What is the importance of crop diversity in organic farming?

Plant breeders and scientists use crop diversity to develop new, more resilient and productive varieties that consumers want to eat, that are nutritious and tasty, and that adapt to local preferences, environments and challenges. Plant breeding is the process by which humans have made plants useful for agricultural production. It is one of the main challenges for organic agriculture, since many current cultivars and varieties of crops have been obtained for highly standardized conventional systems (monocultures) that depend on external inputs.


agriculture, on the other hand, is characterized by conditions of low external inputs and a high heterogeneity and unpredictability of agro-climatic conditions.

This requires an inclusive and diversity-based approach, and a deep integration of the design of plant cultivation and reproduction systems. Insects can be very important and beneficial for crop production when they provide services such as pollination and help control other pests. Crop diversity is a vitally important resource for agriculture and human nutrition. This diversity maintains crop productivity when faced with pests and diseases, provides resilience during extreme weather conditions and other crises, and offers the possibility of adapting to climate changes and meeting new market demands.

ORC leads the socio-economic work package to identify business and governance models to improve the efficiency of organic seed supply chains in the market. The review, published in the journal New Phytologist, revealed that the economic, technological, climate and political changes of the last 100 years have combined to cause the decline and disappearance of genetic diversity, which, according to the researchers, is important for agriculture. While some alternative crops have high prices, others pay dividends by generating natural resources or increasing rotational crop yields. Crop system design underlies the way agriculture provides ecosystem services, including food production and climate regulation, nutrient cycles, water and carbon, diseases and biodiversity.

There is increasing scientific evidence showing that planting a wide range of crops (polyculture) and incorporating a natural habitat. The more diverse the plants, animals, and soil-borne organisms that inhabit an agricultural system, the more diverse the populations of beneficial, pest-fighting organisms that a farm can sustain. Organic farming systems are a catalyst for agroecological innovation and play a fundamental role in redesigning all agriculture towards greater sustainability and resilience. The study analyzed the change in the diversity of the varieties of traditional crops grown on farms, of the cultivars of modern crops in agriculture, of the wild relatives of crops in their natural habitats, and of the genetic resources of crops found in ex situ conservation repositories.

Diversify aims to optimize the performance of crop species mixes (“plant equipment”) as a means of improving yield stability, reducing damage caused by pests and diseases, and improving stress resilience in agricultural systems. At a time when unemployment threatens rural economies around the world, farms with more diverse crops offer more jobs. Crop diversity at farm level improves soil health and quality, reduces populations of non-beneficial pests, promotes beneficial organisms and improves the economic resilience of farms. Crop systems research covers the way in which agricultural production is organized, including the rotation and management of crops and soils.

However, the researchers say, more work is needed to conserve the full range of diversity that is at risk of disappearing from farmers' fields and, in the case of wild relatives of crops, from wild parents and cousins of cultivated plants, from grasslands, forests and other natural habitats. New market supply chains offer farmers new opportunities to produce more value and retain more of that value on the farm, said Fred Kirschenmann, an organic grain producer in North Dakota. By producing more than one product, farms are better able to withstand the economic consequences of specific crop deficiencies or market fluctuations. Farmers and agricultural scientists have known for years that crop rotation can break insect and disease cycles, reduce weeds, curb erosion, supplement soil nutrients, improve soil structure and conserve soil moisture.


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