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The Centre for Sustainable Cropping long-term platform

The Hutton’s Centre for Sustainable Cropping (CSC) long-term platform was established in 2009 to design, implement and test a regenerative cropping system, with the goal of achieving multiple environmental and ecological benefits from arable land.

The CSC is a field-scale comparison of regenerative cropping against standard agronomic practice over multiple six-year crop rotations. The regenerative system integrates reduced tillage, organic matter amendments, cover and companion cropping, threshold and targeted crop protection applications and nutrient budgeting, all with the goal to reduce reliance on chemical interventions by promoting soil health, plant fitness and biodiversity.

The regenerative system is compared in a split-field design against a conventional ploughed system with blanket fertiliser applications and prescriptive, prophylactic crop protection treatments. Replication is year-on-year, but large field sizes allow commercially realistic estimates of costs and benefits.

Trends in systems indicators (soil properties, biodiversity, crop quality and economics) are used to review how well the sustainability objectives are met and guide further improvements in system design.

Initial trade-offs between enhancing biodiversity, soil health and crop yield in the early stages of conversion from intensive to regenerative cropping appear to become less over time and the length and nature of this transition phase highlights the importance of long-term experiments in agroecological research.

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Further reading

Roberts, M., Hawes, C., Young, M. (2023). Environmental management on agricultural land: Cost benefit analysis of an integrated cropping system for provision of environmental public goods. Journal of Environmental Management 331; 117306.

George, T.S., Hawes, C., Valentine, T.A., Karley, A.J., Iannetta, P.P.M., Brooker, R.W. (2022). Harnessing ecological principles and physiological mechanisms in diversifying agricultural systems for sustainability: experience from studies deploying nature-based solutions in Scotland. Frontiers in Agricultural Science and Engineering 9, 214-237.

Hawes, C., Young, M.W., Banks, G., Begg, G.S., Christie, A., Iannetta, P.P.M., Karley A.J., Squire, G.R. (2019). Whole-Systems Analysis of Environmental and Economic Sustainability in Arable Cropping Systems: A Case Study. Agronomy, 9 438

Hawes, C., Alexander, C.J., Begg, G.S., Iannetta, P.P.M., Karley, A.J., Squire, G.R., Young, M. (2018). Plant Responses to an Integrated Cropping System Designed to Maintain Yield Whilst Enhancing Soil Properties and Biodiversity, Agronomy, 8(10), 229


Areas of Interest

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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.