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BONARES - CATCHY- Catch-cropping as an Agrarian Tool for Continuing Soil Health and Yield increase

Leitung:Prof. Dr. Georg Guggenberger, Dr. Jens Boy
Bearbeitung:Norman Gentsch
Förderung durch:Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)

CATCHY will develop innovative farming systems and soil management strategies for preserving and improving soil fertility towards a more sustainable land use through the integration of catch crops, with possible applications in the upgrade of marginal locations. Catch cropping is a long-term task of amelioration in crop rotation systems, having positive impacts on plant performance and on biological, chemical and physical soil properties as well as sustainability of production systems. Therefore, catch cropping is considered an essential part of an integrated concept that is the focus of CATCHY. Our aim is not only to develop improved management regimes by knowledge-based application of catch crop mixtures, but also to develop a better and deeper understanding of the cause-effect relationships affecting, in particular, soil fertility parameters, and functions and interactions in soil and rhizosphere habitats of agro-ecosystems. The functional orientation is supplemented with an agronomic and socioeconomic management interaction.

For a knowledge-based management of the soil resource, our multidisciplinary team is composed of an agronomic commercial partner (DSV), and groups having expertise in agronomy, plant nutrition, soil science, soil biota (microbiology), and socio-economy. A long-term field trial for various crop rotations with catch crops will be set up, in which the team alters and investigates the effects of catch crop components of varying biodiversity a) to develop root systems with differing zones of root exploration that can accommodate different functions for soil development; b) to enhance biodiversity of soil organisms; c) to increase the size and availability of nutrient pools; d) to increase carbon inputs into soil; e) to improve soil structure and aggregate stability and f) to enhance nutrient fluxes and subsequent nutrient cycling, especially in terms of transforming plant inaccessible nutrient sources into bio-available forms. These improvements shall be put into a user-focused calculation of the long term costs and benefits.

In particular, the team will assess crop cycles and biomass production with regard to preserving soil fertility and humus formation and develop markers for soil health and soil-dependent crop productivity. Analysis of nutrient fluxes will be coupled to the analysis of selected crop plant traits as ”read-outs” for the soil status. By determining a number of morphological, molecular, metabolic, nutritional and agronomic traits, the effect of individual catch crop species in the crop rotation on the subsequent main crop will be assessed at different scientific levels and operational scales. As the dynamic soil system and nutrient cycling is strongly affected by microbes, special attention will be paid to understanding soil biocoenosis and its interaction with crops. Innovative molecular and stable isotope techniques will be used to assess changes in the microbiome and its functions in processes such as N-cycling or mycorrhizal symbioses. Analyses that will address the profitability and the acceptance (primarily at the farm level, but also within the scientific profession and the wider public) of the developed farming approaches are also embedded in the project. The final goal is to show the benefits of conservation strategies by programming a dynamic and spatial model of representative farms that accounts for long-term economic effects of rotation choices and to develop decision-support tools for making informed decisions on catch crops.