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'Plant teams' may help feed a rising population, researchers say

The DIVERSify research team (c) James Hutton Institute
"This is a great opportunity to use our leading scientific expertise to make a positive and practical contribution to the sustainability of our food production systems"

A new research initiative led by Scotland’s James Hutton Institute is set to explore innovative mixed-species crop systems, or ‘plant teams’, in a drive to tackle a global challenge: how to feed a growing population from finite resources without wrecking our planet. The €5m DIVERSify project, short for ‘Designing InnoVative plant teams for Ecosystem Resilience and agricultural Sustainability’, aims to optimise the performance of cereals grown with legumes.

Previous research has shown crop species mixtures - or ‘plant teams’ - could be adopted more widely to improve yield stability between seasons and locations, reduce pest and disease damage and enhance climate stress resilience in agriculture. However, this requires crop scientists to devise novel cropping systems for farmers to increase resource-use efficiency and reduce nutrient loss to groundwater, provide new knowledge and tools for crop breeders to develop suitable varieties, and provide information for agronomists to optimise the management on-farm.

The DIVERSify consortium comprises 23 partner organisations, representing scientists, farmers, advisors, breeders and technology providers, from 14 countries in Europe and worldwide, ensuring the project has global relevance.

As well as leading the project, the James Hutton Institute will conduct field trials to identify crop features or traits that enhance the performance of barley-pea and wheat-faba bean plant teams, utilizing the ability of the legumes to fix nitrogen from the air rather than relying solely on synthetic fertilisers, and will work with farmers to carry out participatory trials to validate plant teams at field scale.

Professor Colin Campbell, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, said: “We are very excited to be leading this prestigious project that could have a big impact on achieving high on-farm yields in sustainable, low input systems. This is a great opportunity to use our leading scientific expertise to make a positive and practical contribution to the sustainability of our food production systems.”

Dr Alison Karley, research leader at the James Hutton Institute’s Ecological Sciences group and project coordinator, said the project will work with stakeholders in farming systems in Europe, Africa and the Middle East to identify existing knowledge, innovations and best practices for plant teams.

“DIVERSify will devise and test a novel ecological approach to identify plant traits as targets for breeding for improved performance in plant teams, and provide scientific evidence for the mechanisms that optimise plant team performance across a range of environments and climatic conditions.

“Optimised plant teams will be trialled through participatory on-farm trials with our innovative farmers to validate and demonstrate plant teams across Europe.”

The project will also develop a suite of tools to aid adoption of plant teams. These include a novel modelling tool for design of innovative plant teams, and agronomic specifications for plant teams, including farm machinery adaptations. A web-based and mobile-phone friendly decision aid will be produced for practitioners to select suitable plant teams in different regions and farm types. A comprehensive programme of activities for project communication and knowledge exchange with the farming and breeding sectors, science and the public will promote the adoption of successful plant teams into the future. 

Notes to editors

The James Hutton Institute is a member of the multidiscplinary consortium of scientists, farmers, advisors, breeders and technology providers working together on the €5 million DIVERSify project funded by the EU over four years (2017-2021) in the Horizon 2020 programme under Societal Challenge 2 (Food security, sustainable agriculture and forestry, marine and maritime inland water research and the bioeconomy). The consortium involves 23 beneficiary partners from the UK, Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Kenya, Palestine and Lebanon, working with stakeholders in the farming and crop breeding sectors. The project is co-ordinated by Dr Alison Karley and Prof Adrian Newton at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, Scotland, UK.

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).

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Printed from /news/plant-teams-may-help-feed-rising-population-researchers-say on 18/07/19 12:19:41 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.