Increased productivity with reduced environmental impacts may sound like the holy grail of farming, but our keynote speaker at REAP, Dr Zhenling Cui of the China Agricultural University, Beijing, will present the findings of a ten year national campaign that has achieved just this. Dr Cui was awarded the Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application in 2017 for his work in improving soil health and increasing crop production through the implementation of innovative on-farm fertilizer management strategies.
Boosting yields with lower inputs
Dr Cui explains how the science evidence-base was established: “First we conducted 13,123 field trials that tested the applicability of a comprehensive decision-support integrated soil–crop system management (ISSM) program for growing maize, rice and wheat across China’s vast agroecological zones.
“The ISSM framework appeared to suit these needs. It consists of a crop module from which cropping strategies (for example, crop variety, planting date and density for maize, rice or wheat) can be determined based on crop model simulations for optimal use of solar and thermal resources in a given region.
“Also a resource supply module for the formulation of nutrient and water applications according to soil tests and the needs of the growing crops.
“The expansive field trials provided strong evidence that the ISSM program is robust and versatile and could be used nationwide for developing management practices to simultaneously enhance productivity and environmental performance.”
Applying best practice
(image from worldfoodprize.org)
The scientists then worked very closely with the farmers through a network of collaborators and agribusiness personnel to roll-out the system across 37.7million cumulative hectares over ten years (2005–2015). Aggregated 10-year data showed an overall yield improvement of 10.8–11.5% and a reduction in the use of nitrogen fertilizers of 14.7–18.1%, when comparing ISSM based interventions and the prevailing practices of the farmers.
Dr Cui will discuss learning points from this campaign – which involved extensive communication between all parties.
Come and hear the debate
In addition to the popular Start-Up Showcase and Emerging Agri-Tech sessions – which look at early stage businesses and the latest science coming out of the labs – REAP 2018 will also has a new feature a debate that proposes the motion:
“This house believes supporting land-use for competitive sustainable UK food production should be the priority for agri-tech innovations.”
As Dr Cui’s work has shown agri-tech has the potential to create a new future, through the perspective of farmers, technologists and researchers we explore the alternatives.
Visit the REAP website at reapconference.co.uk.