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Functional Biodiversity

Abstract

Modern conventional agriculture is characterized by monocultures. These are less productive in terms of biomass than natural plant communities, which are usually complex mixtures of species and varieties, and they also require more inputs. A central question for organic agriculture is therefore how far we can move from monocultural to polycultural systems in order to benefit from this biodiversity without loss of yield. Rotations are one way of increasing biodiversity, but other components of the EFRC research programme are relevant: breeding programmes for wheat and kale aimed at producing crop populations rather than pure lines; variety and species mixtures, especially for cereals; intercropping legumes with a vegetable rotation (companion cropping) or cereals (bi-cropping), in order to bring the fertility-building and cropping phases of the rotation into the same part of the sequence; a biodiversity project looking at the farmed and non-farmed areas of organic and conventional farms; N, P and K budgeting as a means of designing rotations and intercropping systems; semiochemicals: the natural signalling processes between crops, pests and predators. The best illustration of functional biodiversity is perhaps in the agroforestry demonstration plots, where trees, cropping and livestock are combined

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