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EU Project to Increase Sustainability of Farming Practices

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A €10 ​million project ​to develop ​innovative ​farming models ​across Europe ​has been ​launched by the ​EU-based ​ Diverfarming consortium.

The aim is to ​make agribusiness ​more sustainable ​in the long ​term by ​increasing crop ​diversification ​and develop ​methods of ​farming that ​use less water, ​energy, ​fertilisers and ​pesticides. ​

Farming lies ​at the heart of ​much of the ​EU’s ​socio-economic ​framework. In ​2015, it ​provided 9.2 ​million direct ​jobs and a GDP ​of over €​500 billion. ​However, recent ​agriculture ​policies based ​on intense ​mechanisation, ​excessive use ​of external ​inputs (water, ​energy, ​fertilisers, ​pesticides etc) ​and monocrop ​farming has ​resulted in ​soil degradation,​ reduced ​biodiversity ​and increased ​economic risk. ​

In the UK, ​the ​University of ​Portsmouth ​has been ​awarded £​165,416 funding ​from the ​EU’s ​Horizon 2020 ​research scheme ​to assess the ​benefits and ​minimise the ​drawbacks of ​diversified ​cropping ​systems using ​fewer of the ​typical ​external inputs ​listed above. ​

The studies ​will be tailor-​made to fit the ​unique ​characteristics ​of six EU ​regions – ​Mediterranean ​south and north,​ Atlantic ​central, ​Continental, ​the Pannonian ​basin (east ​central Europe) ​and Boreal (​subarctic) ​– each of ​which has a ​different ​pedoclimate (a ​microclimate ​within soil ​that integrates ​the combined ​effects of its ​temperature, ​water content ​and aeration). ​

One of ten ​work packages ​in the €10 ​million ​Diverfarming ​project, the ​researchers at ​Portsmouth will ​develop ​mathematical ​models to ​explore how ​diversified ​cropping ​systems ​influence soil-​water-​atmosphere-​plant systems ​in the ​different ​regions. The ​diversified ​cropping ​systems will be ​tested in field ​case studies ​for major crops ​within each ​pedoclimatic ​region. ​

The results ​will help to ​develop a ​simple decision ​support tool to ​select the most ​appropriate ​cropping ​systems and ​agricultural ​practices to ​improve farm ​productivity ​and sustainability.​ It will also ​provide ​guidelines for ​the most ​efficient uses ​of resources ​across the many ​bio-economy ​sectors ​involved. ​

Overall, it is ​hoped that the ​outcomes of the ​Diverfarming ​project will ​provide: ​
• ​Increased ​overall land ​productivity ​
• More ​rational use of ​farm land and ​inputs such as ​water, energy, ​machinery, ​fertilisers and ​pesticides ​
• ​Improved ​biodiversity ​and soil ​quality ​
• ​Downstream ​value chains ​that are ​adapted to the ​new diversified ​cropping ​systems with ​decreased use ​of energy ​
• Access ​to new markets ​and reduced ​economy risks ​by adopting new ​products. ​