The four year Horizon 2020-funded DIVERSify project (2017-2021) aims to optimise the performance of crop species mixtures or ‘plant teams’ to improve yield stability, reduce pest and disease damage, and enhance stress resilience in agricultural systems.
A 60% increase in agricultural production is required by 2050 to feed the growing global human population. The rapid increases in crop yields achieved post-1950 through crop breeding advances and farming inputs are now starting to plateau. At the same time, there is pressure on farmers to produce food sustainably with fewer inputs due to decreased availability of products for effective pest and disease control and to minimise environmental damage.
This poses a significant challenge for maximising productivity and reducing losses, creating an urgent need to increase the efficiency and sustainability of agriculture in Europe and globally.
There is no single solution to this challenge. Crop scientists must devise novel cropping systems for farmers to increase efficiency and reduce pollution, breeders need new knowledge and tools to develop suitable cultivars, and agronomists need specifications to manage these cropping systems effectively.
Increasing the diversity of crop systems offers encouraging prospects for enhancing and stabilising crop yields: species-rich systems often show higher productivity than monocultures, with fewer pest and disease outbreaks, improved resource capture and greater resilience to environmental fluctuations and changes in management.
Recently, scientists have acknowledged that agricultural systems could learn from ecological theory by using ecological principles to understand the plant traits and mechanisms that promote productivity in diverse plant systems. Species-rich ecosystems are resource-efficient, highly productive and stable; understanding of these systems will be used to optimise multi-species cropping systems, or ‘plant teams’, offering promising solutions to stagnating crop yields.
DIVERSify focuses on improving the productivity and sustainability of European agriculture using an approach that has global relevance, learning from the experience of international partners.