Theme 1 now includes 9 funded projects: 4 proposals (1st round) and 5 proposals (2nd round) (Fig. 2). The topics range from rhizosphere ecology, to green crop genotypes, aboveground-belowground interactions, green cropping systems, green crop production technologies and soil health. The projects can be classified into three blocks: 1) fundamental scientific innovation; 2) sustainable cropping systems design and crop production techniques optimization; and 3) regional examination and solutions at farmers’ field scale. Within the fundamental innovation, current projects focus on understanding the interactions between plant and soil pathogens within predominant wheat-maize cropping systems (P1), integrating functional structural root modelling and breeding to increase nutrient use efficiency (P2), and creating multifunctional soils by synergizing aboveground and belowground interactions (P8). Within sustainable cropping systems and green production technologies, current projects emphasize on designing cropping systems to achieve multiple objectives from yield, resources, environmental sustainability and ecosystem services using modelling approaches, decision-making tools and social-economical approaches (P4-P7). Green production technologies include one project (P9) focusing on adapting robotic harvesters for efficient crop production. Within regional examination and solutions at farmers’ fields, Project 3 will link field measured soil attributes to ecosystem functions and applying the developed models to facilitate farmers to make decisions.
Integration of animal and crop production
In total, seven proposals were granted within this theme. Six proposals focus on technical innovations at the process level (e.g. forage production, pig feeding and nurtition, dairy breeding, manure treatment) of the crop-livestock system (as illustrated in Fig. 4). Only one proposal explores social welfare and envrionmental impacts from an integrated crop and livestock production system perspectives.
The previously granted proposals on technical innovations aim to provide novel specific strategies to improve specific parts of the system, with a focus on the underpining mechanisms. However, to achieve the overall goal of this theme and of the whole AGD project, there is need for interdisciplinary cooperative proposals, e.g. combining plant, animal and environmental sciences. The program lacks projects that systematically explore strategies for sustainable crop and livestock production, particularly from a circular economy perspective. Moereover, there is lack of understanding of institutional and political innovations and strategies.
In total, nine proposals were granted regarding the four topics (i.e., air, water, soil, and rural environment) within Theme 3 (Fig 6). For air pollution, PM2.5 is currently a key issue in China, primarily associated with NH3 pollution. Now we have two projects focusing on controlling agricultural NH3 emissions to meet the national PM2.5 standards, and on the abatement potentials for NH3 from lay hen breeding in Quzhou County. For soils, we mainly concentrated on how to control soil pollution by pesticides, heavy metals, and acidifying compounds. We considered the whole process of all pollutants from source control to pollution assessment (including pollution status, the transport process, and environmental impacts) and solutions. For water, now we have two projects on water pollution control and clean water availability. For the rural environment, we have three projects concerning recycling of waste from agricultural production (crop residues and manure) and domestic living (households wastes). However, from the perspective of the whole agricultural production chain, a green eco-environment runs through “green” cropping, “green” livestock breeding, “green” processing, and “green” consumption. Thus, a green eco-environment should be built on the whole “green” agricultural production process. For this, on the one hand we should put source control in the first place, which establishes limits of inputs of chemicals (N, P, pesticide, etc.) based on the setting of environmental thresholds. This work will be done by the CSC PhD candidates in this Theme. However, there are still research gaps to be filled in the search for integrated green technologies and policies needed for the realization of agricultural green eco-environment at the county, regional and national scale in China.