Legume Futures will explicitly set out the risks and benefits of the cropping systems for the farm businesses adopting them at a range of scales across Europe major agricultural pedo-climatic zones, and support assessments of impacts for the wider agricultural economy and environment. Agricultural policy that more explicitly couples public support to environmental outcomes may also play a role and a significant part of our research will support policy development. We believe that the key to farm level change is identifying the whole system risks and benefits of legumes from a farm business perspective. This needs to be complemented by support policies built on a more complete understanding of the consequences of these new systems for the environment at scales ranging from the local to the global. To support the required technical change and policy development, our research objectives are:
To conduct 18 case studies across Europe based on established field experiments which inform and validate new cropping system designs and provide a focal point for the local development of the role of legumes in new cropping systems.
To design new cropping systems for Europe’s pedo-climatic zones using modelling drawing on data from the case studies networked by the project.
To quantify, by using biophysical and economic models, the resource use (e.g. fossil energy), along with the socio-economic and environmental effects of contrasting cropping and agricultural system scenarios at a range of scales (from local to global).
To identify the wider environmental effects (e.g. carbon and nitrogen cycling, greenhouse gas emissions, soil quality, biodiversity, effects on pests and diseases) of legume use within farming systems, including systematic measurements of nitrous oxide emissions.
Drawing on data from existing and new field experiments and stakeholder interaction, to assess elite germplasm of a wide range of legume species and their symbiotic organisms with respect to their suitability in the new cropping systems.
To provide assessed scenarios to support the development of supply chains, including livestock feeding systems (for ruminants, monogastrics, poultry, and fish), based on these cropping systems.
To provide a comprehensive and full assessment of the potential of legumes in the non-food sector and the implication of this potential for the design of cropping systems.
To facilitate access to the wider knowledge base on legumes and disseminate information on new agronomic, environmental and social impacts of legumes in farming systems.
To develop and enhance legume knowledge resources through the collection and linkage of data and knowledge leading to the establishment of a European Legume Crop Biological Resources Centre.
Objective 1 will integrate data from 18 experimental sites and deliver a report for each one as well as an over-arching synthetic view. Objective 2 is focused on the design of the new cropping systems drawing on the case study data, economic assessments and biophysical modelling. Economic and bio-physical modelling will be combined to deliver economic and environmental assessments of agricultural system scenarios involving the use of legumes (Objective 3). Objective 4 is to deliver data on emissions to air and water from legume-supported cropping systems. Fluxes of N2O, CH4, CO2 and NH3 will be measured to fill gaps in the evidence base. Gaps in the evidence base with respect to nitrates and biodiversity related impacts will be addressed. Objective 5 assembles and assesses data on germplasm, to bring understanding of system requirements, crop physiology and results of germplasm testing together to provide an assessment of germplasm for systems using the ‘ideotype’ principle. This will inform breeding programmes and the selection of germplasm on the basis of the results of the existing experiments in our network, and the databases we will access. Objective 6 will look closely at the interface between crop/forage production and animal nutrition, including aquaculture. Objective 7 involves review work to identify non-traditional uses of legumes. This will comprise literature review and expert interviews accessing insight.