Understanding the role of organic mulching and cover crops on productivity of cropping and farming systems in Uruguay


Walter Rossing (FSE Wageningen UR)
Santiago Dogliotti (Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay)
Florencia Alliaume (FSE Wageningen UR, Uruguay)


The sustainability of family vegetable farms in South Uruguay is severely threatened. Continuous deterioration of physical soil quality is an important limitation to increasing production and productivity of the farming systems performance. Model-based explorations have shown that increasing the use of green manure and animal manure in crop rotations have promise to enhance soil quality and yields. However, these practices can be costly on small-scale horticultural farms, and results may be variable, which together may cause disappointing technology adoption. Better understanding of the interactions between crop rotations, inter-crop activities, and their effects on soil physical properties and soil moisture supply capacity (SMS) is required to improve farming systems re-design.

The goal of this project is to contribute to the exploration and quantification of the potential impact of improved cropping systems on the sustainability of these farm systems, specifically in relation to the soil organic carbon and SMS dynamics. Results will strengthen the limited knowledge base for enhancing internal resource use.

This project emerged as part of ongoing whole-farm vegetable innovation project - EULACIAS INCO-DEV Project (European –Latin American co-innovation of agricultural systems; coordinated by Farming Systems Ecology of Wageningen UR) in Uruguay, which links systems approaches to on-farm action research.


Processes related to water capture and moisture supply capacity to crops will be studied and quantified under different inter-crop and soil intervention alternatives (cover crops incorporated or left as mulch, subsoiling).

Data for quantificaton and understanding the effects of soil interventions on processes related to water dynamics, will be collected in Uruguay, both in field experiments on a research station and from vegetable farms. Field work can be done from September 2010 to March 2011, but you do not need to be there the whole period of field work. Soil chemical and soil physic properties will be analyzed in the lab. In addition to collecting and statistically analyzing data, model explorations based on data collected can be performed.

There is a range of possibilities, from giving more emphasis to field experiments, to laboratory work, or to model explorations.

Experiences gained

  • set up field experiments (expeirmental design, soil properties assessment, biomass and yield evaluation)
  • collect and analyse quantitative data on soil properties and processes (field and laboratory)
  • statistical analysis and interpretation of results
  • practice your Spanish
  • write a MSc thesis and preferably a manuscript for a scientific journal in English with Spanish summary.