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Concept: Organic farming

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Volatile compounds and extrafloral nectar are common defenses of wild plants; however, in crops they bear an as-yet underused potential for biological control of pests and diseases. Odor emission and nectar secretion are multigene traits in wild plants, and thus form difficult targets for breeding. Furthermore, domestication has changed the capacity of crops to express these traits. We propose that breeding crops for an enhanced capacity for tritrophic interactions and volatile-mediated direct resistance to herbivores and pathogens can contribute to environmentally-friendly and sustainable agriculture. Natural plant volatiles with antifungal or repellent properties can serve as direct resistance agents. In addition, volatiles mediating tritrophic interactions can be combined with nectar-based food rewards for carnivores to boost indirect plant defense.

Concepts: Agriculture, Plant, Predation, Animal, Organic farming, Livestock, Volatile, Plant defense against herbivory

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The spread of organic farming and the development of resistance to anthelmintics by parasites, especially in small ruminants, have necessitated the search for alternative methods of nematode control. Biological control using nematophagous fungi is one option; however, few studies have been conducted with native strains. The present study was divided into two phases. In the first phase, we aimed to isolate, identify, and assess the in vitro predatory activity of nematophagous fungi that had been isolated on Trichostrongylidae third-instar larvae. In the second phase, the isolate with superior predatory activity in vitro was molecularly characterized, and its morphological plasticity was observed using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) on Haemonchus third-instar larvae. Of the 56 soil samples from different regions of Paraná State, Brazil, 57 fungal strains were recovered, of which four exhibited predatory activity. Two pure isolates were obtained: the CED and LIN strains. After demonstrating 96.35 % predatory activity for the CED strain, this strain was selected and characterized using molecular criteria by sequencing the rDNA internal transcribed spacer and was identified as Arthrobotrys conoides (GenBank ID: JN191309). Morphological patterns in this strain during the interaction between the fungus and the nematode were revealed by SEM, in which two extensions of the infection bulb that was used to pierce the nematode’s cuticle were clearly visible.

Concepts: Bacteria, Biology, Fungus, Scanning electron microscope, Organic farming, Paecilomyces, Mutualism, Nematophagous fungus

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Population growth and climate change challenge our food and farming systems and provide arguments for an increased intensification of agriculture. A promising option is eco-functional intensification through organic farming, an approach based on using and enhancing internal natural resources and processes to secure and improve agricultural productivity, while minimizing negative environmental impacts. In this concept an active soil microbiota plays an important role for various soil based ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, erosion control and pest and disease regulation. Several studies have reported a positive effect of organic farming on soil health and quality including microbial community traits. However, so far no systematic quantification of whether organic farming systems comprise larger and more active soil microbial communities compared to conventional farming systems was performed on a global scale. Therefore, we conducted a meta-analysis on current literature to quantify possible differences in key indicators for soil microbial abundance and activity in organic and conventional cropping systems. All together we integrated data from 56 mainly peer-reviewed papers into our analysis, including 149 pairwise comparisons originating from different climatic zones and experimental duration ranging from 3 to more than 100 years. Overall, we found that organic systems had 32% to 84% greater microbial biomass carbon, microbial biomass nitrogen, total phospholipid fatty-acids, and dehydrogenase, urease and protease activities than conventional systems. Exclusively the metabolic quotient as an indicator for stresses on microbial communities remained unaffected by the farming systems. Categorical subgroup analysis revealed that crop rotation, the inclusion of legumes in the crop rotation and organic inputs are important farming practices affecting soil microbial community size and activity. Furthermore, we show that differences in microbial size and activity between organic and conventional farming systems vary as a function of land use (arable, orchards, and grassland), plant life cycle (annual and perennial) and climatic zone. In summary, this study shows that overall organic farming enhances total microbial abundance and activity in agricultural soils on a global scale.

Concepts: Agriculture, Climate, Soil, Ecosystem, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Crop rotation, Green manure

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High total and bioavailable concentrations of As in soils represent a potential risk for groundwater contamination and entry in the food chain. The use of organic amendments in the remediation of As-contaminated soils has been found to produce distinct effects on the solubility of As in the soil. Therefore, knowledge about As adsorption-desorption processes that govern its solubility in soil is of relevance in order to predict the behaviour of this element during these processes. In this paper, the objective was to determine As adsorption and desorption in four different soils, with and without compost addition, and also in competition with phosphate, through the determination of sorption isotherms. Batch experiments were carried out using three soils affected differently by previous mining activity of the Sierra Minera of La Unión-Cartagena (SE Spain) and an agricultural soil from Segovia province (central Spain). Adsorption was higher in the mining soils (and highest in the acidic one) than in the agricultural soils, although the latter were not affected negatively by organic matter or phosphate competition for sorption sites. The results show that As adsorption in most soils, both with and without compost, fitted better a multimolecular layer model (Freundlich), whereas As adsorption in competition with P fitted a monolayer model (Langmuir). Moreover, the use of compost and phosphate reduced the adsorption of As in the mining soils, while in the agricultural soils compost increased their low adsorption capacity. Therefore, the use of compost can be a good option to favour As immobilisation in soils of low adsorption, but knowledge of the soil composition will be crucial to predict the effects of organic amendments on As solubility in soils and its associated environmental risk.

Concepts: Agriculture, Soil, Adsorption, Organic farming, Surface runoff, Humus, Organic matter, Manure

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Low-input agricultural systems aim at reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in order to improve sustainable production and ecosystem health. Despite the integral role of the soil microbiome in agricultural production, we still have a limited understanding of the complex response of microbial diversity to organic and conventional farming. Here we report on the structural response of the soil microbiome to more than two decades of different agricultural management in a long-term field experiment using a high-throughput pyrosequencing approach of bacterial and fungal ribosomal markers. Organic farming increased richness, decreased evenness, reduced dispersion and shifted the structure of the soil microbiota when compared with conventionally managed soils under exclusively mineral fertilization. This effect was largely attributed to the use and quality of organic fertilizers, as differences became smaller when conventionally managed soils under an integrated fertilization scheme were examined. The impact of the plant protection regime, characterized by moderate and targeted application of pesticides, was of subordinate importance. Systems not receiving manure harboured a dispersed and functionally versatile community characterized by presumably oligotrophic organisms adapted to nutrient-limited environments. Systems receiving organic fertilizer were characterized by specific microbial guilds known to be involved in degradation of complex organic compounds such as manure and compost. The throughput and resolution of the sequencing approach permitted to detect specific structural shifts at the level of individual microbial taxa that harbours a novel potential for managing the soil environment by means of promoting beneficial and suppressing detrimental organisms.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 31 October 2014; doi:10.1038/ismej.2014.210.

Concepts: Agriculture, Fertilizer, Soil, Nitrogen, Organic farming, Compost, Manure, Green manure

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Harnessing beneficial microbes presents a promising strategy to optimize plant growth and agricultural sustainability. Little is known to which extent and how specifically soil and plant microbiomes can be manipulated through different cropping practices. Here, we investigated soil and wheat root microbial communities in a cropping system experiment consisting of conventional and organic managements, both with different tillage intensities.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Microbiology, Eukaryote, Organic farming, Permaculture

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To promote global food and ecosystem security, several innovative farming systems have been identified that better balance multiple sustainability goals. The most rapidly growing and contentious of these systems is organic agriculture. Whether organic agriculture can continue to expand will likely be determined by whether it is economically competitive with conventional agriculture. Here, we examined the financial performance of organic and conventional agriculture by conducting a meta-analysis of a global dataset spanning 55 crops grown on five continents. When organic premiums were not applied, benefit/cost ratios (-8 to -7%) and net present values (-27 to -23%) of organic agriculture were significantly lower than conventional agriculture. However, when actual premiums were applied, organic agriculture was significantly more profitable (22-35%) and had higher benefit/cost ratios (20-24%) than conventional agriculture. Although premiums were 29-32%, breakeven premiums necessary for organic profits to match conventional profits were only 5-7%, even with organic yields being 10-18% lower. Total costs were not significantly different, but labor costs were significantly higher (7-13%) with organic farming practices. Studies in our meta-analysis accounted for neither environmental costs (negative externalities) nor ecosystem services from good farming practices, which likely favor organic agriculture. With only 1% of the global agricultural land in organic production, our findings suggest that organic agriculture can continue to expand even if premiums decline. Furthermore, with their multiple sustainability benefits, organic farming systems can contribute a larger share in feeding the world.

Concepts: Agriculture, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Crop rotation, Agroecology, Industrial agriculture, Permaculture, Wildculture

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The debate on the relative benefits of conventional and organic farming systems has in recent time gained significant interest. So far, global agricultural development has focused on increased productivity rather than on a holistic natural resource management for food security. Thus, developing more sustainable farming practices on a large scale is of utmost importance. However, information concerning the performance of farming systems under organic and conventional management in tropical and subtropical regions is scarce. This study presents agronomic and economic data from the conversion phase (2007-2010) of a farming systems comparison trial on a Vertisol soil in Madhya Pradesh, central India. A cotton-soybean-wheat crop rotation under biodynamic, organic and conventional (with and without Bt cotton) management was investigated. We observed a significant yield gap between organic and conventional farming systems in the 1(st) crop cycle (cycle 1: 2007-2008) for cotton (-29%) and wheat (-27%), whereas in the 2(nd) crop cycle (cycle 2: 2009-2010) cotton and wheat yields were similar in all farming systems due to lower yields in the conventional systems. In contrast, organic soybean (a nitrogen fixing leguminous plant) yields were marginally lower than conventional yields (-1% in cycle 1, -11% in cycle 2). Averaged across all crops, conventional farming systems achieved significantly higher gross margins in cycle 1 (+29%), whereas in cycle 2 gross margins in organic farming systems were significantly higher (+25%) due to lower variable production costs but similar yields. Soybean gross margin was significantly higher in the organic system (+11%) across the four harvest years compared to the conventional systems. Our results suggest that organic soybean production is a viable option for smallholder farmers under the prevailing semi-arid conditions in India. Future research needs to elucidate the long-term productivity and profitability, particularly of cotton and wheat, and the ecological impact of the different farming systems.

Concepts: Agriculture, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Crops, Crop rotation, Industrial agriculture, Green manure, Biodynamic agriculture

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Organic farming is based on the concept of working ‘with nature’ instead of against it; however, compared with conventional farming, organic farming reportedly has lower productivity. Ideally, the goal should be to narrow this yield gap. In this review, we specifically discuss the feasibility of new breeding techniques (NBTs) for rewilding, a process involving the reintroduction of properties from the wild relatives of crops, as a method to close the productivity gap. The most efficient methods of rewilding are based on modern biotechnology techniques, which have yet to be embraced by the organic farming movement. Thus, the question arises of whether the adoption of such methods is feasible, not only from a technological perspective, but also from conceptual, socioeconomic, ethical, and regulatory perspectives.

Concepts: Agriculture, Biotechnology, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Green Revolution, Crop rotation, Industrial agriculture, Organic movement

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Organic farming (OF) has been believed to be capable of curtailing some hazardous effects associated with chemical farming (CF). However, debates also exist on whether OF can feed a world with increasing human population. We hypothesized that some improvements on OF may produce adequate crops and reduce environmental pollutions from CF. This paper makes comparative analysis of crop yield, soil organic matter and economic benefits within the practice on Biodiversity Management of Organic Farming (BMOF) at Hongyi Organic Farm (HOF) over eight years and between BMOF and CF. Linking crop production with livestock to maximal uses of by-products from each production and avoid xenobiotic chemicals, we have achieved beneficial improvement in soil properties, effective pest and weed control, and increased crop yields. After eight years experiment, we have obtained a gradual but stable increase in crop yields with a 9.6-fold increase of net income. The net income of HOF was 258,827 dollars and 24,423 dollars in 2014 and 2007 respectively. Thus, BMOF can not only feed more population, but also increase adaptive capacity of agriculture ecosystems and gain much higher economic benefits.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Soil, Organic farming, Sustainability, Yield, Crop rotation, Agroecology