The main objective of the symposium is to bring academics, researchers, and stakeholders together to provide creative and innovative ideas that could provide a basis for the testing and subsequent adoption of strategic ways for implementing sustainable GHG mitigation and environmental solutions taking into account the need for:-
- coherent environmental solutions, through a systems-based approach.
- economically viable and socially acceptable options.
- a systems-based decision-support tool.
Arable Cropping Systems
Globally, there are a large number of arable cropping systems based mainly on the climatic conditions and land types/topography (e.g., dryland/upland, wetland-dryland/upland, and wetland), leading to the adoption of different cropping patterns (e.g., cereal only, cereal-legume, and cereal-vegetable). Arable crops are mainly associated with tillage-related cultivation systems, which vary from region to region, and are among the most important land uses influencing soil properties and causing environmental and ecological degradation.
Land use (cereals, vegetables, etc.), soil/land types and management practices (inorganic and organic fertilizers, as well as addition of organic residues) within a system controls the extent of emission of GHGs, air pollution and leaching losses. Inappropriate cropping and cultivation techniques, as well as excessive use of fertilizers, can exacerbate these problems. Many soils may be susceptible to erosion, and the loss of organic matter leading to poor structure, biodiversity loss, and pollution due to pesticides and herbicide residues and the accumulation of heavy metals. This session will therefore focus on research work in arable cropping systems that have assessed potential solutions to coupled air, water and soil pollution.
Grasslands (pasture, hay and silage) dominate the total global agricultural area. Livestock is grazed mostly on pasture and meadows. Grazing intensity and fertilizer (organic and inorganic) management play an important role in soil health and productivity while also contributing to a large share of total agricultural GHG emissions and pollutants (e.g., NH3, NOx, NMVOCs and particulate matters and/or water (e.g., NO3– and PO4–) through leaching, volatilization and runoff. Livestock itself accounts for about half of all anthropogenic emissions, i.e. a quarter of methane emissions through gut fermentation and the decay of excreta. The projected increase in livestock numbers will not only impact on the production of manure by ~60% by 2030 but also methane emissions.
These environmental pressures warrant adoption of sustainable management for grassland systems that depend not only on livestock numbers but also on fertilizer form and amount, linked to climate conditions, available resources, ecosystem/biodiversity services, and avoidance of events leading to environmental pollution. In this session there will be a focus on solutions to coupled air, water and soil pollution, in both grazed and un-grazed grassland systems.
Mixed farming systems are very popular in both developed and developing nations, and are generally divided into four systems (i) Agro-pastoral system (arable ley), (ii) Agro-Forestry system, (ii) Silvo-pastoral system, and (iv) Agro-Silvo-Pastoral system. Other than agro-forestry, livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) grazing is common in mixed farming systems. The number of agro-silvo systems associated particularly with beef/meat and dairy production has been increasing globally. In these mixed systems, as in grassland, application of organic and inorganic fertilizers to improve crop/biomass production may increase GHG emissions and environmental pollution. Yet, these systems are thought to increase the use of crop by-products resulting in improved nutrient recycling and reduced methane production.
Accordingly, mixed farming as an approach to satisfy the global demand for food, meat and milk could have some advantages in reducing the environmental and carbon footprints. However, applied research and extension are of critical importance if the environmentally friendly factors of the system are to be adequately exploited. Considering the fundamental change and integration of livestock as a mechanism to promote system flexibility, identification of technologies and policies for simultaneous reduction of GHGs and environmental pollution will be the main focus of this session.
Decision Support Tools
Limited field measurements and excel-based national inventory methods (IPCC Tiers), focussed mainly on the developed nations, are being used for accounting, and form the basis for mitigating the environmental consequences of GHGs, air pollutants and leaching losses. However, these approaches often struggle with an adequate assessment of the impact of agricultural management practices particularly mixed farming systems. There are substantial difficulties in incorporating any mitigation strategies and are unable to provide immediate feedback on the consequences of management actions/decisions. As measurements covering all ecosystems and soils are not feasible, the use of model-based decision-support tools could be an alternative option in order to cover diverse agricultural systems.
Any verified and validated model should be used as a decision support tool to provide assessments at a unit level but applicable to the regional scale. This would help raise local awareness, provide prospects for actions, aid in refining and implementing emission mitigation techniques, and demonstrate the effects of innovative actions. A further benefit is that they can help to identify environmental hotspots, evaluate indicators of sustainability provide alternative management scenarios, identify practices having a positive impact on net GHG emissions and the environment and provide options for assessment of the economic effects of interventions at all scales. This will be the topic of this session.
Novel Farming Systems
Concerns about the environmental footprint and sustainability of current industrial farming practices have resulted in an increased interest in novel farming systems (NFS). Essentially these systems are focused on the growth of crops in places and under conditions that have not traditionally been regarded for agricultural production. This could provide an attractive solution to many of the environmental concerns, including those related to water and energy consumption greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and environmental pollution, including circular bio-economy approaches. Many of these approaches have the added advantage of maximising the use of available space, and limiting resources (e.g. light, soil, and water). The NFS include:
- Indoor farms are generally based on the up scaling of horticultural facilities using hi-tech greenhouses (e.g. vertical farming), insulated indoor spaces like warehouses and shipping containers, and hydroponics under controlled environmental conditions. These are being currently used to grow food closer to consumers, and drastically reduce the inputs necessary outdoor agriculture as a few key ingredients (e.g. light, water, and nutrition) required.
- Insect-Worm farms have been identified as an increasingly important alternative protein source for both animals and humans, and a more sustainable alternative to high quality animal protein. These could substitute for wild-caught fish to counter overfishing, and include crickets, fruit flies, grasshoppers, and mealworms.
- Aquaculture is a long-standing industry with enormous potential to produce edible protein from seafood and sea vegetables, including algae and plants not traditionally used as crops (e.g. azolla and duckweed). This includes fish farming along with oysters, scallops, shrimp, mussels, and other shelled organisms. Algal farming represents an underdeveloped sector within NFS but with great market potential and most single-celled microalgae must be grown in a controlled setting. This includes aquaponics where vegetables or other crops are integrated with fish farming, so that the waste generated by the fish can be used to fertilize plants.
- Microbes are used for the production of microbial protein mainly in the brewing industry and have the potential for a diverse range of applications in the food and beverage industries. Cultured yeasts or bacteria can also be used in the flavour, fragrance and food industries substituting for natural alternatives.
What is unclear, however, is what overall impact NFS have on the environment and resource availability and to what extent they contribute to a reduction in GHG emissions as this has received little attention. This including circular bio-economy will be the main focus of this session.
Carbon Farming and Nature-based Solutions
Given that managed land dominates the earth’s surface, agriculture has a key role to play in mitigating GHG emissions and reducing environmental pollution whilst also providing food, fibre and materials for an ever-increasing population. The EU vision for transitioning to a climate neutral economy by 2050 (A Clean Planet for All) linking also to the Green Deal requires contributions from all sectors, including agriculture and forestry. Agriculture (grassland, cropland, agroforestry, peatlands, and relevant land uses) and land management activities need to significantly reduce GHG emissions while reversing the loss of agricultural soil and other carbon stock losses currently associated with farmed land. Increasingly, carbon farming is being proposed as an integral part of overall farm management, with the potential to make important contributions to broader climate and agricultural policies. This will require farmers to implement results-based carbon farming schemes, through incentivised interventions, to meet national climate mitigation ambitions, while still contributing to the bio-economy, and the delivery of ecosystem services.
Nature-based Farming Solutions (NBFS) are actions that protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems and are likely to have the greatest potential impacts on adaptation and resilience-building. These measures encompass agroforestry, improved land (crop, grass and peat) management, agricultural diversification, integrated water use, and forest management. They take into consideration both traditional and local knowledge as well as scientific evidence to support the optimum use of natural resources for agricultural production, whilst also maintaining or even enhancing native biodiversity.
The approaches associated with NBFS include the adoption/promotion of organic agriculture, agroecological approaches, and conservation farming with the objective of reducing the environmental footprint of farming activities. An emerging approach, directed at these objectives is the use of perennial crops, which have the potential of ensuring the greater capture and conservation of resources through photosynthesis, and improvements in nutrient recycling. A range of alternative management practices, such as mixed cropping, can potentially derive considerable benefits from the integration of perennials, as opposed to traditional seasonal crops. There are six evidence-based ecological principles proposed for the design and implementation of an effective NBFS, including a reduction in biodiversity loss, delivery of location-specific ecosystem services, the use of targeted interventions, strengthening links between people, producers and nature, and longer term flexible planning.
Hence, this session is centred on Carbon Farming and Nature-based Solutions. The focus will be on how to increase carbon storage, improve/maintain water quality, soil health, biodiversity and the role of pollinators. Novel pest control methods that have climate, water quality and nature-related benefits, will also be examined, that minimise carbon loss and contribute to improved farm livelihoods.