Sustainable alternative to irrigated maize monoculture in a maize-dominated cropped area: Lessons learned from a system experiment - INRAE - Institut national de recherche pour l’agriculture, l’alimentation et l’environnement Access content directly
Journal Articles Heliyon Year : 2024

Sustainable alternative to irrigated maize monoculture in a maize-dominated cropped area: Lessons learned from a system experiment

Abstract

Maize is the most-produced food crop in the world and is grown in intensive rotations or in monoculture (continuous maize) systems. As maize production has expanded massively across the world, many concerns have emerged about its local environmental and other global impacts. Agronomists have designed innovative cropping systems and assessed them using system exper- iments to make arable systems more sustainable. However, knowledge is still lacking on the sustainability of innovative cropping systems compared to highly intensive systems such as irri- gated maize-based monoculture. Here, we present the assessment results of a nine-year system experiment in Alsace, France, developed to compare an innovative system based on a diversified rotation and innovative management practices (three-year rotation of maize/soybean/winter wheat (plus a cover crop) combined with reduced tillage) with a continuous maize reference system. The results cover a six-year assessment period following an initial three-year design period. Classic criteria, such as profitability, workload, pesticide use, fossil energy consumption and nitrate leaching, were assessed along with other less studied criteria, such as pesticide leaching risk, soil structure, soil chemical quality and soil biological activity. Sustainability – which includes environmental, social and economic dimensions – was assessed with the MASC 2.0 method. Overall sustainability was substantially enhanced in the innovative system (5 out of 7 sustainability classes) in comparison with the low level of the reference system (2 out of 7). This was due to a clear improvement in the environmental performance (from 2 out of 5 to 5 out of 5) while social performance was high in both systems (4 out of 5) and economic performance was low (2 out of 5) due to very low contribution to economic development. Nevertheless, the innovative system had a major drawback: lower profitability, especially when scenarios included high maize prices. Furthermore, herbicide use on maize was higher in the innovative system than in the reference one. Avenues for progress, such as encouraging stakeholder participation at the assessment stage or additional innovations such as multiple cropping, are suggested.
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hal-04573332 , version 1 (13-05-2024)

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Christian Bockstaller, Aimé Blatz, Olivier Rapp, Rémi Koller, Sophie Slezack, et al.. Sustainable alternative to irrigated maize monoculture in a maize-dominated cropped area: Lessons learned from a system experiment. Heliyon, 2024, 10, ⟨10.1016/j.heliyon.2024.e30400⟩. ⟨hal-04573332⟩
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