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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #348893

Research Project: Molecular Approaches to Enhance Plant Nutrient Content, Shelf-Life and Stress Tolerance

Location: Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory

Title: Sustainable Agriculture - Enhancing environmental benefits, food nutritional quality and building crop resilience to abiotic and biotic stresses

Author
item Roberts, Daniel
item Mattoo, Autar

Submitted to: Agriculture
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/24/2017
Publication Date: 1/1/2018
Citation: Roberts, D.P., Mattoo, A.K. 2018. Sustainable Agriculture - Enhancing environmental benefits, food nutritional quality and building crop resilience to abiotic and biotic stresses. Agriculture. 8:8. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture8010008.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture8010008

Interpretive Summary: Feeding nutrition-dense food to future world populations presents agriculture with enormous challenges as estimates indicate that crop production must as much as double. Crop production must be increased while the negative impacts of agriculture on the environment need to be decreased. In this review article, we detail how cover crops and plant-beneficial microbes are being substituted for synthetic pesticides and fertilizer in small grains, tomato, and oilseed rape cropping systems to decrease the negative environmental impacts of these cropping systems. Cover crops can impart weed, pathogen and pest control, and nitrogen fertility to the cropping system; decrease soil erosion and loss of soil nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon; while plant-beneficial microbes can provide disease control and phosphorus fertility. We argue that new crop germplasm with enhanced nutritional content and enhanced tolerance to biotic and abiotic stress is required as these environmentally friendly cropping systems approximate current yields at best. Development of new crop germplasm will require using all available technologies, including genetic engineering. Genetic engineering allows access to a larger gene pool for germplasm improvement and, in some cases, can provide results more rapidly than classical plant breeding approaches. This information will be useful to agricultural scientists and policymakers.

Technical Abstract: Feeding nutrition-dense food to future world populations presents agriculture with enormous challenges as estimates indicate that crop production must as much as double. Crop production cannot be increased to meet this challenge simply by increasing land acreage or using past agricultural intensification methods. Food production doubled in the past through substantial use of synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation, all at significant environmental cost. Future production of nutrition-dense food will require next-generation, crop production systems with decreased reliance on synthetic fertilizer and pesticide. Here we present three case studies detailing the development of cover crops and plant-beneficial microbes for sustainable, next-generation small grain, tomato, and oilseed rape production systems. Cover crops imparted weed and pathogen control; decreased soil erosion and loss of soil nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon; while plant-beneficial microbes provided disease control and phosphorus fertility. However, yield in these next-generation crop production systems at best approximated that associated with current production systems. We argue here that to substantially increase agricultural productivity, new crop germplasm needs to be developed with enhanced nutritional content and enhanced tolerance to abiotic and biotic stress. This will require using all available technologies, including intensified genetic engineering tools, in the next-generation cropping systems.