Conventional agriculture provides for 95% of the worlds food production but is very resource intensive. The sector is overall reluctant to shift towards more resource-efficient practices due to limited reliability of current solutions. However, productivity growth is stagnating and in many areas declining, affected by pollution, declining soil quality and biodiversity loss. Todays agro-systems face multiple challenges: to be more productive to cope with rising food demand; to be more efficient to counter resource scarcity and climate change; and to deliver ecosystem services to preserve soils, water, air and human health.
Agro-systems also face particular threats related to water, phosphorus and fungicide efficiency. By 2030, water demand is expected to grow by 30% and half the worlds population will be living in areas with high water stress. Industrial agriculture is responsible for more than two-thirds of the worlds water withdrawal. The accumulation of nutrients such as phosphorus in effluents and soils often leads to soil contamination, eutrophication of surface waters and pollution of underground aquifers. On the supply side, explosive growth is expected in worldwide demand of phosphorus up to 2050 and geopolitical issues may accelerate the onset of a potential shortage to significantly less than 100 years. Fungicides heavily affect ecosystem functioning, harming soils enzymatic activity, soil organisms that help break down organic matter and act as natural control agents of many soil-borne pathogens, and aquatic fungi involved in leaf litter decomposition. Resistance to fungicides is increasing, so they are losing effectiveness. Moreover, research shows that tissues of 2-9% of edible plants have pesticide residues above the legal threshold.
The LIFE Plants for Plants project aims to introduce new organic biostimulants into conventional agriculture. The goal is that biostimulants reliable performance will allow them to conquer a market segment that has so far been reluctant to reduce irrigation and chemical use to boost crop production. The project will produce three prototypes of a new group of biostimulants focusing on water, phosphorus and fungicide efficiency, to tackle the related environmental threats. This new generation of plant-derived biostimulants, called standardised metabolites phytocomplex (SMP), is able to enhance crop resource efficiency, significantly reducing the amount of nutrients, water and pesticides needed to grow, thus improving their resilience to climate change and disease.
Through this work, LIFE Plants for Plants will contribute to implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive, the Fertilisers Regulation, the thematic strategy for soil protection and the Pesticides Directive.
The projects specific objectives are to: develop an industrial process for production of SMP; produce three new biostimulants at pilot scale and validate their performance on a variety of crops in open fields in different climatic conditions, including: - LL002 extract: improves resilience of plants to abiotic stress. It boosts water use efficiency, leading to water savings of about 30% in irrigated crops and to significant reduction of water deficiency symptoms and increased crop yield and quality in rain-fed crops in climatic zones with water deficiency. It also boosts nutrient use efficiency, especially of phosphorus; - LL004 extract: improves phosphorus use efficiency of annual arable crops and vegetables. It increases absorption capacity and hence reduces up to 30% of phosphorus applied at sowing/planting; and - LL017 extract: activates the primary and secondary metabolism leading to a strong enhancement of the crops comfort and thus its defence systems, called crop fortification efficacy. It reduces fungicide use by about 20-40%; change the mindset of European conventional agricultural entrepreneurs towards the use of organic products to make their production more resource efficient and environmentally friendly with similar or increased yields, through Europe-wide demonstration and intensive dissemination; and be ready for commercial launch at the end of project.
Expected results: production process and product specifications validated and optimised; production process and product quality validated and stabilised in a pre-industrial pilot plant; successful trials on around 18 ha of land, of which nearly 5 ha is treated: - in six climate zones representative of Europe: Csa (temperate, dry summer, hot summer), Cfa (temperate, no dry season, hot summer), Dfb (cold, no dry season, warm summer), Dfa (cold, no dry season, hot summer), Cfb (temperate, no dry season, warm summer) and BSk (arid, steppe, cold); and - on a wide variety of open field crops, e.g. durum, vegetables, grapes, fruits, sugarbeet, cereals and potato; demonstration in 11 countries with similar climate characteristics (e.g. Spain, Greece, Hungary, Denmark, Romania, Germany and Sweden) on a surface of 220 ha in 2020 and 1 625 ha in 2021, totalling 1 845 ha, of which is treated almost 90 ha in 2020, 650 ha in 2021, and nearly 740 ha in total; knowledge spread and awareness and confidence raised in all countries involved, reaching at least 10 000 farmers, 15 retailers, 10 other producers and scientific and political stakeholders; and a business plan and a replication and transfer plan to scale up and market the innovation and transfer it to other contexts, in particular organic farming, as soon as the project ends; non-disclosure agreements with at least three other producers for future business-to-business sales in market segments not covered by the beneficiary; registration of at least one to two products in at least 10 countries; and a direct environmental impact (difficult to estimate due to the variety of climate conditions, agricultural crops and cultivation practices involved) of: - 30% of water saved, estimated at 700-1 400 m3/ha/season (the range is season dependent) - or over 165 000 m3 of water saved over the projects lifetime;
- 20-30% of phosphorus saved, equivalent to around 20-30 kg/ha - or over 6 600 kg of phosphorus saved during the project; - 20-40% of fungicides avoided, translated into some 500 g/ha/season for systemic fungicides or 2-3 kg/ha for copper-based fungicides saved in intensively protected crops - or 15 kg of systemic fungicides and 60 kg of copper saved over the projects lifetime; and - 4-6% increased yield, getting closer to the genetic potential of crops under both comfortable as well as non-comfortable plant conditions (e.g. limited availability of water for rain-fed crops or phosphorus deficiencies).