• Nitrogen yield advantage from grass-legume mixtures is robust over a wide range of legume proportions and environmental conditions

      Suter, Matthias; Connolly, John; Finn, John; Loges, R.; Kirwan, Laura; Sebastia, Maria Teresa; Luscher, A.; European Union (Wiley, 28/01/2015)
      Current challenges to global food security require sustainable intensification of agriculture through initiatives that include more efficient use of nitrogen (N), increased protein self-sufficiency through home-grown crops, and reduced N losses to the environment. Such challenges were addressed in a continental-scale field experiment conducted over three years, in which the amount of total nitrogen yield (Ntot) and the gain of N yield in mixtures as compared to grass monocultures (Ngainmix) was quantified from four-species grass-legume stands with greatly varying legume proportions. Stands consisted of monocultures and mixtures of two N2 fixing legumes and two non-fixing grasses.The amount of Ntot of mixtures was significantly greater (P ≤ 0.05) than that of grass monocultures at the majority of evaluated sites in all three years. Ntot and thus Ngainmix increased with increasing legume proportion up to one third of legumes. With higher legume percentages, Ntot and Ngainmix did not continue to increase. Thus, across sites and years, mixtures with one third proportion of legumes attained ~95% of the maximum Ntot acquired by any stand and had 57% higher Ntot than grass monocultures.Realized legume proportion in stands and the relative N gain in mixture (Ngainmix/Ntot in mixture) were most severely impaired by minimum site temperature (R = 0.70, P = 0.003 for legume proportion; R = 0.64, P = 0.010 for Ngainmix/Ntot in mixture). Nevertheless, the relative N gain in mixture was not correlated to site productivity (P = 0.500), suggesting that, within climatic restrictions, balanced grass-legume mixtures can benefit from comparable relative gains in N yield across largely differing productivity levels.We conclude that the use of grass-legume mixtures can substantially contribute to resource-efficient agricultural grassland systems over a wide range of productivity levels, implying important savings in N fertilizers and thus greenhouse gas emissions and a considerable potential for climate change mitigation.
    • What Does Life-Cycle Assessment of agricultural products need for more meaningful inclusion of biodiversity?

      Teillard, Felix; Maia de Souza, Danielle; Thoma, Greg; Gerber, Pierre J.; Finn, John (Wiley, 05/06/2016)
      1.Decision-makers increasingly use life-cycle assessment (LCA) as a tool to measure the environmental sustainability of products. LCA is of particular importance in globalized agricultural supply chains, which have environmental effects in multiple and spatially dispersed locations. 2.Incorporation of impacts on biodiversity that arise from agricultural production systems into environmental assessment methods is an emerging area of work in LCA, and current approaches have limitations, including the need for (i) improved assessment of impacts to biodiversity associated with agricultural production, (ii) inclusion of new biodiversity indicators (e.g. conservation value, functional diversity, ecosystem services) and (iii) inclusion of previously unaccounted modelling variables that go beyond land-use impacts (e.g. climate change, water and soil quality). 3.Synthesis and applications. Ecological models and understanding can contribute to address the limitations of current life-cycle assessment (LCA) methods in agricultural production systems and to make them more ecologically relevant. This will be necessary to ensure that biodiversity is not neglected in decision-making that relies on LCA.