While there is undeniable merit in being able to find quick and effective cures for specific pest problems in a particular crop, ENDURE is in the fortunate position of also being able to take a broader view, examining entire cropping systems using a variety of scientific disciplines.
This multidimensional and multidisciplinary approach is epitomised in the two ENDURE system case studies currently running; one focused on arable crops and the other examining orchards (a perennial crop).
System case studies were launched following earlier research which saw the same crops examined from different perspectives, such as diseases, pests, weeds, precision agriculture, damage modelling, economy and sociology. The results of this work remain, for the moment, separate but offer great potential in this new multidimensional approach.
Rather than studying a specific pest on a specific crop, the system case studies take a much broader approach. So instead of examining a particular field, for example, the focus is enlarged to the landscape level and, rather than an annual crop, the focus is on crop rotations.
Expanding the frame of experimentation in this way, and taking on board the work of disciplines such as economics and sociology, is crucial in establishing sustainable integrated pest management (IPM) strategies that will be adopted by farmers in practice.
ENDURE has particular strengths for implementing the system-based approach, such as excellent links between its various research activities, which makes it possible to integrate their work, exploit the synergies and thus produce better results.
A systems approach also ensures that research work is anchored in concrete situations, providing a central research subject and putting the focus on results. Furthermore, a systems approach is the best way of exploiting the diversity of scientific disciplines gathered in ENDURE, including sociologists and economists alongside experts in the natural sciences.
Orchard system case study
The orchard system case study faces a busy 18 months, as work begins on collating information gathered from no less than nine ENDURE research groups, including areas such as exploiting innovative technologies, exploiting landscape and community ecology, modelling, analysis of economic driving forces, societal assessments and exploiting genetic resistance and natural biological processes.
The aim is to produce multidisciplinary descriptions of three types of orchard systems: current, advanced and innovative. The descriptions of innovative systems will then be used for designing new crop protection strategies through modelling and experimentation. The work will include analysing why farmers do or do not adopt IPM measures in their orchards.
Work will also continue on analysing the interactions between landscape ecology and pests, and in particular the relationships between landscape elements close to pear orchards, natural enemies and pear psylla.
Pear psylla, also known as the pear sucker in some countries, is a major problem for producers across Europe. When the nymphs become active in spring they suck sap from leaves and fruits, excreting honeydew which turns black with sooty mould and damages fruits. Attacks can also weaken trees, severely reducing the number of fruit buds in the year following the attack and, in addition, pear suckers also transmit viruses. Controlling them is difficult, as it is a pest that is resistant to a range of insecticides.
Arable crops system case study
While orchards are, very broadly, similar across Europe, arable crops are not and to meet this challenge the arable crops system case study is working on two typical cropping systems. One is a winter crops-based cropping system (typical of France, Denmark, UK and Germany) and the second is a maize-based cropping system (as can be found in Italy, Hungary, France, Spain and parts of Northern Europe).
This system case study is built on the recognition that reducing pesticide use in arable crops does not only entail improving crop protection practices or substituting pesticides with non-chemical techniques (using plant genetics or biological controls, for example), but needs to include the redesign of cropping systems and enlarging the scales to multi-pest, crop rotations and landscape interactions.
Thus it aims to design and explore a range of scenarios of innovative systems, to make a qualitative ex ante (before the event) multi-criteria assessment, comparing these innovative systems both between themselves and with existing systems, and to identify factors which would help the adoption of such innovative systems (such as research gaps, market incentives and public policies).
Another important plank of this system case study is a pan-Europe meta-analysis of the effects of crop rotations on weeds and selected pests. Researchers are on the trail of both rotational effects and a geographic effect as they believe rotational effects will be similar across regions, and that differences between regions will be explained by the geographic effect.