Legumes against climate change

The crops of the future are expected to grow in drier and warmer environments, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts for the coming years.

Environmental stresses (lower precipitation, higher temperatures, etc.) are important factors in crop production and quality. As a result, more effort will be required to develop varieties that are better adapted to adverse conditions in order to meet the growing food demand.

Fertilizers and climate change: the advantages and disadvantages of climate change

In recent decades, the use of nitrogen fertilizers has increased in tandem with the development of better adapted varieties. It is thus possible to increase output in an efficient and cost-effective manner. This is because crop response is usually proportional to the amount of nitrogen applied, and nitrogen is relatively cheap. Because of its success, the global use of nitrogen fertilizers has increased by nearly 800% since 1961.

Another fact that attests to our current reliance: synthetic fertilizers are estimated to feed half of the world’s population. In other words, this type of fertilizer has produced half of the calories we consume.

In addition to these undeniable benefits, there are some drawbacks. Crops absorb only about half of the nitrogen applied to them. What about the rest? Part of it ends up in surface and groundwater as nitrate, while the rest is lost to the atmosphere as nitrous oxide. Nitrogen fertilizers are the primary source of emissions of this gas, which has a warming potential nearly 300 times that of CO2. As a result, the use of these fertilizers actively contributes to global warming.

Legumes to the rescue in the face of climate change

Not all crops rely equally on synthetic nitrogen. One crop family is able to take advantage of atmospheric nitrogen by forming a symbiotic relationship with specific bacteria in the soil. Lentils, alfalfa, beans, and chickpeas are examples of legumes.

This interaction occurs in specific subway tissues. The nodules are what they’re called. In these nodules, the host plant (in this case, legumes) provides a source of carbon (energy) in the form of photoassimilates to the nodule. In exchange, the bacteria provide it with fixed nitrogen, which the plant can use to form proteins, for example. As a result, legumes are virtually self-sufficient in terms of synthetic nitrogen supply.

As a result, this unique trait of legumes can help us combat climate change in two ways:

avoiding the use of nitrogen fertilizers and the resulting nitrous oxide emissions

by lowering CO2 emissions from fertilizer production (estimated at 1.8 percent of total emissions).

Furthermore, the nitrogen-rich residues left by the leguminous crop enrich the soil and naturally fertilize the following crop.

So, what’s the issue?

With all of these benefits, you’d think their use would be widespread. However, despite occupying 15% of the world’s cultivated area, second only to cereals, they are far less successful in Europe. They are specifically grown on 1.5 percent of European agricultural land. This is primarily due to three factors:

Consumer aversion: Despite being a food rooted in Mediterranean culture, its consumption has declined as a result of the introduction of new consumption patterns.

European agriculture is highly specialized in the production of cereals and oilseeds (sunflower and rapeseed), resulting in reliance on nitrogen fertilizers and imports of protein raw materials (Europe imports 70 percent , mainly soybeans).

Farmers find it unappealing due to low prices and the fact that their production (which is largely determined by their ability to fix nitrogen) is heavily influenced by environmental stresses, many of which are linked to climate change.

The issue restricts the solution.

As previously stated, the various leguminous crops’ independence from nitrogen fertilizers and low carbon footprint make them an excellent tool for reducing agriculture’s impact on climate change. At the same time, however, adverse climatic factors have a strong influence on legume production.

It is at this point that research enters the picture. The nodule’s function is closely related to the physiological state of the host plant. As a result, environmental factors that affect the plant will have an impact on nitrogen fixation by the nodule and, ultimately, production. It is critical to expand our understanding of the mechanisms that govern atmospheric nitrogen fixation and its enhancement as a natural fertilization tool in the face of climate change.

The ongoing and collaborative work of various research groups (such as ours) is allowing us to identify and comprehend these mechanisms. This data enables us to identify the varieties, as well as the physiological and molecular profiles, that are involved in more sustainable production under adverse growing conditions.

Increasing output and consumption

As we have seen, crop management must be optimized in order to meet the EU’s target of reducing nutrient losses by 50% and the use of synthetic fertilizers by 20% by 2030. Simultaneously, they must meet the needs of a growing population with shiftinghttps://www.gerluxe.com consumption habits. All of this takes place in the context of climate change.

Taking advantage of the agronomic and environmental benefits provided by legumes is critical in this regard. To that end, it is critical to understand the impact of global warming on these crops and use that knowledge to select more efficient varieties under future climatic conditions. However, these actions must inevitably be combined with other measures, such as incentives for legume cultivation through Community agricultural policy and those aimed at increasing population consumption of legumes.

Article Author Gerluxe

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