WP3 - Improving diversity in the cropping system

This WP will focus on row and inter-row management methods that can be used to improve crop financial return, weeds control, yield and quality of main and second crops. Two fruit species will be tested (apricot, apple) with several row managements depending on the trial regions. The soil management practices will be evaluated regarding their effects on biodiversity, crops physiology, yield and quality and soil fertility. The crops to be added in the fruit orchards will be diverse for each region. Trials with comparison of different living mulching for row management will be established, including the tillage (reduced/intensive) control treatments. All partners involved in the field trials will document the on-farm costs of the agronomic practices as well as current practice.

Trials for row and inter row management with legume intercrops are the activities planned under Task 3.2.

Special emphasis will be on legume intercrops that, beside increasing the orchard biodiversity, will function as an internal source of N and soil fertility, associated with new fertility management and living mulching. Inter row comparison of: service crops for 1) biodiversity improvement for soil protection;  2) beneficial effects of biodiversity on entomofauna; 3) nutrient balance improvement (e.g. grain legumes for increasing N availability). The impact on the cropping system among all crops and regions will be assessed using a standard grain legume and a standard small seeded legume (e.g. white clover) in all trial regions. Other, more regionally adapted legumes, will be also added. Intercrop biomass input will be measured, as well as C and N in the above ground biomass will be determined and the impact on crop yield and quality will be assessed.

The trials with different living mulching using several species in tree rows may change fruit species root architecture and thus plant resilience to abiotic and abiotic stresses. Such assumption is the base for the activities planned in Task 3.3 (Tests on the effect of living mulching on fruit trees root growth and belowground interactions

and soil density in the superficial soil layer). Root architectural adjustment may be an alternative type of morphological plasticity with the potential to increase resource capture. Lengthening the lifespan of a root may be just as effective for a plant as growing a new cohort of roots and potentially less expensive in terms of plant resources. The experiments will highlight how the ability to occupy space depends on several root characteristics, including relative growth rate, root biomass, and root survivorship, illustrating that root abundance alone is insufficient to explain the potential for nutrient uptake and the need for higher soil biodiversity in agroecosystems.