Thrust Area A.2: Strengthening Agroecosystems
Agroecosystems are vital for sustaining food production as well as for conservation of biodiversity. Methodical selection and combination of various levels of production, stability, and equitability are needed for strengthening these systems. There is a need for holistic understanding of the environmental impacts of soil-applied chemicals, along with their transport and transformation; lack of which hinders grower and policy maker decision-making. We hypothesize that the development of BioWRAP technology will strengthen agroecosystem health and productivity by providing an herbicide alternative for weed management without compromising soil health and conservation. We propose to investigate the influence of BioWRAP on crop growth, development and productivity, weed management, and irrigation management, as an alternative to chemical crop-protection applications, to improve system resilience to adverse weather conditions, as part of a precision agriculture strategy. The research results are expected to help strengthen our agroecosystems by transforming our ability to provide more efficient water, soil, and agrochemical management and promote sustainable crop production through integrated weed management, soil conservation and agroecosystem health; and help build agroecosystem resilience to environmental and socio-economic challenges. This objective will explore smart data acquisition approaches to collect field and greenhouse data on soil health, nutrient dynamics, weed suppression and soil moisture and their effects on agroecosystems characteristics by leveraging process-based modeling and machine learning approaches in combination with experimental insights (A.2).
Cropping Systems For this thrust area we will evaluate biopolymer mulch with respect to weed suppression and crop production efficiency, nutrient cycling, soil moisture retention, and life cycle impacts (A2:1).
Environmental accounting of agricultural products and bioproducts is increasing in complexity as our ability to understand, measure, and model individual ecosystem and societal impacts and tradeoffs grows. When used in conjunction with chemical process and crop models, manufacturing options can be quickly analyzed to identify weaknesses and quantify the benefits of improvements prior to implementation. The adoption of precision agriculture enables life cycle inventory development to harness the data revolution to increase and better understand the accuracy and precision of analytical results with respect to the inherently heterogeneous nature of agroecosystems. Concurrently, the results of these assessments and archives of data can be fed into ecosystem markets to be monetized and to verify provision of contracted services. We hypothesize that localized BioWRAP production and use will enhance the efficiency of nutrient and resource cycling while reducing overall life cycle impacts of crop production (A2.2).