Defining Agroecological Principles and Developing Sustainable Practices in Mid-Atlantic Cropping Systems
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory
Project Number: 8042-21660-004-00
Start Date: Aug 15, 2013
End Date: Aug 14, 2018
The long-term goal is to develop and translate fundamental agroecological knowledge into products and recommendations that help organic farmers meet consumer demand and improve their economic returns. Strategies developed for organic systems will also help increase sustainability of conventional farms. To reach the long-term goals focus will be on the following objectives over the next five years.
Objective 1: Identify and elucidate agroecological principles that drive the function of organic and conventional cropping systems and quantify ecosystem services.
Sub-objective 1.A. Compare factors controlling crop performance in long-term organic and conventional cropping systems.
Sub-objective 1.B. Determine mechanisms controlling soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas flux in organic and conventional cropping systems.
Sub-objective 1.C. Identify factors controlling soil biological community structure and its relationship to soil functions and the provision of ecosystem services in organic and conventional cropping systems.
Sub-objective 1.D. Conduct integrated analyses to assess the impacts of organic and conventional cropping systems on the provision of ecosystem services.
Objective 2: Develop technologies and management strategies to improve productivity, enhance soil and water conservation, and improve the efficiency of nutrient cycling on organic and conventional farms.
Sub-objective 2.A. Develop new strategies for incorporating legumes (e.g., alfalfa, hairy vetch, clovers) into organic and conventional crop rotations to maximize nitrogen fixation within these systems.
Sub-objective 2.B. Develop strategies for beneficial and safe use of animal manures and composts for organic and conventional agriculture.
Sub-objective 2.C. Develop optimal agronomic practices for managing nutrients, weeds, and production on organic farms.
Approaches to identifying and elucidating agroecological principles include investigating the following variables within the Beltsville long-term Farming Systems Project that compares two conventional and three organic rotations, and associated projects: crop performance, soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas fluxes, soil microbiological community structure, and integrated analyses that evaluate overall systems performance. Approaches to developing component strategies include: incorporating legumes into organic crop rotations to maximize nitrogen fixation, composting that provides a productive and safe amendment for organic agriculture, integrating cover crop and manure management practices, reducing tillage in organic systems, and evaluating perennial wheat varieties.