Press release 2014

Free ecosystem services for better crops

European scientists are developing a web-based tool for farmers so they can see what is available in terms of ecosystem services.

Ecosystem services are free, but often hidden. They include pollination and killing of crop pests by beneficial insects. Now, QuESSA, an EU-funded research project, due to be completed in 2017, will try and increase the visibility of such services. The idea is that, with the new insights, farmers can gain by adding certain types of semi-natural habitats like wildflower strips or woodland. The project is partly in response to interest in improving ecosystem services as a sustainable approach to crop management at an EU level. It is also a path to a better environment and could save money.

Project scientists are measuring levels of pollination and pest control on various crops around Europe, including olives in Italy, vines in France, pumpkins in Germany and wheat and oilseed rape in the UK. "We know that some habitats encourage some crop pest predators, but we don't know how much impact this has on crop pests, so that´s one gap we are trying to plug," explains Barbara Smith, senior scientist at the Games & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), a UK non-profit organisation coordinating the project, which is headquartered in Fordingbridge, Hampshire. ...more

Making Hunger Yield
C. Robertson McClung | 6 Comments
Science 16 May 2014:
Vol. 344 no. 6185 pp. 699-700

Comment Geoff Gurr

Increased agricultural production from the ?Green Revolution? was the result of genetic improvement of crops and higher planting density as McClung argues; chiefly by making plants shorter so they could support larger heads of grain when heavily fertilized. However nitrogen-rich crops grown as dense monocultures are a nirvana for pests and plant pathogens and have helped drive massive increases in pesticide use; three fold (1) since the publication of Rachel Carson?s Silent Spring in 1962. Plant breeding has not provided durable solutions to most pest and disease problems. Even when one group, such as caterpillars, is well controlled by resistance another, such as sucking pests, fills the gap and requires spraying (2). A report on serious soil pollution by agrochemicals covered in a recent letter to Science (3) focused on China but the same damage occurs elsewhere. Seeking to boost agricultural production solely by increasing reliance on crop varieties that depend upon and drive the use of damaging and non-renewable synthetic inputs is narrow and unsustainable. There is mounting evidence that promoting ecosystem services by strategic diversification of farmland biodiversity is a powerful tool in integrated solutions for plant protection (4), productivity (5), and harmonizing agriculture with the environment (6). Engineering the ecology of agricultural systems can be effective, low-cost and immediately usable for farmers plus avoids the regulatory morass that has constrained genetic engineering. ...more comments

Bee pollination improves crop quality as well as quantity
(March 2014)

Bee pollination improves the shape, weight and shelf-life of strawberries, contributing a staggering ?1.05 billion to the European strawberry market per year, new research suggests. By blocking bees from a set of plants, the researchers demonstrated the substantial effects of bee pollination on the quality of the fruit. more