The UK is co-ordinating a European project involving 24 institutions that seeks to raise arable system sustainability through growing leguminous crops.

2016 is the International Year of Pulses

The TRansition paths to sUstainable legume based systems in Europe (TRUE) programme aims to identify the best routes (or transition paths) to increase sustainable legume cultivation and consumption across Europe. It is co-ordinated by Dr Pete Iannetta of the James Hutton Institute’s Ecological Sciences group.

The project’s latest newsletter (No 3) carries the published reports and papers from TRUE partners and Work Package leaders and background information. “Of particular interest to UK growers and their advisers is a paper that examines ‘Plant Responses to an Integrated Cropping System Designed to Maintain Yield Whilst Enhancing Soil Properties and Biodiversity’,” advises Dr Iannetta.

“The paper recognises that the intensification of arable production since the 1950s has resulted in increases in yield – but this has been only at significant cost to the environment, raising serious concerns about long-term consequences for the sustainability of food production systems.

“A long-term field platform was established to compare conventional arable management with a low-input, integrated cropping system designed to maintain yields whilst enhancing biodiversity and minimising environmental impact.

“Over the first rotation, only winter wheat yielded less under integrated management; yield was maintained for the remaining five crops (spring and winter barley, winter oilseed rape, potato and field beans), suggesting a negligible impact on economic returns.

“Soil carbon, pH and soil concentrations of the main plant growth-limiting macronutrients were enhanced under the integrated management system which was therefore successful in meeting the goals to enhance biodiversity and reduce environmental impact without jeopardising crop yields,” adds Dr Iannetta.