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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

Socio-ecological factors determine crop performance in agricultural systems

Nkurunziza, Libere; Watson, Christine A.; Oborn, Ingrid; Smith, Henrik G.; Bergkvist, Goran; Bengtsson, Jan


Agricultural production systems are affected by complex interactions between social and ecological factors, which are often hard to integrate in a common analytical framework. We evaluated differences in crop production among farms by integrating components of several related research disciplines in a single socio-ecological analysis. Specifically, we evaluated spring barley (Hordeum vulgare, L.) performance on 34 farms (organic and conventional) in two agro-ecological zones to unravel the importance of ecological, crop and management factors in the performance of a standard crop. We used Projections to Latent Structures (PLS), a simple but robust analytical tool widely utilized in research disciplines dealing with complex systems (e.g. social sciences and chemometrics), but infrequently in agricultural sciences. We show that barley performance on organic farms was affected by previous management, landscape structure, and soil quality, in contrast to conventional farms where external inputs were the main factors affecting biomass and grain yield. This indicates that more complex management strategies are required in organic than in conventional farming systems. We conclude that the PLS method combining socio-ecological and biophysical factors provides improved understanding of the various interacting factors determining crop performance and can help identify where improvements in the agricultural system are most likely to be effective.

Published in

Scientific Reports
2020, Volume: 10, number: 1, article number: 4232