SOLACE: Solutions for improving Agroecosystem and Crop Efficiency for water and nutrient use

European agriculture is challenged by the need to produce more crops with fewer inputs of fertilizers, especially nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), under conditions of reduced or more variable water availability.

Projected climate changes indicate a higher variability in rainfall in the coming decades, with an increased risk of water shortage during summers, while water resources for irrigation will be at best maintained. N and P flows exceed the so-called planetary boundaries, the losses of N and P from various sources including fertilizers being clearly responsible for major impacts on the environment (e.g. eutrophication of surface waters, emission of greenhouse gases such as N2O) in regions of intensive agriculture in Europe.

In addition, phosphate rocks have been included in the list of 20 critical raw materials by the European Commission in 2014, which further pledges to reduce the use of P fertilizers significantly in the future. Meanwhile, socio-economic projections suggest a steady increase and volatility of fertilizers' prices.

Sustainable or ecological intensification of agroecosystems needs to be implemented by combining novel crop varieties and management approaches that make better use of below-ground biodiversity and processes to sustain high levels of productivity with reduced use of water and nutrient resources. There are different pathways to move towards biodiversity-based agriculture, and they largely depend on the farming systems (e.g. level of intensification, following conventional, organic or conservation agriculture principles) and regional context (e.g. specialized cereal-based agriculture or integrated crop and livestock production).

SolACE's overarching goal is to help European agriculture facing the challenge to deal with more frequent combined limitations of water and nutrients in the coming decades, through the design of novel crop genotypes and agroecosystem management innovations to improve water and nutrient (i.e. N and P) use efficiency.

To achieve this goal, SolACE will focus its activities on three major European crops - potato, bread and durum wheat - and will identify the:

  1. Optimum combinations of above- and below-ground traits for improving resource use efficiency;
  2. Best-performing genotypes under combined water and N or P stresses; and
  3. Novel practices that make better use of plant-plant and plant-microbe interactions to access water, N and P resources in conventional, organic and conservation agriculture.

Specific objectives:

  1. Identify most probable present day and future scenarios of combined water and nutrient stresses across the various pedo-climatic zones of Europe;
  2. Identify crop responses to such realistic combined stresses;
  3. Evaluate water and nutrient acquisition efficiency and define the corresponding, relevant below-ground traits (related to roots, rhizosphere microbiome and symbiosis);
  4. Define the combination of below- and above-ground traits for designing resource-efficient crops (ideotypes);
  5. Identify genes, molecular markers and genomic selection models for improved yield under combined stresses;
  6. Thereby design novel, resource-efficient ideotypes or genotypes (hybrids for bread wheat and potato);
  7. Evaluate biotic interactions at play in the tested management innovations;
  8. Design efficient microbial inoculants and their combinations, efficient genotype mixtures and legume-based rotation or reduced tillage strategies, and test these in field conditions;
  9. Develop novel enabling technologies for monitoring crop or soil water and nitrogen status; and
  10. Evaluate on-farm the agronomic, economic and environmental performances of the tested innovations at the field scale in several networks of farmers to ultimately assess local solutions and barriers for the uptake of the tested innovations.

SolACE will implement complementary approaches, from data mining, modelling, phenotyping in high throughput platforms and field conditions, to experiments in research stations and farmer networks in contrasted pedo-climatic zones.

The tested innovations will include crop genotype mixtures, legume-based crop rotations and cover crops, microbial inoculants, as well as improved decision support systems and hybrids or products from genomic selection and participatory evolutionary breeding schemes.

SolACE will implement a double interactive innovation loop, based on agroecosystem management and breeding strategies, and will imply the engagement of diverse end-users, across the production chain, from farmers and farm advisors to NGOs, SMEs and larger industries in the agri-business sector, through the SolACE consortium and a range of stakeholder events

Through the co-design and co-assessment with the end-users of the selected novel breeding and management strategies to increase the overall system resource use efficiency, the findings of SolACE will be available for dissemination to a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including policy-makers.

Agrobiota Germany
Agroscope - Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research Switzerland
AIT - Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH Austria
ARVALIS - Institut du végétal France
CONCER - CON.CER Societa Cooperativa Agricola Italy
DCM - De Ceuster Meststoffen NV Belgium
ECAF - European Conservation Agriculture Federation Spain
FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland
INRA - French National Institute for Agricultural Research France
IT - INRA Transfert France
JHI - James Hutton Institute Unit Kingdom
KU - University of Copenhagen Denmark
LEAF - Linking Environment And Farming Unit Kingdom
ÖMKi - Hungarian Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Hungary
SOLYNTA - Ontwikkelingsmaatschappij Het Idee The Netherlands
SP - Sourcon Padena GmbH Germany
SLU - Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Sweden
SU - Sabancı University Turkey
UCL - Université catholique de Louvain Belgium
UE - University of Évora Portugal
UHO - University of Hohenheim Germany
UNEW - University of Newcastle Unit Kingdom
UPM - Technical University of Madrid - Universidad Politécnica de Madrid Spain