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Agronomy for Sustainable Development
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Soil erosion is a major issue for crop production, and is expected to increase with climate change. Measuring soil loss is difficult and few reliable methods are available. Agronomists Duan et al. designed a new method to calculate soil loss tolerance, taking into account soil productivity.
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Poultry producers are always seeking a more efficient chicken that will grow faster using fewer resources. But what are the consequences on the birds themselves? Scientists Tallentire et al. find that the improved efficiency of modern breeds is the result of increased growth rate, particularly of breast meat. They discuss the effects of artificial selection on traits such as metabolic activity. As industrial feed production has a huge environmental impact, is this progress in chicken genetics good news for global food sustainability?
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Castration of male piglets is a standard practice used by the pig industry to avoid boar taint, a sensory defect of meat from boars. An initiative to abandon this practice has been undertaken by key stakeholders in European Union, which will greatly impact the pig meat sector and which has stimulated intensive research to find easy implementable alternatives to reduce boar taint. Dietary compounds have shown promising results as potential alternative to reduce boar taint. Research from Bilić-Šobot et al. shows that hydrolysable tannins should prevent boar taint by affecting metabolic pathways of boar taint substances.
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Grazing intensification with non-native livestock degrade vegetation cover, particularly, in arid environments where low resource availability in the soil strongly limits plant recovery after damage. However, it remains unclear whether the negative effect of grazing on consumed plants is transmitted to plant offspring. Tadey & Souto analysed whether grazing reduces fruit weight, germination percentage and seedling vigor of consumed vegetation along a grazing gradient. They found that increasing livestock density decreased fruit weight and germination percentage but, unexpectedly, enhanced seedling vigor of dryland shrub species.
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Tomato production is threatened by the tomato borer Tuta absoluta, notably due to the development of resistance in strains treated with conventional insecticides. Agronomists Borgi et al. show that the Beauveria bassiana fungus can be used efficiently against the tomato borer. Fungal strains overproducing the protease and chitinase enzyme are suitable biocontrol agents.
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Phosphorus is a non-renewable and strategic resource essential to produce food and other goods through. Present methods to measure soil phosphorus lack accuracy. Recena et al. designed a new method taking into account clay content and pH to make accurate predictions of phosphorus threshold values. This will contribute to a more sustainable use of phosphorus resource in agriculture.
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How to increase grain yield and decrease the impact of agriculture on climate? Liu et al. found in the literature seven key farming practices that increase crop yields by 15-59%, decrease carbon footprints by 25-34% and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 25-50%.
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Adaptation of farming management practices to changing environmental conditions, such as climate, is a major issue that controls the success or failure of food production. Therefore Robert et al. review how flexible management strategies are in farming decision models. They propose a sequential decision-making process.
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Johnsongrass, one of the most competitive weeds in maize, is actually controlled by broadcast application of at least two herbicide treatment. Agronomists López-Granados et al. designed a high-resolution method to locate weeds using drones to take visible and near infrared pictures, then algorithms to map johnsongrass patches (light green) in maize rows (dark blue). They deduce that site-specific control would save up to 95% herbicides, which will be consistent with European and the Spanish legislations.
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Cover crops reduce nitrogen pollution from croplands, but naturally occurring weeds may provide similar benefits during fallow periods. Agronomist Wortman shows that nitrogen loss is 60% lower in weedy fields than in bare fields. Cover crops are 26% more effective than weeds in reducing nitrogen loss, but given the issues of cover crop adoption, cultivation of fallow weeds looks promising.
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Legumes are not only good for food but legume cultivation also provides nitrogen that can further fertilise other plants. Agronomists Thilakarathna et al. review how nitrogen is transferred from legumes to other plants. They suggest the co-selection of plant pairs with compatible traits.
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Urban gardens are rapidly spreading in cities because people want healthier, self-grown food. However, cities are often highly polluted by atmospheric pollutants. Soils used for plant growth may also contain heavy metals. Agronomists Pennisi et al. grew vegetables with and without soil and found that soilless vegetables contained 70% less chromium, 61% less copper, 45% less cadmium and 81% less nickel. They conclude that, unexpectedly, soil is the major pollution source of urban vegetables, not air.
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