European farmers need to meet increasing crop demand while reducing fertiliser use and adapting to changing rainfall patterns. The EU-funded SOLACE project will provide new crop varieties and innovations in management to help them use water and nutrients more efficiently.
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SOLACE is assessing current and future scenarios of combined water and nutrient limitations in European agriculture. Rainfall is predicted to be more variable in the coming decades, due to global warming, increasing the risk of water shortage during growing seasons. These water limitations will also affect nutrient availability and uptake by plants. At the same time, environmental and economic pressures mean that farmers must reduce their use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilisers.
The team of researchers and non-academic partners, including farmers, will test different innovations in breeding and crop management that make better use of below-ground traits (root/rhizospere) and soil biodiversity. They will develop and test more resistant and efficient crop varieties, products that use microbes to benefit plant growth, and organic/organo-mineral fertilisers.
The project is focusing on three important crops for both the European economy and global food security. Wheat (bread and durum varieties) represents almost 50% of Europes cereal area and production. It is increasingly being exposed to water and nitrogen deficits, especially durum in Mediterranean regions. Potato is the largest non-cereal crop produced in Europe, and its production is being affected by reduced inputs of nitrogen and phosphorus, possibly combined with drought.
SOLACE is looking at various European regions soils and climates, as well as different farming systems conventional, organic and conservation agriculture. The project will focus on agroecosystem management and breeding strategies in addition to various complementary approaches ranging from data mining and modelling to experiments in field trials and phenotyping platforms in research stations, as well as on-farm experiments to identify local solutions.
Many stakeholders who will potentially benefit from the project are involved through a stakeholder forum and events, including farmers, farm advisors, agri-business actors and policymakers. The innovative solutions developed in SOLACE will serve as models for developing similar approaches for other important crops.