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Do agronomic approaches aligned to regenerative agriculture improve the micronutrient concentrations of edible portions of crops? A scoping review of evidence

Authors: Kangara, M., Joy, E., Lark, R., Redfern, S., Eilander, A. and Broadley, M. (2023)


Regenerative Agriculture (RA) is used to describe nature-based agronomic approaches that aim to build soil health and crop resilience, minimize negative environmental outcomes, and improve farmer livelihoods. A benefit that is increasingly attributed to crops grown under RA practices is improved nutritional content. However, we do not know the extent to which RA influences crop nutritional quality and under what management approaches and context, can such effects be realized. A scoping review of recent literature (Web of Science, 2000–2021) was carried out to assess the evidence that RA approaches improve crop micronutrient quality. Papers included combinations of agronomic approaches that could be defined as Regenerative: “Organic Inputs” including composts and manures, cover crops, crop rotations, crop residues and biochars; “Reduced Tillage”, “Intercropping”, “Biostimulants” e.g. arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi; plant growth promoting bacteria, and “Irrigation”, typically deficit-irrigation and alternate wetting and drying. The crop types reviewed were predetermined covering common sources of food and included: Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.), Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), Rice (Oryza sativa L.), Maize (Zea mays L.), Pulses (Fabaceae), Alliums (Allium spp.), and “other” crop types (30 types). This scoping review supports a potential role for RA approaches in increasing the concentrations of micronutrients in the edible portions of several crop types under specific practices, although this was context specific. For example, rice grown under increased organic inputs showed significant increases in grain zinc (Zn) concentration in 15 out of 16 studies. The vitamin C concentration of tomato fruit increased in ~50% of studies when plants were grown under increased organic inputs, and in 76% of studies when plants were grown under deficit irrigation. Overall, the magnitude and reproducibility of the effects of RA practices on most crop nutritional profiles were difficult to assess due to the diversity of RA approaches, geographical conditions, and the limited number of studies for most crops in each of these categories. Future research with appropriate designs, improved on-farm surveillance and nutritional diagnostics are needed for better understanding the potential role of RA in improving the quality of food, human nutrition, and health.


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