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Organic and conservation agriculture promote ecosystem multifunctionality

Authors: Wittwer, R.A., Bender, S.F., Hartman, K., Hydbom, S., Lima, R.A.A., Loaiza, V., Nemecek, T., Oehl, F., Olsson, P.A., Petchey, O., Prechsl, U.E., Schlaeppi, K., Scholten, T., Seitz, S., Six, J. and van der Heijden, M.G.A. (2021)


Ecosystems provide multiple services to humans. However, agricultural systems are usually evaluated on their productivity and economic performance, and a systematic and quantitative assessment of the multifunctionality of agroecosystems including environmental services is missing. Using a long-term farming system experiment, we evaluated and compared the agronomic, economic, and ecological performance of the most widespread arable cropping systems in Europe: Organic, conservation, and conventional agriculture. We analyzed 43 agroecosystem properties and determined overall agroecosystem multifunctionality. We show that organic and conservation agriculture promoted ecosystem multifunctionality, especially by enhancing regulating and supporting services, including biodiversity preservation, soil and water quality, and climate mitigation. In contrast, conventional cropping showed reduced multifunctionality but delivered highest yield. Organic production resulted in higher economic performance, thanks to higher product prices and additional support payments. Our results demonstrate that different cropping systems provide opposing services, enforcing the productivity-environmental protection dilemma for agroecosystem functioning.


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