costs. The current trend is towards intensification, especially more output per production unit so as to increase input efficiency. Whether that trend is sustainable is a matter of strong debate among scientists and policy-makers alike. The big question is how to produce more food with much fewer resources. Sustainable intensification (i.e., increasing agricultural output while keeping the ecological footprint as small as possible) for some is an oxymoron, unless real progress can be made in ecological intensification, that is, increasing agricultural output by capitalizing on ecological processes in agro-ecosystems. Definitions of intensification and sustainability vary greatly. The way these concepts are being used in different disciplines causes tensions and hides trade-offs instead of making them explicit. Inter-disciplinarity and boundary-crossing in terminology and concepts are needed. Implicitly, the operationalization of intensification and sustainability implies appreciation of and choices for values, an issue that is often overlooked and sometimes even denied in the natural sciences. The multidimensional nature of intensification needs to be linked to the various notions of sustainability, acknowledging a hierarchy of considerations underlying decision-making on trade-offs, thus allowing political and moral arguments to play a proper role in the strategy towards sustainable intensification. We make a plea to create clarity in assumptions, norms and values in that decision-making process. Acknowledging that win-win situations are rare and that (some) choices have to be made on non-scientific grounds makes the debate more transparent and its outcome more acceptable both to the scientific community and society at large.
    Agricultural sciences in transition from 1800 to 2020: Exploring knowledge and creating impact
    Spiertz, J.H.J. - \ 2014
    European Journal of Agronomy 59 (2014). - ISSN 1161-0301 - p. 96 - 106.
    nitrogen-use efficiency - food security - water-use - ecological intensification - crop photosynthesis - cereal production - green-revolution - abiotic stress - harvest index - leaf nitrogen
    Transitions in agricultural sciences are brought about by incorporating new findings and insights emerg-ing from biological, chemical and biophysical sciences, by more advanced ways of experimentation andlast but not least by quantitative methods and models for data analyses and processing. Major break-throughs occurred from 1800 onwards when new insights on photosynthesis and mineral nutrition wereincorporated in the theory on the growth of crops. It took almost half a century before the humus theorywas replaced by a more sound theory on mineral nutrition. The publication by Darwin on domestica-tion in 1868 and the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws in 1900 gave a boost to genetics underlying classicalplant and animal breeding, which was mainly based on crossing and selection. A major accomplishmentof the evolutionary synthesis was the compatibility of Mendelian inheritance with Darwinian naturalselection. The discovery of the DNA-structure in the mid-fifties of the 20th century on modern plantbreeding showed already impact within some decades. To assess the wide diversity of plant traits forthe performance of plants in yield and quality of the produce advanced phenotyping method under con-trolled conditions has become popular. Genome-wide selection for environments with multiple stresses,however, does require phenotyping in situ. Since 1800 the transition from observations on the plant, fieldand farm towards dedicated experimentation took place. During the 19th and 20th century the methodsfor experimentation and data analyses were strongly improved. It took until the mid-20th century beforethe importance of experiments under controlled conditions was recognized. Studies of plant processesunder controlled conditions provided the building blocks for mechanistic modelling of crop growth andproduction. A systems approach combining knowledge at different scales and incorporating cutting-edgefindings from the basic sciences into applied sciences will become important for making a great leap for-ward in developing agricultural science with impact. Transitions in agricultural research will continueto depend on progress made in the related basic sciences and the capacity for agricultural research andinnovation. Therefore, an adequate public funding is required to maintain or even accelerate progress insciences. This requires the support of the public at large. Public–private partnerships will be needed tobridge the gap between science and innovation.
    Designing sustainable agricultural production systems for a changing world: Methods and applications : Preface
    Dogliotti, S. ; Rodríguez, D. ; López-Ridaura, S. ; Tittonell, P.A. ; Rossing, W.A.H. - \ 2014
    Agricultural Systems 126 (2014). - ISSN 0308-521X - p. 1 - 2.
    ecological intensification
    Climate-induced yield variability and yield gaps of maize (Zea mays L.) in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia
    Kassie, B.T. ; Ittersum, M.K. van; Hengsdijk, H. ; Asseng, S. ; Wolf, J. ; Rotter, R.P. - \ 2014
    Field Crops Research 160 (2014). - ISSN 0378-4290 - p. 41 - 53.
    sub-saharan africa - use systems-analysis - crop growth-models - ecological intensification - fertilizer application - simulation-model - water-uptake - agriculture - adaptation - ceres
    There is a high demand for quantitative information on impacts of climate on crop yields, yield gaps and their variability in Ethiopia, yet, quantitative studies that include an indication of uncertainties in the estimates are rare. A multi-model crop growth simulation approach using the two crop models, i.e. Decision Support System for Agro-Technology (DSSAT) and WOrld FOod STudies (WOFOST) was applied to characterize climate-induced variability and yield gaps of maize. The models were calibrated and evaluated with experimental data from the Central Rift Valley (CRV) in Ethiopia. Subsequently, a simulation experiment was carried out with an early maturing (Melkassa1) and a late maturing (BH540) cultivar using historical weather data (1984-2009) of three locations in the CRV. Yield gaps were computed as differences among simulated water-limited yield, on-farm trial yields and average actual farmers' yields. The simulation experiment revealed that the potential yield (average across three sites and 1984-2009) is 8.2-9.2 and 6.8-7.1 Mg/ha for the late maturing and early maturing cultivars, respectively; ranges indicate mean differences between the two models. The simulated water-limited yield (averaged across three sites and 1984-2009) is 7.2-7.9 Mg/ha for the late maturing and 6.1-6.7 Mg/ha for the early maturing cultivar. The water-limited yield shows high inter-annual variability (CV 36%) and about 60% of this variability in yield is explained by the variation in growing season rainfall. The gap between average farmers yield and simulated water-limited yield ranges from 4.7 to 6.0 Mg/ha. The average farmers' yields were 2.0-2.3 Mg/ha, which is about 1.1-3.1 Mg/ha lower than on-farm trial yields. In relative terms, average farmers' yields are 28-30% of the water-limited yield and 44-65% of on-farm trial yields. Analysis of yield gaps for different number of years to drive average yields indicates that yield gap estimation on the basis of few years may result in misleading conclusions. Approximately ten years of data are required to be able to estimate yield gaps for the Central Rift Valley in a robust manner. Existing yield gaps indicate that there is scope for significantly increasing maize yield in the CRV and other, similar agro-ecological zones in Africa, through improved crop and climate risk management strategies. As crop models differ in detail of describing the complex, dynamic processes of crop growth, water use and soil water balances, the multi-model approach provides information on the uncertainty in simulating crop-climate interactions. (C) 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
    Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cepae dynamics: in-plant multiplication and crop sequence simulations
    Leoni, C. ; Vries, M. de; Braak, C.J.F. ter; Bruggen, A.H.C. van; Rossing, W.A.H. - \ 2013
    European Journal of Plant Pathology 137 (2013)3. - ISSN 0929-1873 - p. 545 - 561.
    f-sp melonis - ecological intensification - verticillium-dahliae - disease suppression - population-dynamics - organic amendments - soilborne diseases - farming systems - root diseases - wilt pathogen
    To reduce Fusarium Basal Rot caused by Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cepae (Foc) through crop rotation, plant species should be selected based on Foc multiplication in their roots. Foc multiplication rates in 13 plant species were tested in a greenhouse. All plant species enabled Foc multiplication. The lowest Foc levels (cfu g-1 dry root) were found for wheat, sunflower, cowpea and millet, the highest for black bean. The highest Foc levels per plant were calculated for sudan grass. These data were used to calibrate the model Pf¿=¿Pi/(a¿+¿ßPi) relating final (Pf) and initial (Pi) Foc levels in the soil. The rate of population increase at low Pi (1/a) was highest for onion and black oat and smallest for sunflower. The pathogen carrying capacity (1/ß) was highest for black oat and black bean, and lowest for wheat, cowpea and foxtail millet. Foc soil population dynamics was simulated for crop sequences by concatenating Pi-Pf values, considering instantaneous or gradual pathogen release after harvest. Different soil Foc populations were attained after reaching steady states. Foc populations in the sequence onion –foxtail millet - wheat – cowpea were 67 % lower than in the sequence onion – sudan grass - black oat - black beans. In this work, by combining detailed greenhouse experiments with modelling, we were able to screen crops for their ability to increase Foc population and to explore potential crop sequences that may limit pathogen build-up
    Pushing the envelope? Maize production intensification and the role of cattle manure in recovery of degraded soils in smallholder farming areas of Zimbabwe
    Rusinamhodzi, L. ; Corbeels, M. ; Zingore, S. ; Nyamangara, J. ; Giller, K.E. - \ 2013
    Field Crops Research 147 (2013). - ISSN 0378-4290 - p. 40 - 53.
    repellent sandy soil - organic-matter - ecological intensification - conservation agriculture - fertility gradients - southern africa - management - systems - carbon - resource
    Soil fertility decline is a major constraint to crop productivity on smallholder farms in Africa. The objective of this study was to evaluate the long-term (up to nine years) impacts of nutrient management strategies and their local feasibility on crop productivity, soil fertility status and rainfall infiltration on two contrasting soil types and different prior management regimes in Murehwa, Zimbabwe. The nutrient management strategies employed in the study were: a control with no fertiliser, amendments of 100 kg N ha-1, 100 kg N + lime, three rates of manure application (5, 15 and 25 t ha-1) in combination with 100 kg N ha-1, and three rates of P fertiliser (10, 30 and 50 kg P ha-1) in combination with 100 kg N, 20 kg Ca, 5 kg Zn and 10 kg Mn ha-1. Maize grain yields in sandy soils did not respond to the sole application of 100 kg N ha-1; manure application had immediate and incremental benefits on crop yields on the sandy soils. A combination of 25 t ha-1 manure and 100 kg N gave the largest treatment yield of 9.3 t ha-1 on the homefield clay soils, 6.1 t ha-1 in the clay outfield, 7.6 t ha-1 in the homefield and 3.4 t ha-1 in the eighth season. Yields of the largest manure application on the sandy outfields were comparable to yields with 100 kg N in combination with 30 kg P, 20 kg Ca, 5 kg Zn and 10 kg Mn ha-1 in the homefields suggesting the need to target nutrients differently to different fields. Manure application improved rainfall infiltration in the clay soils from 21 to 31 mm h-1 but on the sandy soils the manure effect on infiltration was not significant. Despite the large manure applications, crop productivity and SOC build-up in the outfield sandy soils was small highlighting the difficulty to recover the fertility of degraded soils. The major cause of poor crop productivity on the degraded sandy soils despite the large additions of manure could not be ascertained. The current practice of allocating manure and fertiliser to fields closest to homesteads exacerbates land degradation in the sandy outfields and increases soil fertility gradients but results in the most harvest for the farm. On clay soils, manure may be targeted to outfields and mineral fertiliser to homefields to increase total crop productivity. Farmers who owned cattle in the study site can achieve high manure application rates on small plots, and manure application can be rotated according to crop sequences. Consistent application of manure in combination with mineral fertilisers can be an effective option to improve crop yield, SOC and moisture conservation under smallholder farming conditions. Combined manure and mineral fertiliser application can be adapted locally as a feasible entry point for ecological intensification in mixed crop–livestock systems.
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