Understanding plant/soil interaction in organic crop production

Three new research projects aim to improve the understanding of how plants, soil and microbiota interact. SoilVeg will improve the “roller crimper” technique to terminate green manures, ReSolve focuses on degraded soils in vineyards, and Fertilcrop will improve the knowledge of existing conservation agriculture practices.

“Green manure crops are not only beneficial for the nutrition of the following main crop, but provide many additional agro-ecological services”, says Stefano Canali from the Italian Research Center for Agrobiology and Pedology. He coordinates the SoilVeg project which aims to assess the benefits of cover crops in vegetable production systems.

A challenge is the incorporation of green manure. Usually, green manure plants are incorporated into the soil by plowing. However, plowing is an energy and labour consuming and soil disturbing operation. SoilVeg will test a machine called “roller crimper” that does not disturb the soil and terminates the green manure by flattening the plants.

The research team compares traditional tillage and the use of the roller crimper and assesses nutrient losses, greenhouse gas emissions from the soil, and the influence on weed, disease and pest occurrence. SoilVeg is a large project with 14 partners from nine different countries. Follow the project SoilVeg

The project ReSolve is aiming to improve the soil quality of degraded organic vineyards, mainly in the south of Europe. In many cases, this poor soil quality is man-made: Before planting or replanting, many farmers work the soil to prepare it for mechanization. This includes deep ploughing, levelling, and mixing up soil structures. By working with heavy machinery in the vineyard, the soil is further eroded or compacted.

The researchers, led by Edoardo Costantini and Simone Priori of the Italian Research Center for Agrobiology and Pedology, want to test how to restore soil functionality in a short time by combining several soil improvement measures. The following applications will be investigated: composts, green manures or permanent grass cover and dry mulching. The consortium involves eight research groups from Italy, France, Spain, Sweden, Slovenia and Turkey. 
 Read more about the project ReSolVe


Soil fertility on organic farms is primarily supported by organic fertilizers, reduced tillage, and proper use of green manure crops. The project Fertilcrop will test a range of different crop rotations, fertilizer use practices and variations of soil cultivation on farms. Additionally, the researchers will draw on already existing field experiments. The abundant data will be fed into computer-based advisory and decision support models with a view to producing easy-to-apply tools for farmers.

"We expect the close cooperation between farmers and researchers to yield environmentally-friendly and, in particular, locally adapted cropping systems that combine science with practical expertise", explains project coordinator Andreas Fliessbach from FiBL Switzerland. Participating farmers will learn to confidently assess soil fertility and optimize their management strategies by using a computer-based decision support system. 
 Read more about FertilCrop

Author: Marian Blom, member of the CORE Organic monitoring team

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