A cropping system assessment framework - evaluating effects of introducing legumes into crop rotations

M Reckling, J-M Hecker, G Bergkvist, CA Watson, P Zander, N Schlafke, FL Stoddard, V Eory, CFE Topp, J Maire, J Bachinger

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120 Citations (Scopus)
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Methods are needed for the design and evaluation of cropping systems, in order to test the effects of introducing or reintroducing crops into rotations. The interaction of legumes with other crops (rotational effects) requires an assessment at the cropping system scale. The objective of this work is to introduce a cropping system framework to assess the impacts of changes in cropping systems in a participatory approach with experts, i.e., the integration of legumes into crop rotations and to demonstrate its application in two case studies. The framework consists of a rule-based rotation generator and a set of algorithms to calculate impact indicators. It follows a three-step approach: (i) generate rotations, (ii) evaluate crop production activities using environmental, economic and phytosanitary indicators, and (iii) design cropping systems and assess their impacts. Experienced agronomists and environmental scientists were involved at several stages of the framework development and testing in order to ensure the practicability of designed cropping systems. The framework was tested in Västra Götaland (Sweden) and Brandenburg (Germany) by comparing cropping systems with and without legumes. In both case studies, cropping systems with legumes reduced nitrous oxide emissions with comparable or slightly lower nitrate-N leaching, and had positive phytosanitary effects. In arable systems with grain legumes, gross margins were lower than in cropping systems without legumes despite taking pre-crop effects into account. Forage cropping systems with legumes had higher or equivalent gross margins and at the same time higher environmental benefits than cropping systems without legumes. The framework supports agronomists to design sustainable legume-supported cropping systems and to assess their impacts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186 - 197
Number of pages12
JournalEuropean Journal of Agronomy
Publication statusFirst published - 2015

Bibliographical note



  • Expert knowledge
  • Land use change impacts
  • Multi-criteria
  • Protein crops
  • Resource-efficiency
  • Rotation generator


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