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Since the Green Revolution cropping systems have been progressively homogenized and intensified with increasing rates of inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and water. This has resulted in higher crop productivity but also a high environmental burden due to increased pollution and water depletion. To identify opportunities for increasing the productivity and reducing the environmental impact of cropping systems, it is crucial to assess the associated trade-offs. The paper presents a model-based analysis of how 30 different crop rotations practiced in the North China Plain could be combined at the regional level to overcome trade-offs between indicators of economic, food security, and environmental performance. The model uses evolutionary multi-objective optimization to maximize revenues, livestock products, dietary and vitamin C yield, and to minimize the decline of the groundwater table. The modeling revealed substantial trade-offs between objectives of maximizing productivity and profitability versus minimizing ground water decline, and between production of livestock products and vitamin C yield. Six strategies each defining a specific combination of cropping systems and contributing to different extents to the various objectives were identified. Implementation of these six strategies could be used to find opportunities to mitigate the trade-offs between objectives. It was concluded that a holistic analysis of the potential of a diversity cropping systems at a regional level is needed to find integrative solutions for challenges due to conflicting objectives for food production, economic viability and environmental protection.


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Bioenergy, currently the largest renewable energy source in the EU (64% of the total renewable energy consumption), has sparked great interest to meet the 32% renewable resources for the 2030 bioeconomy goal. The design of innovative cropping systems informed by bioeconomy imperatives requires the evaluate of the effects of introducing crops for bioenergy into conventional crop rotations. This study aimed to assess the impacts of changes in conventional cropping systems in mixed dairy cattle farms redesigned to introduce bioenergy crops either by increasing the biomass production through an increase of cover crops, while keeping main feed/food crops, or by substituting food crops with an increase of the crop rotation length. The assessment is based on the comparison between conventional and innovative systems oriented to feed and biogas production, with and without tillage, to evaluate their agri-environmental performances (biomass production, nitrogen fertilization autonomy, greenhouse gas emissions and biogas production). The result showed higher values in the biogas cropping system than in the conventional and feed ones for all indicators, biomass productivity (27% and 20% higher, respectively), nitrogen fertilization autonomy (26% and 73% higher, respectively), methanogenic potential (77% and 41% higher, respectively) and greenhouse gas emissions (15% and 3% higher, respectively). There were no negative impacts of no-till compared to the tillage practice, for all tested variables. The biogas cropping system showed a better potential in terms of agri-environmental performance, although its greenhouse gas emissions were higher. Consequently, it would be appropriate to undertake a multicriteria assessment integrating agri-environmental, economic and social performances.


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Demand for sugar is projected to grow in China for the foreseeable future. However, sugarcane production is unlikely to increase due to increasing production cost and decreasing profit margin. The persisting sugarcane yield plateau and the current cropping system with fertilizer overuse, soil acidification and pests and diseases remain the major productivity constraints. Sugarcane agriculture supports the livelihood of about 28 million farmers in South China; hence, sustaining it is a socioeconomic imperative. More compellingly, to meet the ever-increasing Chinese market demand, annual sugar production must be increased from the current 10 Mt to 16 Mt by 2030 of which 80% to 90% comes from sugarcane. Therefore, increasing sugar yield and crop productivity in an environmentally sustainable way must be a priority. This review examines the current Chinese sugarcane production system and discuss options for its transition to a green, sustainable cropping system, which is vital for the long-term viability of the industry. This analysis shows that reducing chemical inputs, preventing soil degradation, improving soil health, managing water deficit, provision of clean planting material, and consolidation of small farm holdings are critical requirements to transform the current farming practices into an economically and environmentally sustainable sugarcane cropping system.


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