Growing Climate Smart Solutions Act Signals Policy Progress
The introduction earlier this month of bipartisan legislation in the Senate could jumpstart a market for carbon retained in the soil by farmers.
The legislation is seen as a big policy step forward in enabling agriculture to provide solutions to climate change. The Growing Climate Solutions Act has been endorsed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Corn Growers Association and the Environmental Defense Fund, along with business interests like McDonald’s and Microsoft. More than 40 farm groups, environmental organizations and Fortune 500 companies have endorsed the measure.
Solutions from the Land (SfL), NACSAA’s sponsoring organization, says the measure “represents real progress in designing and advancing a practical and pragmatic approach to enable and reward farmers who deliver climate solutions.”
The legislation aims to break down barriers for farmers and foresters interested in participating in carbon markets so they can be rewarded for climate-smart practices. The act creates a certification program at USDA to help solve technical entry barriers that prevent farmers and forestland-owners from participating in carbon credit markets. The measure also aims to improve access to reliable information about markets and provide access to experts who can offer qualified technical assistance and verify credit protocols.
As ambitious as the legislation might be, SfL points out that “the carbon sequestration practices like those promoted by the bill are among a number of climate smart agriculture (CSA) enabling polices that are needed to realize the full potential of agricultural solutions to climate change.”
Investment in Rural America Enable
Natural Climate Solutions – Nicholas Institute
A new report by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions outlines a series of natural climate solution policy ideas aimed at investing in rural communities in a way that earns their political support in the face of rural voter skepticism of federal environmental policy.
“Our forests and agricultural lands can make enormous contributions to dramatically reduce net greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” said Robert Bonnie, executive in residence at the Nicholas Institute and a co-author of the report. “But to build political support for the policies and investments needed for our farmers, ranchers, forest owners and public land managers in doing that, we must earn broad backing among both environmental and rural stakeholders.
“We hope this report offers insight and a potential pathway for building a menu of policies that can both address the climate challenge and win rural support.”
The report, “Rural Investment: Building a Natural Climate Solutions Policy Agenda that Works for Rural America and the Climate,” focuses on four questions to develop a list of policy options:
- Which agricultural and forestry practices result in the most significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions and sequestration, and where are those practices likely to occur?
- What are the positions of stakeholders in agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation, and environment/conservation with regard to climate policy on agricultural and forest lands?
- What can be learned from state experience with natural climate solutions?
- What suite of federal policies could get the necessary GHG reductions and win rural support?
Analysis showed that policies that reward only landowners and agricultural and forestry producers who can significantly reduce GHGs likely will not earn enough support from rural Americans to achieve the needed scale of investments in natural climate solutions.
To win broader support, the report recommends that federal policy consider a suite of investments in agriculture and forestry focused on more than just GHG mitigation, including but not limited to the creation of meaningful and higher-paying jobs, climate resilience, agricultural and forest productivity, and non-climate environmental benefits, such as clean water.
The report examines the feasibility of several specific policy options for meeting this goal, including carbon offsets, a carbon bank, Farm Bill conservation programs, and tax incentives for financing natural climate solutions. In addition, Congress should also examine investments in sustainably produced bioenergy, including renewable natural gas; forest products markets; and agricultural and forestry jobs.
Any plan for the United States to meet aggressive climate goals will require farmers, ranchers, forest owners and public land management agencies to implement natural climate solutions on hundreds of millions of acres of land, the report asserts. Forests absorb the equivalent of 11-15 percent of U.S. GHGs. Meanwhile agriculture accounts for about 9 percent of the country’s GHG emissions but has the potential to both reduce those emissions significantly and sequester carbon in soils, grasslands and trees.
“Farms and forests are a linchpin of the climate equation. Greenhouse gas concentrations can’t be contained without them – and the rural places they define – reaching their full potential and quickly,” said Tatjana Vujic, assistant professor of the practice in the Nicholas School and director of biogas strategy for Duke University. “This rural investment analysis reflects the types of authentic approaches that are most likely to be embraced by the real natural climate solution experts: farmers, forest landowners and other rural citizens.”
The report suggests that advocates for natural climate solutions be prepared to push for rural investments that bolster these solutions outside of comprehensive climate legislation. One potential opportunity that the authors say would have “a strong economic rationale and broad political support” is as part of an economic recovery package to significantly boost rural communities and agriculture and forestry producers hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.
SfL urged policymakers to consider and adopt the farmer-centric enabling policies outlined in the Nicholas Institute report, noting that it “includes a valuable menu of . . . ideas capable of both garnering the necessary support from rural America and helping the United States reach its climate goals through natural climate solutions.
“As the world looks for answers to the now co-joined mega and growing food security, health, climate and environmental challenges of our times, the good news is that agriculture is capable of delivering solutions at scale. Now is the time to construct the enabling policies for these high value solutions to be realized,” SfL said in s blog published June 10th.
Biofuels Sector Erupts on EPA
Considering 52 ‘Gap Year’ Refinery Waiver Petitions
Tensions between the biofuels industry, oil companies and the EPA exploded last week when the agency announced that it had received 52 new petitions have been received from small refineries seeking retroactive exemptions from their Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requirements in 2011 through 2018.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler
(Credit: Alamy Stock Photo)
The announcement, which was made in response to complaints over a lack of transparency by the EPA with it small-refinery exemptions (SREs), drew a heated response from the renewable fuels industry.
In ruling on a petition filed by the Renewable Fuels Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, and American Coalition for Ethanol, a panel of Tenth Circuit Court judges unanimously found on Jan. 24 that EPA had exceeded its authority in granting certain exemptions. The court ruled that EPA may only consider granting waivers to refiners who have received continuous extensions of their exemptions each compliance year.
The judges also said EPA may only grant waivers to refiners who demonstrate the RFS itself is the cause of “hardship,” not other factors, and noted that EPA’s own analysis shows that refiners pass compliance costs on to their customers. EPA data show that no more than seven small refineries could have possibly received continuous extensions of their exemptions. Yet, EPA has recently granted as many as 35 exemptions in a single year.
The biofuel industry says refiners are apparently attempting to justify the “gap year” waivers by suggesting the statute allows them to file a petition “at any time.’ However, the Tenth Circuit ruling says the phrase “at any time” does not allow EPA to grant a petition regardless of when it is received.
Brian Jennings, CEO of the American Coalition for Ethanol, said those “who have been paying attention to how the Trump administration handles the RFS, it should no longer be shocking or surprising that EPA yet again appears to be aiding and abetting refineries escape their legal responsibility to blend ethanol and other renewable fuels.
He said that while the industry has been waiting since the January Tenth Circuit Court decision for the EPA to comply with the ruling limit the number of SREs going forward, “the agency’s priority instead been to help refiners invent this ‘gap year’ workaround.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, a major biofuel industry supporter, said in a call with reporters last week that the issue raises political consequences for the White House.
“If the EPA ends up accepting these petitions,” Grassley said, “not only will they lose again in court, they will risk President Trump’s support in Iowa and other Midwestern states.”
Pending Legislation Would Provide Flexibility
For Cover Crops on Prevented Plant Acres
As extreme and variable weather events become more common, farmers may face more seasons where planting their planned cash crop isn’t possible. Rather than leave soil bare for the rest of the season, planting cover crops can prevent soil erosion, add nutrients and increase long-term soil resilience to droughts or moderate floods.
Right now, planting cover crops can reduce the prevent plant payments that farmers are eligible to receive from federal crop insurance. The Cover Crop Flexibility Act, a bipartisan bill introduced this spring, would change that. The bill would allow farmers to plant cover crops without taking a hit on insurance payments and to use cover crops as animal forage.
For both the environment and the long-term viability of farm businesses, it’s critical that public policy actively encourages farmers to use of proven climate-smart practices. Removing disincentives is a good first step.
U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S), a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the committee’s ranking member introduced the legislation to permanently remove the prohibition on harvesting or grazing cover crops on prevented plant acres prior to November 1.
The legislation was inspired by Thune’s 2019 effort that led the USDA to make a one-time administrative change that allowed for penalty-free haying and grazing, which significantly benefited states like South Dakota and Michigan. S. 3479 would provide a permanent solution to this issue and create greater certainty for U.S. producers.
“Last year, given the harsh growing conditions, which led to nearly 4 million prevented plant acres in South Dakota, I met with leaders at USDA to strongly encourage them to move up the administratively mandated harvesting and grazing date,” said Thune. “While this short-term fix was necessary and welcome relief to many South Dakota producers, it was only that – a short-term fix. This common-sense legislation would permanently remove the date restriction, which would help level the playing field and give our producers the certainty they need as they prepare for another potentially difficult year.”
“Planting cover crops is one of the best ways farmers can improve their land and address the climate crisis,” said Stabenow. “When bad weather causes farmers to miss planting season like we saw in Michigan last spring, it makes sense to help them get the best use out of their land. Improving crop insurance to encourage cover cropping will lead to less erosion and healthier soil that pulls carbon out of the air and stores it in the ground.”
The Cover Crop Flexibility Act of 2020 would:
- Remove a prohibition on grazing or harvesting cover crops for hay or silage and eliminate an arbitrary date that allowed farmers with longer growing seasons more opportunities than those in northern states. Farmers would still have to plant cover crops on approved lists to prevent manipulation of the flexibility and avoid harvesting during the primary nesting season of local birds.
- Allow USDA to include cover crop seed and grazing-related costs when it sets the factor that is used to calculate the prevented planting indemnity. The current formula only allows USDA to consider pre-planting costs when setting the factor, so the cost of cover crop seed and grazing are a potential barrier for farmers who are already facing the effects of a natural disaster.
- Direct USDA to conduct a study to examine the extent that cover crops reduce risks of prevented planting and other crop insurance losses. If the study finds risk reductions, it allows USDA to adjust prevented planting factors or provide policies with appropriate lower premiums for farmers using cover crops.
The bill is supported by the National Milk Producers Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, American Seed Trade Association, AGree Economic and Environmental Risk Coalition, Environmental Defense Fund, American Farmland Trust, National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited and the National Association of Conservation Districts, along with numerous state and regional farming, livestock-producing, agronomy, conservation and agribusiness groups.
Efforts Underway in Canada to Produce
Pellets from Under-Utilized Ag Biomass
With funding from the federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriScience Program, efforts are underway to produce durable and homogeneous pellets with consistent quality from under-utilized and low-quality biomass resources from throughout the country, including pine, Douglas fir, straw, switchgrass and poplar.
As a member of BioFuelNet Canada (BFN), the Biomass & Bioenergy Research Group (BBRG) at the University of British Columbia is leading the project in collaboration with the Wood Pellet Association of Canada (WPAC) and BFN. The project is part of BioMass Canada Cluster with the overall goal of mobilizing under-utilized biomass resources in Canada to commoditize biomass for bioenergy, biofuels and bioproducts.
The project, which has received $2.4 million in funding for four years (2019-2023), provides BBRG the opportunity to build on its successful collaborations with the Canadian wood pellet industry in the last decade and to produce and commercialize pellets from under-utilized and low-quality agricultural residues in Canada.
The produced pellets will be integrated into the existing wood pellet and grain supply chains to minimize their logistics costs. The final objective of this project is to make these pellets a source of low-carbon intensive and affordable drop-in feedstocks for the production of bioenergy, biofuels and bio-products.
“This is an incredibly exciting project,” said Joyce Murray, Minister of Digital Government, on behalf of the Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “We are supporting this project because it has the potential not only to grow our bioeconomy with clean energy, but also to add value for farmers’ crops and for by-products that would otherwise be wasted. These are the kinds of clean energy investments Canadians want to see right now.”
With the looming pressure on the sustainable feedstock supply globally and with the implementation of the federal Clean Fuel Standard in Canada, BBRG, BFN and WPAC aim to mobilize the under-utilized biomass resources using pelletization technology to make them available to the national, regional and international markets. Both the sustainability concerns and the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction potential favor the use of sustainable and low-carbon intensive feedstocks such as lignocellulosic residues.
Lignocellulosic residues such as wheat straw are usually left in the field. In some regions, they are collected for local markets such as animal bedding. Canadian farmers in a few places still practice straw burning as a means of controlling insects and weeds, reducing the excessive residue load and returning nutrients to the soil.
Despite the abundance of lignocellulosic residues in Canada, they do not currently contribute to the production of biofuel in Canada and their use for bioenergy is very limited. A primary barrier is low and inconsistent quality and inefficient logistics of lignocellulosic residues, a pain point that was deeply felt by the cellulosic ethanol pioneers in the United States, which resulted in the slow down or shut down of these facilities. One of the lessons learned from these projects is that using straw bales directly as a feedstock in commercial biofuel projects is very challenging and inefficient. Turning bulky biomass with diverse properties to a uniform format, predictable properties and logistically advantageous pellets present a solution.
Use of Forests to Offset Carbon Emissions
Requires an Understanding of Risks
Given the tremendous ability of forests to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, some governments are counting on planted forests as offsets for greenhouse gas emissions — a sort of climate investment. But as with any investment, it’s important to understand the risks. If a forest goes bust, researchers say, much of that stored carbon could go up in smoke.
In a paper published in Science, University of Utah biologist William Anderegg and his colleagues say that forests can be best deployed in the fight against climate change with a proper understanding of the risks to that forest that climate change itself imposes.
“As long as this is done wisely and based on the best available science, that’s fantastic,” Anderegg says. “But there hasn’t been adequate attention to the risks of climate change to forests right now.”
In 2019, Anderegg convened a workshop in Salt Lake City to gather some of the foremost experts on climate change risks to forests. The diverse group represented various disciplines: law, economics, science and public policy, among others.
“This was designed to bring some of the people who had thought about this the most together and to start talking and come up with a roadmap,” Anderegg says.
The paper published in Science, part of that roadmap, calls attention to the risks forests face from myriad consequences of rising global temperatures, including fire, drought, insect damage and human disturbance – a call to action, Anderegg says, to bridge the divide between the data and models produced by scientists and the actions taken by policymakers.
Forests absorb a significant amount of the carbon dioxide that’s emitted into the atmosphere – just under a third, Anderegg says. “And this sponge for CO2 is incredibly valuable to us.”
Because of this, governments in many countries are looking to “forest-based natural climate solutions” that include preventing deforestation, managing natural forests and reforesting. Forests could be some of the more cost-effective climate mitigation strategies, with co-benefits for biodiversity, conservation and local communities.
But built into this strategy is the idea that forests are able to store carbon relatively “permanently,” or on the time scales of 50 to 100 years – or longer. Such permanence is not always a given.
“There’s a very real chance that many of those forest projects could go up in flames or to bugs or drought stress or hurricanes in the coming decades,” Anderegg says.
Forests have long been vulnerable to all of those factors, and have been able to recover from them when they are episodic or come one at a time. But the risks connected with climate change, including drought and fire, increase over time. Multiple threats at once, or insufficient time for forests to recover from those threats, can kill the trees, release the carbon, and undermine the entire premise of forest-based natural climate solutions.
“Without good science to tell us what those risks are,” Anderegg says, “we’re flying blind and not making the best policy decisions.”
In the paper, Anderegg and his colleagues encourage scientists to focus increased attention on assessing forest climate risks and share the best of their data and predictive models with policymakers so that climate strategies including forests can have the best long-term impact. For example, he says, the climate risk computer models scientists use are detailed and cutting-edge, but aren’t widely used outside the scientific community. So, policy decisions can rely on science that may be decades old.
Ceres Offers Regulators Steps to Protect
Financial Markets from Ongoing Climate Crisis
Climate change poses a systemic threat to the stability and competitiveness of U.S. financial markets, and financial regulators have the responsibility and the authority to better protect against that threat, according to a new report from the Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets.
The report Addressing Climate as a Systemic Risk: A call to action for U.S. financial regulators examines the wide-ranging and compounding impacts of the climate crisis on U.S. financial markets, establishing how these impacts fall within the purview of seven different federal financial regulatory agencies as well as state regulatory agencies. It studies what models for action are already being implemented by regulators around the world, and recommends more than 50 specific actions U.S. regulators can take right now – including what regulators can learn from the Covid-19 recovery effort.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed just how vulnerable our interdependent and multi-layered financial market is to the impacts of sudden and disruptive events,” said Steven Rothstein, Managing Director of the Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets. “Stresses and failures can have cascading impacts across the system and, unlike in the possible resolution to the Covid-19 pandemic. This report makes clear that it is the job of U.S. financial regulators to protect capital markets from the impacts of the climate crisis, and provides a carefully curated set of recommended actions for doing that job and doing it well.”
The report’s recommended action steps are directed at the Federal Reserve Bank (Fed), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., (FDIC), Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and federal and state insurance regulators, and fall within several key categories:
- Affirmation and Research. Financial regulators must affirm climate change as a systemic threat to capital markets and conduct research to determine how it impacts the aspects of the economy they’re responsible for safeguarding, such as financial markets writ large, the securities market, the commodities market, the insurance market or the mortgage market.
- Prudential supervision. Financial regulators that supervise banks, insurance companies, commodities traders, and other financial institutions, have a mandate to ensure they are operating in a way that plans for a changing climate and for the inevitable market and regulatory adjustments that come with that change. This includes requiring climate stress testing for financial institutions.
- Financial regulators must mandate consistent, comparable, reliable and decision-useful climate risk disclosure — including the disclosure of carbon emissions from their lending and investment activities — from companies and financial intermediaries.
- Financial regulatory bodies must coordinate and share findings to better understand the intersecting ways climate change relates to their respective mandates, and to work together in lock-step. The report also recommends that U.S. regulators collaborate globally by joining and becoming actively involved in the global Network for Greening the Financial System, currently composed of 65 global members.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated economic collapse, the report also urges the Fed to consider the climate-related impacts of its efforts to infuse liquidity into the economy. It points out that capital can get directed into risky, high-carbon sectors, which can worsen climate change impacts – citing how the Fed’s Main Street Lending Program makes it easier for oil companies to qualify for loans.
Although the U.S has already sustained more than $1.775 trillion in costs from more than 265 climate-related extreme weather events since 1980, and more than $500 billion in economic losses between 2015 and 2019, and with unmitigated climate set to take between a five and 20 percent of bite out of GDP, U.S. financial regulators are far behind their counterparts in China, Europe, the U.K., South America, and Canada, who are already responding to climate change as a systemic risk and are taking steps to protect their markets.
The report stresses that, at a minimum, such support should be underpinned by conditions relating to improved climate risk management and guarantees regarding repayment. The report also points to action being taken in other parts of the world, such as Canada, where the government is linking access to financial stimulus packages with climate risk disclosure.
Cows’ Microbiome Sucessfully Manipulated for First Time
The Mizrahi Group with Ben Gurion University (BGU), a public research institution in Israel, has successfully manipulated a cow’s microbiome for the first time. By learning to control the microbiome, scientists can prevent cows from emitting methane, one of the most serious greenhouse gases.
Prof. Itzhak Mizrahi’s findings were published late last month in Nature Communications.
The microbiome is an under-explored area scientifically, yet it exerts great control over many aspects of animal and human physical systems, researchers say. Microbes begin to be introduced at birth and produce a unique microbiome which then evolves over time.
Mizrahi and his group have been running a three-year experiment with a group of 50 cows. The cows were divided into two groups. One group gave birth naturally, and the other gave birth through cesarean section. That difference was enough to change the development and composition of the microbiome of the cows from each group.
The finding essentially enabled the development of an algorithm to predict the microbiome development: an algorithm that will predict how the microbiomes evolve over time based on its present composition together with Prof. Eran Halperin’s group at UCLA.
“Now that we know we can influence the microbiome development, we can use this knowledge to modulate microbiome composition to lower the environmental impact of cows on our planet by guiding them to our desired outcomes,” says Mizrahi.
Mizrahi has investigated the microbiome of cows, fish and other species to prepare us for a world shaped by climate change. Reducing methane emissions from cows will reduce global warming. Engineering healthier fish, which is another of Mizrahi’s projects, is especially important as the oceans empty of fish and aquaculture becomes the major source of seafood.
Mizrahi is a member of BGU’s Department of Life Sciences and a member of the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev (NIBN).
Global Food Production to Be Transformed Using New Tech
A complete overhaul of the way food is produced will be required over the next three decades to sustainably meet a 30-70-percent increase in the global population expected by mid-century.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, among others, have now created an overview of solutions that include a number of new technologies that can collectively address this global challenge. The results were published in Nature Food.
“Unfortunately, if we are to meet the growing demand for food in the years ahead, optimizing our current methods of production will be insufficient. They just won’t do. A radical change is needed,” states Svend Christensen, a professor and the Head of Department at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences.
“We have identified 75 new technologies which, combined, can transform the entire food chain – from production and processing, to consumption and waste management – to meet the demands of the future for significantly greater food production, that protects the environment and while being resilient to climate change,” Christensen said.
Together with an array of leading researchers from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, Christensen has identified a number of new and upcoming technologies that together, and each with their own approach, can solve the global challenge to society. Most of these technologies are fully developed, while others are just a few steps away, he added
Some of the more well-known technologies include artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering, micro-algae production and vertical farming. Others include nitrogen-fixating cereals that do not require artificial fertilizers, biodegradable polymers and the breeding of insects for animal feed and foodstuffs.
While each of these technologies are distinguished by their ability to reduce the climate footprint, there are tradeoffs that public authorities and decision-makers must consider. Among other things, the researchers cite the use of GMOs, as well as varying levels of access to new technologies from country to country.
“There is no doubt that this will require the support of, and large investments from, politicians, so that technologies and know-how are available in as many countries as possible,” Christensen said. “At the same time, there is a need to test and adapt these technologies in order for them to be used across the food chain, from farm to fork. This requires considerable investment and an acceptance of some of the technologies that need to be developed and adapted over many years. But this is the way forward if we are to solve this enormous challenge.”
Some of the new technologies may seem controversial to consumers. To better ensure public support and acceptance, the researcher said, transparency, clear information and open dialogue will be necessary to make consumers more comfortable with the new ways of producing food.
Intercropping Can Increase Ag Yields, Reduce Fertilizer Use
Intercropping, or the simultaneous cultivation of multiple crops on a single plot of land, can significantly increase the yield, not only of low input agriculture, but also of intensive agriculture, and reduce the use of fertilizers.
Photo Credit: WUR/Wopke van der Werf
Scientists of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) in The Netherlands reached the conclusion in collaboration with colleagues from China and published their results in Nature Plants.
Applied intercropping has long been seen as a method that provided benefits primarily in low-input agriculture and in areas where low-cost labor is available and fertilizers are expensive or unavailable, such as in parts of Africa, Asia and parts of Latin America.
Through an extensive meta-analysis of 226 previously conducted experiments, WUR researchers and their colleagues at China Agricultural University, discovered that intercropping can contribute at least as much to a significantly higher yield of intensive agriculture, while lowering the use of fertilizer.
Intercropping appears to give a 16-29 percent larger yield per unit area than monocultures in intensive agriculture under the same circumstances, while using 19-36 percent less fertilizer when counted per unit product.
The increase is most significant utilizing a method of intercropping called ‘relay strip intercropping’ that is frequently applied in China. This method combines crops whose growing season differs in strips that are one to 1.5 meters wide, with several rows of a crop species in each strip.
Wheat, barley and broad beans, for example, grow fast in spring, while corn-which is sown later-has the peak of its growth later in summer. Through these different growth periods, the available sunlight, water and nutrients on a field are used more effectively throughout the year than when monoculture is applied. Previous studies already showed that an added advantage of intercropping is that crops require less irrigation and pesticides to protect them from diseases and plagues.
Hurdles to wider adoption remain, including the need to introduce new and lighter agricultural machinery, the acceptance by farmers and figuring out the most suitable species combinations, spatial configuration and management according to local growing conditions are also required.
But Chunjie Li’s research shows the great potential of intercropping, including its potential for sustainably increasing the yield of both low and high-input agriculture.
“To feed the growing world population sustainably, these are opportunities that cannot be wasted,” says co-supervisor and co-author Wopke van der Werf, an associate professor for the WUR Centre for Crop Systems Analysis.