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The 2017 IFS Agronomic Conference
7 Dec 2017 - 8 Dec 2017
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The 2017 IFS Agronomic Conference

7 Dec 2017 - 8 Dec 2017

This conference will again be held at Robinson College, Cambridge, United Kingdom.

The Conference will feature eleven papers, covering aspects of fertiliser use efficiency and approaches to crop nutrition that enhance sustainability.  Within this, we are pleased to include a presentation on the work of Andreas Carstensen, the second winner of the Brian Chambers award.

The presentations will again be augmented by a varied display of posters, while the Conference will host the final of the 2017  Brian Chambers International Award for Early Career Researchers in Crop Nutrition.

There will also be ample opportunities for valuable networking, including the Conference dinner.

To help you with your travel plans, many delegates consider the Conference to start on the evening of Wednesday 6th December, when an informal dinner provides excellent opportunities for networking.  The formal proceedings start at 09.00 on Thursday 7th December, and finish at lunch time on the 8th.  The dinners on both the Wednesday and Thursday evenings are both inclusive of wine and thus provide excellent value.

Download the Conference registration form  or an information sheet.

Information on the presentations for this year's Conference is shown below.


Edward Cocking, The Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation, UK

Establishing symbiotic nitrogen fixation in cereals and other non-legume crops: The Greener Nitrogen Revolution

Ever since the reality of biological nitrogen fixation was established in 1888, by proving that legume nodules fixed atmospheric nitrogen, sporadic attempts have been made to try to extend this symbiotic interaction of legumes with nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria to a wider range of crops, particularly cereals and other non-legumes. Norman Borlaug acknowledged that even though high -yielding dwarf wheat and rice varieties were the catalysts that ignited the Green Revolution, chemical fertilisers, particularly synthetic nitrogen fertilisers produced from fossil fuels by the Haber-Bosch process, were the fuel that enabled its forward thrust. Borlaug's dream was that advances in biotechnology would enable cereals to imitate the ability of legume nodules to fix nitrogen from the air, thereby minimising the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilisers. But in the 20th century very little biotechnological progress was made with rhizobia to fulfil this dream. In this century, the ongoing pollution of the environment from the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers has highlighted the urgent need to minimise their use in agricultural production.

When it became evident that Borlaug's dream was not likely to be achieved with rhizobia in any nodule-forming non-legume crops, research efforts became re-directed to the interaction of cereals and other non-legume crops with non-rhizobia nitrogen-fixing bacteria, particularly the nitrogen-fixing bacterium, Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus. This 'most extraordinary diazotroph' had been isolated in 1988, from the juice of Brazilian sugarcane plants.

It was discovered at the University of Nottingham that it was possible to persuade this non-rhizobia nitrogen-fixing bacterium to intracellularly colonise the roots and shoots of a wide range of crop plants, including cereals. This technology was licensed to Azotic Technologies, who developed a seed inoculum technology, N-Fix. Heralding the 'Greener Nitrogen Revolution', Azotic have shown in an extensive programme of international field trials that N-Fix is able to significantly improve yields of maize and wheat, in both the presence and absence of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers. Through a possible combination of intracellular symbiotic nitrogen fixation, this enhances rates of photosynthesis and the presence of additional plant growth factors.


Dr Eric Justes, INRA, France

Cover crops - nutrient uptake and release to subsequent crops

Abstract is in preparation


Jean-Pierre Cohan, Station Expérimentale de La Jalliere, France

Characterising the impact of variety on bread wheat Nitrogen Use Efficiency: from breeding programs to farmers' practices

Optimising bread wheat Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) in most Western Europe countries pursues three objectives: reaching high yield, obtaining enough grain protein concentration to satisfy market requirements and preventing nitrogen losses in the environment. One of the ways in which French farmers can improve their NUE is to grow varieties with improved NUE performance - if genetic progress is sufficiently marked and if farmers have relevant NUE characterisation information on the varieties that are available.

This presentation describes the progress being made to characterise the NUE of different genotypes, along the continuum from breeding programs to practical information provided to farmers, including changes in the variety registration process. It will demonstrate that we have built a strong research continuum from breeding program to "farmer's real life", to better characterise the impact of bread wheat variety on NUE. Along with other projects aimed to find new genomic sequences related to a better NUE, we think that the results will significantly contribute to new agricultural systems combining high production performance and the rational use of inputs.


Tim McLaren, ETH Zürich, Switzerland

The effect of agronomic management on pasture response and fertiliser phosphorus use efficiency over time: An Australian perspective

Pasture productivity is often limited in grazing systems due to an insufficient supply of soil phosphorus to growing plants. The addition of fertiliser phosphorus to the soil surface of leguminous based pastures is a typical strategy used to overcome plant phosphorus deficiency in the high rainfall zone of south-eastern Australia, which has occurred for over 100 years. However, the effect of agronomic management and recovery of fertiliser phosphorus by pastures under field conditions remains unclear.

This paper provides an overview of research findings that identify the fate of fertiliser P in pastures over the short- and long-term. We carried out a soil P audit of several long-term field experiments under pasture in order to understand the fate of fertiliser P under different fertilisation rates after many growing seasons. We also used radiotracers to directly track the fate of fertiliser P in pastures under a range of agronomic management strategies over a single growing season at several field sites. This included the effect of fertiliser placement (surface and deep), timing (early- and mid-season) and initial soil P status (below, at, and above the optimum level). We provide new insight on the effect of agronomic management to maximise pasture response and fertiliser P use efficiency over time.


Roger Sylvester-Bradley, ADAS, UK

A cost effective P programme

This paper highlights the desirability of establishing a new philosophy for phosphorus (P) use, dubbed 'feed the crop, not the soil'. The now-large reserves of P in most European soils have become a significant cause of inland and coastal eutrophication, so threatening the achievement of good ecological status under the EU Water Framework Directive. Along with environmental benefits, large economic savings could be made if the large proportion of arable land now at high P status were run down significantly. However, reducing soil P levels will be incompatible with enhancing crop yield levels until (i) fertiliser P efficiencies can be markedly improved, and (ii) crop P sufficiency can be monitored more certainly than just with soil test P (STP).  The paper describes recent multi-scale research - from pots to full tramlines - that shows hope of achieving both of these objectives.


Andreas Carstensen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Winner of the 2016 Brian Chambers Award

A new way to diagnose P deficiency in plants

Phosphorus (P) is an essential plant nutrient, but is often the main limiting factor in relation to global crop production. Across the world, soil extraction methods are used to estimate levels of plant available P, but their results can be unreliable, due to the complexity of P soil chemistry.

This paper presents a new method to estimate plant P status, by directly measuring the level of P in the plant leaf. The approach is based on chlorophyll a fluorescence, which is a rapid and non-destructive measuring technique. The method will be described, and examples will be given of how chlorophyll a fluorescence can be used as a diagnostic tool for evaluating plant P status.


Jean-Pierre Goffart, Walloon Agricultural Research Center, Belgium

New work on spectral reflectance to support decision making for crop nutrition

The paper will review the different spectral sensors and associated platforms supplying crop reflectance and enabling decision support on crop nutrition. The focus will be on nitrogen as an essential element in photosynthesis and several plant-growth processes.

Basic N recommendation systems for crops are generally based on N-balance approach at the field level. Inputs of the balance related to N supply can potentially be assessed through biomass reflectance measurements, e.g. winter cover crops. In addition, crop nitrogen status assessment during the growing season is useful for N recommendation refinement. Conventional methods for determining crop nitrogen status have used laboratory techniques such as Kjehldahl digestion or combustion as invasive methods. At the leaf level chlorophyll and fluorescence have been measured using specifically designed field sensors for point-based readings. Crop canopy nitrogen can be approximated by optical and NIR sensor measurements. However laboratory techniques are destructive to the crop, ground based sensors can suffer from soil interference and light dependency, and optical remote sensors from additional cloud contamination. Optical and NIR remote sensing offers the potential to detect N status of from few to several hundreds of fields at the same time but may fail to detect nitrogen surplus in crop canopies. However, a new generation of satellite constellations such as the Sentinel suite has sensors with unprecedented higher spectral, spatial and temporal resolutions to overcome most of the drawbacks. First results point towards the potential to improve the ability to monitor crop N status.

Optical remote sensing techniques dedicated to crop N management respond mainly to vegetation characteristics, such as the leaf area index (LAI) and the chlorophyll content, particularly providing information at the canopy level. For this purpose several remote sensing techniques have been proposed, either based on the radiative transfer (RT) model inversion or (semi-)empirical spectral vegetation indices. Current projects developed in Belgium for winter wheat, maize and potato crops will be presented to illustrate the potential and results of decision support systems based on the use of crop reflectance measurements for N fertilisation management before sowing/planting and during the growing season. The results will be compared and contrasted to similar developments for crop N status and management. Perspectives for the use of crop reflectance for crop nutrition management will be discussed.


Author to be confirmed

Developments in spinning disc spreaders and their use in Precision Agriculture

Abstract is in preparation


William Burchill, Teagasc, Ireland

Measurement and abatement of NH3 emissions from Irish agriculture

Abstract is in preparation


Jacqueline Stroud, Rothamsted Research, UK

Worms, soil structure and sustainable systems

A healthy soil underpinning food production is likely to be considered a sustainable agricultural system.  Soil health indicators only have value if they influence management decisions that support soil and food security.  The surface layer (<5 cm) of a field is disproportionally affected by arable land management practices.  For silty-clay soils, structural degradation leads to slaking under the impact of rain and capping which can delay the emergence of seedlings, thus wet aggregate stability measurements (macro-aggregation) has relevance for both soil and food security.

Earthworm activity is a major factor controlling soil aggregation, and so a refinement of standard macrofauna assessments was tested using Lumbricus terrestris as an indicator species, together with aggregate stability as soil health indicators.  In one trial, it was discovered that the actions of L. terrestris were associated with high biological activity and increased soil aggregation, highlighting the role of this species as an ecosystem engineer.  The implications of these results for soil health, productivity and management are discussed.


Peter Kuikman, Wageningen RU, Netherlands

Review of the nutritional value of biochar and the compost potential of EU urban waste

Abstract is in preparation