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Special Issue "Sustainable Crop Production Systems"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Wildlife".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 March 2019)

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Dr. Yanbo Huang

United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Crop Production Systems Research Unit, Stoneville, Mississippi, USA
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 662-686-5354
Interests: Aerial application technology (manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles); Remote sensing for precision application (space-borne, airborne, and ground truthing); Machine learning, soft computing and decision support for precision agriculture; Spatial statistics for remote sensing data analysis; and Image processing, and process modeling, optimization, control and automation
Guest Editor
Assist. Prof. Lav R. Khot

Department of Biological Systems Engineering, CPAAS/IAREC, Washington State University, Prosser, WA, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: Remote Sensing (Unmanned and Manned Aerial Systems); Ground-based (Proximal) Crop Sensing; Decision Support Systems and Information Delivery Technologies; Precise Applications of various Production Inputs; Agricultural Machinery and Processes; Data-based Modeling

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Existing crop production systems need to be adapted to a changing climate, technological landscape and are critical to rhw sustainable food security of quality produce. Crop production management typically includes use of monitoring tools, and effective pest, nutrient, and irrigation management, as well as post-harvest management. From this perspective, this Special Issue will encourage publications of scientific, technological and engineering research aspects of crop genetic modeling, high throughput phenomics, precision agriculture, plant physiology, and agronomic practices to realize sustainable crop production systems. Manuscripts that address advancements in the above areas, with field validation emphasis, as well as critical review of technologies/tools that increase scientific knowledge will be considered in this issue. Manuscripts will be subjected to a rigorous peer-review procedure with the aim of rapid and wide information dissemination.

Dr. Yanbo Huang
Dr. Lav R. Khot
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1700 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Crop Production Systems
  • Precision Agriculture
  • Genome to Phenome
  • Data Science and Engineering

Published Papers (21 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle Assessing the Performance of the WOFOST Model in Simulating Jujube Fruit Tree Growth under Different Irrigation Regimes
Sustainability 2019, 11(5), 1466; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11051466
Received: 12 February 2019 / Revised: 4 March 2019 / Accepted: 5 March 2019 / Published: 9 March 2019
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Abstract
Cropping system models are widely employed to evaluate plant water requirements and growth situations. However, these models rarely focus on growth studies of perennial fruit trees. The aim of this study was to evaluate the performance of the WOFOST (WOrld FOod STudies) model [...] Read more.
Cropping system models are widely employed to evaluate plant water requirements and growth situations. However, these models rarely focus on growth studies of perennial fruit trees. The aim of this study was to evaluate the performance of the WOFOST (WOrld FOod STudies) model in simulating jujube fruit tree growth under different irrigation treatments. The model was calibrated on data obtained from full irrigation treatments in 2016 and 2017. The model was validated on four deficit percentages (60%, 70%, 80%, and 90%) and one full irrigation treatment from 2016 to 2018. Calibrated R2 and RMSE values of simulated versus measured soil moisture content, excluding samples on the day of irrigation and first day after irrigation, reached 0.94 and 0.005 cm3 cm−3. The model reproduced growth dynamics of the total biomass and leaf area index, with a validated R2 = 0.967 and RMSE = 0.915 t ha−1, and R2 = 0.962 and RMSE = 0.160 m2 m−2, respectively. The model also showed good global performance, with R2 = 0.86 and RMSE = 0.51 t ha−1, as well as good local agreement (R2     0.8 ) and prediction accuracy (RMSE   0.62 t ha−1) for each growth season. Furthermore, 90% of full irrigation can be recommended to achieve a balance between jujube yields and water savings (average decline ratio of yield ≤ 3.8%). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Phosphorus Demand for Food Security: A Case Study of a Food-Deficient Country
Sustainability 2019, 11(5), 1345; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11051345
Received: 20 January 2019 / Revised: 21 February 2019 / Accepted: 26 February 2019 / Published: 4 March 2019
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Abstract
The modern global food production system relies heavily on a considerable input of phosphorus. Sustainable food and agriculture need integrated phosphorus management, especially in phosphorus-scarce and food-deficient countries. This study aimed to investigate the phosphorus requirements to meet the future food demand for [...] Read more.
The modern global food production system relies heavily on a considerable input of phosphorus. Sustainable food and agriculture need integrated phosphorus management, especially in phosphorus-scarce and food-deficient countries. This study aimed to investigate the phosphorus requirements to meet the future food demand for a phosphorus-scarce and food-deficient country, Comoros, as a case study. With its rapid population growth, domestic food production is far from meeting the food demand in Comoros, and the country relies on imported foods to satisfy the national needs; it is currently a net food importer, an import-dependent nation. We first calculated the virtual and embedded phosphorus flows through food trade in Comoros, from 1991 to 2013, and then estimated the phosphorus requirements for the future food demand under two scenarios. We found that the total virtual and embedded phosphorus through imported food increased from 163,313 to 493,190.97 kg and 53,190.12 to 143,009.62 kg in 1991 and 2013, respectively. Whereas, the embedded phosphorus through exported food shifted from 2548.75 to 1334.5 kg in 1991 and 2013, respectively. In addition, the Self-Sufficiency Ratio (SSR) analysis found that Comoros’s SSR is far below 100%; it varied from 46.27% in 1991 to 29.70% in 2013, indicating that the capacity of domestic production to cover domestic consumption fell by 16.57% during that period. In terms of phosphorus requirements, Comoros will require approximately 3,003,435.09 kg of phosphorus to reach 90% of the SSR or 3,337,150.10 kg to achieve 100% of the SSR, by 2030. These amounts could allow farmers to domestically produce the entire volume of food crops and livestock products that would otherwise be imported from trade. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Mutation Breeding of a N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (MNU)-Induced Rice (Oryza sativa L. ssp. Indica) Population for the Yield Attributing Traits
Sustainability 2019, 11(4), 1062; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11041062
Received: 5 January 2019 / Revised: 15 February 2019 / Accepted: 15 February 2019 / Published: 18 February 2019
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Abstract
Difficulties in breeding new rice cultivars that have a high yield, are acceptable quality, and are tolerant to environmental stresses have been the major constraint of rice production in many developing countries, as these traits are determined by multiple genes associated with complicated [...] Read more.
Difficulties in breeding new rice cultivars that have a high yield, are acceptable quality, and are tolerant to environmental stresses have been the major constraint of rice production in many developing countries, as these traits are determined by multiple genes associated with complicated and uncontrollable gene segregations.Furthermore, the gene/QTL (quantitative trait locus) introduced to the cultivar is unstable due to the interaction among the active genes, which determine the phenotypic performance, not yet been well understood or controllable. In this study, the N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (MNU)-induced mutation was applied to the heterozygote of the F1 generation from the cross between TBR1 (female) and KD18 (male parent). The phenotype and genotype of the M2 and M3 generations were evaluated and showed that the mutant population phenotypes, including the plant height, semi-dwarfism, amylose content, protein content, gel consistency, grain yield, and spikelet fertility, varied. Interestingly, no segregation among the genotypes in the M2 and M3 generations was observed, while the genotypes of the control population were either paternally inherited or indeterminable when using 28 polymorphism simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers that were identified on parental lines from 200 markers. The MNU-induced mutation caused maternal inheritance in the segregating populations, as primarily important agronomic traits were maternally succeeded from the female line TBR1. The findings of this study indicated that, through the use of MNU, the breeding of rice cultivars with close genetic backgrounds (similarity coefficient = 0.52) could be shortened by the maternal control of important qualities, such as pest and disease resistance and high yield, thus contributing to sustainable rice production for rice farmers. Further examination of rice cultivars with a greater difference in the genetic background should be subsequently conducted. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
Open AccessArticle Use of Dry Dairy Manure Pellets as Nutrient Source for Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme) Growth in Soilless Media
Sustainability 2019, 11(3), 811; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11030811
Received: 29 November 2018 / Revised: 28 December 2018 / Accepted: 18 January 2019 / Published: 4 February 2019
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Abstract
A sustainable dairy manure amendment for soilless crop growth systems was evaluated for its ability to provide nutrients and serve as a major component of the growing media. After manure liquid/solid separation, the solids stream containing organic N and P was pelletized and [...] Read more.
A sustainable dairy manure amendment for soilless crop growth systems was evaluated for its ability to provide nutrients and serve as a major component of the growing media. After manure liquid/solid separation, the solids stream containing organic N and P was pelletized and used as a nutrient source for cherry tomato (Solanum lycopersicum var. cerasiforme) culture in soilless media. The pellets are low in moisture, odor, and pathogens, and they can be hauled at lower cost over longer distances and more easily stored than raw or composted manure. Manure pellet additions to soilless media were evaluated at 0%, 2.5%, 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%, 25%, 30%, 40%, and 50% by volume. Manure pellets had a total N content of 3.7%. Fruit size, ripeness, and biomass, plant height, nutrients value in tissue/pellets/media, and time to complete growth cycle were analyzed. Overall, manure pellet treatments improved plant height and growth rate compared to the negative control, especially when pellets were 15% to 50% of the soilless media. This indicates that the nutrients in the manure were being mineralized, and plants were able to utilize the manure-based nutrients for growth. Leaf tissue nutrient analysis revealed that N, K, Zn, and Fe in leaf tissue were not at sufficiency levels at any level of manure pellet addition. Phosphorus and Cu reached sufficiency levels with 10% or greater manure pellet additions. Calcium, Mg, S, Mn, and B were sufficient in all plants, regardless of fertilizer or manure pellet treatment. Manure pellets demonstrate the potential to be used as a substrate and partial growth medium to reduce synthetic fertilizer use for more sustainable soilless container culture. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Sustainability Assessment of Annual and Permanent Crops: The Inspia Model
Sustainability 2019, 11(3), 738; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11030738
Received: 21 December 2018 / Revised: 17 January 2019 / Accepted: 29 January 2019 / Published: 31 January 2019
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Abstract
The Initiative for Sustainable Productive Agriculture (INSPIA) project promotes best management practices for agriculture, to enhance the provision of ecosystem services through better stewardship of soil and water resources while ensuring high levels of productivity. This paper presents the INSPIA methodology for the [...] Read more.
The Initiative for Sustainable Productive Agriculture (INSPIA) project promotes best management practices for agriculture, to enhance the provision of ecosystem services through better stewardship of soil and water resources while ensuring high levels of productivity. This paper presents the INSPIA methodology for the assessment of sustainability and for guiding farmers on strategic decision-making at farm level, applicable to any kind of cropland. The methodology is based on the application of 15 best management practices, which are assessed through a set of 31 basic sustainability indicators that cover the economic, social and environmental dimensions both agreed by a panel of experts. Basic indicators are then grouped into 12 aggregated indicators, to build the final INSPIA composite index. The INSPIA methodology provides farmers and advisers with a tool to understand sustainability and which, to a certain extent, serves to improve performance toward sustainability. Results are presented in three different ways: a bar diagram with the whole set of basic indicator-values; a pie chart representing the sustainability split in the aggregated indicators; and a final sustainability index. In the medium and long term, the INSPIA methodology can help to monitor and assess agricultural and environmental policy implementation, as well as help improve its decision-making processes in the future. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Application of Artificial Neural Networks for Multi-Criteria Yield Prediction of Winter Rapeseed
Sustainability 2019, 11(2), 533; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11020533
Received: 13 December 2018 / Revised: 8 January 2019 / Accepted: 17 January 2019 / Published: 20 January 2019
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Abstract
The aim of the work was to produce three independent, multi-criteria models for the prediction of winter rapeseed yield. Each of the models was constructed in such a way that the yield prediction can be carried out on three dates: April 15th, May [...] Read more.
The aim of the work was to produce three independent, multi-criteria models for the prediction of winter rapeseed yield. Each of the models was constructed in such a way that the yield prediction can be carried out on three dates: April 15th, May 31st, and June 30th. For model building, artificial neural networks with multi-layer perceptron (MLP) topology were used, on the basis of meteorological data (temperature and precipitation) and information about mineral fertilisation. The data were collected from the years, 2008–2015, from 328 production fields located in Greater Poland, Poland. An assessment of the quality of forecasts produced based on neural models was verified by determination of forecast errors using RAE (relative approximation error), RMS (root mean square error), MAE (mean absolute error) error indicators, and MAPE (mean absolute percentage error). An important feature of the produced prediction models is the ability to realize the forecast in the current agrotechnical year on the basis of the current weather and fertiliser information. The lowest MAPE error values were obtained for the neural model WR15_04 (April 15th) based on the MLP network with structure 15:15-18-11-1:1, which reached 7.51%. Other models reached MAPE errors of 7.85% for model WR31_05 (May 31st) and 8.12% for model WR30_06 (June 30th). The performed sensitivity analysis gave information about the factors that have the greatest impact on winter rapeseed yields. The highest rank of 1 was obtained by two networks for the same independent variable in the form of the sum of precipitation within a period from September 1st to December 31st of the previous year. However, in model WR15_04, the highest rank obtained a feature in the form of a sum of molybdenum fertilization in the current year (MO_CY). The models of winter rapeseed yield produced in the work will be the basis for the construction of new forecasting tools, which may be an important element of precision agriculture and the main element of decision support systems. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Large-Scale Grain Producers’ Application of Land Conservation Technologies in China: Correlation Effects and Determinants
Sustainability 2019, 11(2), 441; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11020441
Received: 30 November 2018 / Revised: 25 December 2018 / Accepted: 10 January 2019 / Published: 16 January 2019
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Abstract
The quality of cultivated land has been seriously degraded due to the overuse of chemical fertilizer in China. Land conservation technologies (LCTs) have been proven to effectively address land degradation and improve land productivity. In this study, a multivariate probit model is applied [...] Read more.
The quality of cultivated land has been seriously degraded due to the overuse of chemical fertilizer in China. Land conservation technologies (LCTs) have been proven to effectively address land degradation and improve land productivity. In this study, a multivariate probit model is applied to empirically analyze the correlation effects and determinants of the application of LCTs application using cross-sectional data collected on 690 large-scale grain producers from the Jiangsu and Jiangxi provinces in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The sample farmers were individually investigated by face-to-face questionnaires in the field that included around 400 questions. The results revealed that there are significant complementary relationships among farm manure application, commercial organic fertilizer use, and green manure plantation, and between formula fertilization and straw returning. Regarding the determinants, highly educated farmers and farmers with a large farm size and high incomes are more likely to adopt LCTs. The land size variable shows an inverted U-shaped relationship with formula fertilization, with an inflection point at 153 mu (10.20 ha), while showing an U-shaped relationship with commodity organic fertilizer use and green manure plantation technologies, with the turning points at 207 mu (13.80 ha) and 124 mu (8.27 ha), respectively. The results also indicate that extension services from agricultural technicians, agricultural technical information, and policy knowledge variables have positive effects on the application of LCTs, while the subsidy policy variable does not appear to have the expected effect. To promote the application of LCTs, suggestions include improving the extension system, selecting targeted farmers for extension training, expanding environmental policy advocacy to increase farmers’ knowledge about land degradation, and adjusting subsidies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Yield of Leafy Greens and Microclimate in Deep Winter Greenhouse Production in Minnesota
Sustainability 2019, 11(1), 28; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11010028
Received: 29 November 2018 / Revised: 17 December 2018 / Accepted: 18 December 2018 / Published: 21 December 2018
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Abstract
The Deep Winter Greenhouse (DWG) uses passive solar technology to create an environment where cold tolerant crops like leafy greens can be grown during the winter to satisfy consumer demand for fresh local produce year-round and increase revenue for farmers. A cultivar trial [...] Read more.
The Deep Winter Greenhouse (DWG) uses passive solar technology to create an environment where cold tolerant crops like leafy greens can be grown during the winter to satisfy consumer demand for fresh local produce year-round and increase revenue for farmers. A cultivar trial consisting of 12 different salad greens was conducted in partnership with three farmers in order to determine suitable cultivars for these unique systems. Yield and days to maturity were recorded, and microclimate conditions such as light, temperature, and relative humidity were tracked throughout the season. This study included three sites from three distinct locations within Minnesota. Environmental differences among the DWG sites and within site replicates were observed. Yield also varied with micro-climate. The trials demonstrate that lettuces and greens such as ‘Florence’ (Lactuca sativa L.), ‘Salanova’ (Lactuca sativa L.), and ‘Vitamin Green’ (Brassica rapa L.) generally grow well. These cultivar trials, coupled with other horticultural trials and economic analyses, will better inform recommendations for farmers growing in these unique environments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Imposed Water Deficit after Anthesis for the Improvement of Macronutrients, Quality, Phytochemicals, and Antioxidants in Rice Grain
Sustainability 2018, 10(12), 4843; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10124843
Received: 17 November 2018 / Revised: 10 December 2018 / Accepted: 14 December 2018 / Published: 18 December 2018
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Abstract
The control of protein and amylose content is the principal challenge in rice nutrient and quality improvement. In this study, water deficits in 2- and 3-day intervals were imposed on two Japonica cultivars K1 and K3, and an Indica K4 subtype after anthesis [...] Read more.
The control of protein and amylose content is the principal challenge in rice nutrient and quality improvement. In this study, water deficits in 2- and 3-day intervals were imposed on two Japonica cultivars K1 and K3, and an Indica K4 subtype after anthesis to harvest. It was observed that although rice yield was affected, the protein content was increased 6.53–6.63% to 9.93–10.16%. The amylose quantity was reduced significantly from 22.00–22.43% to 16.33–17.56%, while fatty acids in rice grain were not influenced. Total anthocyanins were greatly promoted by 53.1% as compared to the non-treated trials. The antioxidant capacity in rice grain increased up to 59.1% in 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) radical scavenging and 41.6% in reducing power assays. Findings of this research revealed that the 3-day interval of water deficit imposition was the most effective to improve rice macronutrients and quality, as well as beneficial phytochemicals and antioxidants in rice grain. The water control after anthesis to harvest in rice cultivation is beneficial and economical for farmers to improve rice nutrients and quality, thus contributes to the sustainable rice production in many developing countries. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
Open AccessArticle Growth and Distribution of Maize Roots in Response to Nitrogen Accumulation in Soil Profiles after Long-Term Fertilization Management on a Calcareous Soil
Sustainability 2018, 10(11), 4315; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10114315
Received: 26 October 2018 / Revised: 16 November 2018 / Accepted: 17 November 2018 / Published: 21 November 2018
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Abstract
The replacement of inorganic fertilizer nitrogen by manure is highlighted to have great potential to maintain crop yield while delivering multiple functions, including the improvement of soil quality. However, information on the dynamics of root distributions in response to chemical fertilizers and manure [...] Read more.
The replacement of inorganic fertilizer nitrogen by manure is highlighted to have great potential to maintain crop yield while delivering multiple functions, including the improvement of soil quality. However, information on the dynamics of root distributions in response to chemical fertilizers and manure along the soil profile is still lacking. The aim of this study was to investigate the temporal-spatial root distributions of summer maize (Zea mays L.) from 2013 to 2015 under four treatments (unfertilized control (CK), inorganic fertilizer (NPK), manure + 70% NPK (NPKM), and NPKM + straw (NPKMS)). Root efficiency for shoot N accumulation was increased by 89% in the NPKM treatment compared with the NPK treatment at V12 (the emergence of the twelfth leaf) of 2014. Root growth at 40–60 cm was consistently stimulated after manure and/or straw additions, especially at V12 and R3 (the milk stage) across three years. Root length density (RLD) in the diameter <0.2 mm at 0–20 cm was significantly positively correlated with soil water content and negatively with soil mineral N contents in 2015. The RLD in the diameter >0.4 mm at 20–60 cm, and RLD <0.2 mm, was positively correlated with shoot N uptake in 2015. The root length density was insensitive in response to fertilization treatments, but the variations in RLD along the soil profile in response to fertilization implies that there is a great potential to manipulate N supply levels and rooting depths to increase nutrient use efficiency. The importance of incorporating a manure application together with straw to increase soil fertility in the North China Plain (NCP) needs further studies. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Evaluation of Sustainability of Maize Cultivation in Poland. A Prospect Theory—PROMETHEE Approach
Sustainability 2018, 10(11), 4263; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10114263
Received: 3 October 2018 / Revised: 8 November 2018 / Accepted: 15 November 2018 / Published: 18 November 2018
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Abstract
This study aims at exploiting research outcomes concerning tillage practices in order to make solutions available to farmers to mitigate negative environmental impact to soils. Two alternative practices have been analysed against conventional full tillage based on data provided by a long-term experiment [...] Read more.
This study aims at exploiting research outcomes concerning tillage practices in order to make solutions available to farmers to mitigate negative environmental impact to soils. Two alternative practices have been analysed against conventional full tillage based on data provided by a long-term experiment conducted at the Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation (IUNG) farm in Grabów, Central Poland. Reduced Tillage and Direct Sowing are evaluated against Full Tillage on the basis of socio-economic and environmental criteria. Multi-criteria decision analysis undertaken using the PROMETHEE method provided evidence that the ‘optimal’ maize cultivation system depends on the decision maker’s viewpoint and preferences. In fact, criteria selected and related weights elicited from representative farmers, as well as from an expert agronomist, reveal different viewpoints. Direct sowing was the most preferable for the large farm and expert perspective, whereas in case of small farm reduced tillage ranked first. Prospect theory developed by behavioural economists was incorporated to take into account decision biases. As a matter of fact, based on Prospect Theory-PROMETHEE from the small farm and the expert perspective, the conventional system was now ranked first, while for the large farm, the most preferable practice was still direct sowing. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Evaluation of a New Machine for Flower and Fruit Thinning in Stone Fruits
Sustainability 2018, 10(11), 4088; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10114088
Received: 9 September 2018 / Revised: 12 October 2018 / Accepted: 30 October 2018 / Published: 7 November 2018
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Abstract
Peach and apricot trees usually set more fruit than they can adequately support. Crop load adjustment through fruit thinning is a routine practice adopted by fruit growers to obtain a marketable product. However, hand thinning is an expensive, labor-intense operation. The interest in [...] Read more.
Peach and apricot trees usually set more fruit than they can adequately support. Crop load adjustment through fruit thinning is a routine practice adopted by fruit growers to obtain a marketable product. However, hand thinning is an expensive, labor-intense operation. The interest in the mechanization of thinning has increased in the last decades. A new machine, consisting of a tractor-mounted rotor equipped with elastic rods radially inserted on a central axis, has been recently developed to thin both flowers and green fruits in stone fruit crops. In order to test its effectiveness and optimize the operative conditions, trials were carried out in 2016 in two apricot and two peach commercial orchards located in the northeast Italy. Tests were carried out on narrow-canopied orchards, during blooming time, and on green fruit, assessing the flower and fruit removal percentage and the labor saving as compared with the standard fruit hand-thinning practice. In apricot, the machine removed 20.8% of flowers and 43.6% of fruit, allowing 48% time saving in the follow-up fruit manual thinning as compared with the control (hand-thinning only). In peach, mechanical thinning at blooming time removed 63% of flowers, allowing 42.4% time saving in the follow-up fruit manual thinning as compared with the control, whereas mechanical thinning of fruit at the beginning of pit hardening stage removed less than 10%. The development of a mechanical thinning practice, complemented by a manual finishing, could represent a valuable near-term solution to reduce thinning labor time. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Crop Structure Changes Altered the Cropland Nitrogen Balance between 2005 and 2015 on the Sanjiang Plain, China
Sustainability 2018, 10(11), 4011; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10114011
Received: 23 September 2018 / Revised: 22 October 2018 / Accepted: 30 October 2018 / Published: 2 November 2018
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Abstract
Nitrogen (N) budgets have been computed in many countries at various scales to improve understanding of N-balance characteristics and to assess the environmental pollution risks of applying chemical fertilizer N. However, dynamic characteristics, driving forces, and potential soil fertility consequences related to cropland [...] Read more.
Nitrogen (N) budgets have been computed in many countries at various scales to improve understanding of N-balance characteristics and to assess the environmental pollution risks of applying chemical fertilizer N. However, dynamic characteristics, driving forces, and potential soil fertility consequences related to cropland N balance have seldom been discussed, especially in regions with highly fertile soils and low N-use intensities. This study investigated the temporal and spatial characteristics of N balance, and the impact of agricultural development on the agro-ecosystems of the Sanjiang Plain, one of the largest producers of commodity food grains in China. County-level agricultural statistics at five-year intervals were used to calculate agricultural N balances, N surplus intensity, and N-use efficiency between 2005 and 2015. Agricultural development has brought about continual increases in cultivated land area, consumption of chemical fertilizers, and nitrogen use efficiency (NUE). Nitrogen surplus intensity decreased from 65.0 kg/ha in 2005 to 43.5 kg/ha in 2010, and to 22.2 kg/ha in 2015. However, NUE was >90% in 13 counties in 2015, and in 11 counties in 2010. In contrast, only 5 counties had NUE above 90% in 2005, which indicates that N from the soil was used by crops and soil fertility was gradually decreasing. The percentage change of crop area, namely, the increase in maize area percentage, contributed significantly to the increases in NUE. A judicious management of fertilizers that meets the nutrient needs of the crops and ensures agricultural sustainability on the Sanjiang Plain is therefore essential. The findings of this study emphasize the importance of assessing the impact of crop structure adjustment on soil fertility and nitrogen balance during agricultural development. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle A Cloud-Based Digital Farm Management System for Vegetable Production Process Management and Quality Traceability
Sustainability 2018, 10(11), 4007; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10114007
Received: 2 September 2018 / Revised: 14 October 2018 / Accepted: 30 October 2018 / Published: 1 November 2018
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Abstract
Farm Management Information Systems (FMISs) are being expanded to improve operation efficiency, reduce inputs, and ensure compliance with standards and regulations. However, this goal is difficult to attain in the vegetable sector, where data acquisition is time-consuming and data at different stages is [...] Read more.
Farm Management Information Systems (FMISs) are being expanded to improve operation efficiency, reduce inputs, and ensure compliance with standards and regulations. However, this goal is difficult to attain in the vegetable sector, where data acquisition is time-consuming and data at different stages is fragmented by the potential diversity of crops and multiple batches cultivated at any given farm. This applies, in particular, to farms in China, which have small areas and low degrees of mechanization. This study presents an integrated approach to track and trace production efficiently through our Digital Farm Management System (DFMS), which adopts the cloud framework and utilizes Quick Response (QR) codes and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. Specifically, a data acquisition system is proposed that runs on a smartphone for the efficient gathering of planting information in the field. Moreover, DFMS generates statistics and analyses of planting areas, costs, and yields. DFMS meets the FMIS requirements and provides the accurate tracking and tracing of the production for each batch in an efficient manner. The system has been applied in a large-scale vegetable production enterprise, consisting of 12 farms distributed throughout China. This application shows that DFMS is a highly efficient solution for precise vegetable farm management. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Organic Farming Improves Soil Microbial Abundance and Diversity under Greenhouse Condition: A Case Study in Shanghai (Eastern China)
Sustainability 2018, 10(10), 3825; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10103825
Received: 13 September 2018 / Revised: 11 October 2018 / Accepted: 16 October 2018 / Published: 22 October 2018
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Abstract
Agricultural practices have significant impacts on soil properties and microbial communities; however, little is known about their responses to open field and plastic tunnels under organic and conventional farming. We therefore investigated the responses of soil chemical variables and microbial communities to different [...] Read more.
Agricultural practices have significant impacts on soil properties and microbial communities; however, little is known about their responses to open field and plastic tunnels under organic and conventional farming. We therefore investigated the responses of soil chemical variables and microbial communities to different agricultural management and cultivation types, including organic management in open field (OF), organic management in plastic tunnels (OP), conventional management in open field (CF) and conventional management in plastic tunnels (CP), by using a pyrosequencing approach of 16S rRNA gene amplicon. Both factors had significant influences on the soil properties and microbial communities. Organic farming increased the nutrient-related soil variables compared to conventional farming regardless of cultivation type, especially for the available N and P, which were increased by 137% and 711%, respectively, in OP compared to CP. Additionally, OP had the highest microbial abundance and diversity among treatments, whereas no difference was found between OF, CF and CP. Furthermore, OP possessed diverse differential bacteria which were mainly related to the organic material turnover (e.g., Roseiflexus, Planctomyces and Butyrivibrio) and plant growth promotion (e.g., Nostoc, Glycomyces and Bacillus). Redundancy analysis (RDA) showed that pH, electrical conductivity (EC), nutrient levels (e.g., available N and available P) and total Zn content were significantly correlated to the structure of the microbial community. Overall, our results showed that the long-term organic farming with high fertilizer input increased soil nutrient levels and microbial abundance and diversity under plastic-tunnel condition compared to other cultivation systems. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Carbon Footprint Analyses and Potential Carbon Emission Reduction in China’s Major Peach Orchards
Sustainability 2018, 10(8), 2908; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082908
Received: 5 July 2018 / Revised: 13 August 2018 / Accepted: 14 August 2018 / Published: 16 August 2018
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Abstract
An excess of material input in fruit orchards has brought serious environmental problems, particularly in China. However, studies on the estimation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in peach orchards are limited. In this study, based on questionnaire surveys in major peach-producing regions, including [...] Read more.
An excess of material input in fruit orchards has brought serious environmental problems, particularly in China. However, studies on the estimation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in peach orchards are limited. In this study, based on questionnaire surveys in major peach-producing regions, including the North China Plain (n = 214), as well as northwest (n = 22) and southwest (n = 33) China, the carbon footprints (CFs) of these orchards were calculated by the life cycle assessment. The potential emission reduction in each region was estimated by combining the GHG emissions and CFs with plantation areas and fruit yields. The results showed that the average GHG emissions in the North China Plain, northwest, and southwest regions were 15,668 kg CO2-eq ha−1, 10,386 kg CO2-eq ha−1, and 5580 kg CO2-eq ha−1, with corresponding CFs of 0.48 kg CO2-eq ha−1, 0.27 kg CO2-eq ha−1, and 0.20 kg CO2-eq kg−1, respectively. The main contribution source of GHG emissions in these three regions was fertilizer (77–95%), followed by electricity, pesticides, and diesel. By adopting advanced farming practices with high yield and a high partial factor productivity of fertilizer, the GHG emissions could be reduced by ~13–35%, with the highest potential reduction in the North China Plain. In conclusion, the GHG emissions and their CFs were impressively high in China’s major peach-producing regions, but these GHG emissions could be substantially decreased by optimizing nutrients and irrigation management, including the rational selection of fertilizer rates and types with water-saving irrigation systems or practices (e.g., mulching) for increasing fertilizer and water use efficiency, and maintaining a sustainable peach production in China or similar countries. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle The Secret to Getting Ahead Is Getting Started: Early Impacts of a Rural Development Project
Sustainability 2018, 10(8), 2644; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082644
Received: 26 June 2018 / Revised: 19 July 2018 / Accepted: 20 July 2018 / Published: 27 July 2018
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Abstract
Interventions in rural development projects vary in their likely time to impact. Some offer rapid payoffs after minimal learning and investment, while others offer larger payoffs but entail delays and may require learning or significant investment of labor and capital. Short-term impacts included [...] Read more.
Interventions in rural development projects vary in their likely time to impact. Some offer rapid payoffs after minimal learning and investment, while others offer larger payoffs but entail delays and may require learning or significant investment of labor and capital. Short-term impacts included reductions in stored grain losses due to improved silos and increase in household savings due to increased participation in savings groups. The least poor are most likely to invest labor and capital in slow-to-accrue payoffs like soil erosion abatement from building conservation structures. Our results suggest that targeting project interventions by asset level can enhance impacts. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Combining High Yields and Blast Resistance in Rice (Oryza spp.): A Screening under Upland and Lowland Conditions in Benin
Sustainability 2018, 10(7), 2500; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10072500
Received: 16 June 2018 / Revised: 10 July 2018 / Accepted: 11 July 2018 / Published: 17 July 2018
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Abstract
The future security of the supply of rice for food in Africa depends on improving the level of local production to achieve self-sufficiency. In order to cope with the existing gap between production and actual demand, combining a high level of rice blast [...] Read more.
The future security of the supply of rice for food in Africa depends on improving the level of local production to achieve self-sufficiency. In order to cope with the existing gap between production and actual demand, combining a high level of rice blast tolerance and a high-yield potential is necessary. The current study was conducted under upland and lowland conditions in Benin to gain insight into the performance of selected blast-resistant accessions along with some currently grown varieties. This study revealed a high phenotypic variability among these accessions. Furthermore, differences in the performance of these accessions under lowland and upland conditions were observed. Principal component analysis showed their grouping in three clusters. The analysis also demonstrated a high yield potential among the blast-resistant rice accessions whether they were Oryza sativa or O. glaberrima. Furthermore, there was a significant correlation between yield and both spikelet fertility and growth cycle duration. In conclusion, the present study identified promising rice accessions for future breeding. High phenotypic variability in combination with interesting traits can help to develop new resilient varieties. Finally, when the traits correlate with yield, they can be used as markers for an early screening method for identifying promising accessions at an early stage. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Responses to Potassium Application and Economic Optimum K Rate of Maize under Different Soil Indigenous K Supply
Sustainability 2018, 10(7), 2267; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10072267
Received: 18 May 2018 / Revised: 27 June 2018 / Accepted: 29 June 2018 / Published: 2 July 2018
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Abstract
Potassium (K) is an essential macronutrient for maintaining crop productivity, but the economic benefit of K fertilizer often has been neglected. We collected a database from 60 maize field experimental sites in Northeast China between 2005 and 2012 to study the impacts of [...] Read more.
Potassium (K) is an essential macronutrient for maintaining crop productivity, but the economic benefit of K fertilizer often has been neglected. We collected a database from 60 maize field experimental sites in Northeast China between 2005 and 2012 to study the impacts of potassium (K) application rates on yield, K concentrations in grain and straw, plant K uptake, and to evaluate the economic optimum K rate (EOKR) for maize under different levels of soil indigenous K supply (IKS). The results showed that the average maize yield in Krec treatment (the recommended K rate) was highest and was 32.1% higher than that in K0 treatment (no K fertilization). Compared to K0, the application of K did not significantly increase grain K concentration, whereas it significantly increased K concentration in the straw. Plant K uptake in K150 treatment (150% of the recommended K rate) was higher than that in Krec treatment, but grain yield was lower than that in Krec treatment. Thus, the result indicates that luxury K absorption occurred in K150% treatment due to excessive K application. Thus, the application rate of K should be further optimized. Based on the modified Mitscherlich model, the average economic optimum K rate (EONR) was 135.24, 124.27, and 96.54 kg K2O/ha for the low, medium, and high levels of soil indigenous K supply (IKS), respectively. The average economic optimum yield (EOY) at a high IKS level was similar to the average yield in Krec treatment, whereas the EOKR could reduce by a K rate of 37.9–63.7 kg K2O/ha compared to Krec treatment. This study highlights the importance of K application to improve grain yield and provides a promising fertilizer recommendation method for minimizing fertilizer inputs and optimizing maize production. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Open AccessArticle Impacts of Dryland Farm Management Systems on Weeds and Ground Beetles (Carabidae) in the Northern Great Plains
Sustainability 2018, 10(7), 2146; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10072146
Received: 22 May 2018 / Revised: 16 June 2018 / Accepted: 20 June 2018 / Published: 23 June 2018
Cited by 2 | PDF Full-text (1590 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Supplementary Files
Abstract
Farming systems act as ecological filters impacting cropland associated biodiversity; however, the extent of these effects is largely unknown in the drylands of the Northern Great Plains (NGP), a key conventional and organic crop production region. In this 3-year (2013–2015) on-farm study, we [...] Read more.
Farming systems act as ecological filters impacting cropland associated biodiversity; however, the extent of these effects is largely unknown in the drylands of the Northern Great Plains (NGP), a key conventional and organic crop production region. In this 3-year (2013–2015) on-farm study, we addressed this knowledge gap by assessing the effects of conventional and organic farming systems on weed and ground beetle (carabidae) communities. We observed 25 weed species in conventional and 44 in organic fields. Weed species richness and weed species evenness were 237% and 137% greater in organic fields than in conventional fields. We collected a total of 1520 beetle specimens, representing 28 species in conventional and 37 in organic fields. Beetle activity-density and species richness were 220% and 156% greater in organic fields than in conventional fields. Both weed and ground beetle communities differed between conventional and organic fields, indicating that farming systems act as distinct ecological filters. We conclude that, in the drylands of the NGP, adoption of organic farming enhances weed abundance which could have potential management challenges, but provide floral resources to the pollinators and parasitoids. Similarly, greater diversity of ground beetles could enhance conservation biological control of crop pests, ultimately supporting for sustainable agriculture. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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Review

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Open AccessReview Diagnosing the Climatic and Agronomic Dimensions of Rain-Fed Oat Yield Gaps and Their Restrictions in North and Northeast China
Sustainability 2019, 11(7), 2104; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11072104
Received: 4 March 2019 / Revised: 23 March 2019 / Accepted: 30 March 2019 / Published: 9 April 2019
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Abstract
Confronted with the great challenges of globally growing populations and food shortages, society must achieve future food security by increasing grain output and narrowing the gap between potential yields and farmers’ actual yields. This study attempts to diagnose the climatic and agronomic dimensions [...] Read more.
Confronted with the great challenges of globally growing populations and food shortages, society must achieve future food security by increasing grain output and narrowing the gap between potential yields and farmers’ actual yields. This study attempts to diagnose the climatic and agronomic dimensions of oat yield gaps and further to explore their restrictions. A conceptual framework was put forward to analyze the different dimensions of yield gaps and their limiting factors. We quantified the potential yield (Yp), attainable yield (Yt), experimental yield (Ye), and farmers’ actual yield (Ya) of oat, and evaluated three levels of yield gaps in a rain-fed cropping system in North and Northeast China (NC and NEC, respectively). The results showed that there were great differences in the spatial distributions of the four kinds of yields and three yield gaps. The average yield gap between Yt and Ye (YG-II) was greater than the yield gap between Yp and Yt (YG-I). The yield gap between Ye and Ya (YG-III) was the largest among the three yield gaps at most sites, which indicated that farmers have great potential to increase their crop yields. Due to non-controllable climatic conditions (e.g., light and temperature) for obtaining Yp, reducing YG-I is extremely difficult. Although YG-II could be narrowed through enriching soil nutrients, it is not easy to improve soil quality in the short term. In contrast, narrowing YG-III is the most feasible for farmers by means of introducing high-yield crop varieties and optimizing agronomic managements (e.g., properly adjusting sowing dates and planting density). This study figured out various dimensions of yield gaps and investigated their limiting factors, which should be helpful to increase farmers’ yields and regional crop production, as long as these restrictions are well addressed. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Sustainable Crop Production Systems)
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