Diversification improves the performance of cereals in European cropping systems

Moritz Reckling*, Johannes Albertsson, Anthony Vermue, Georg Carlsson, Christine A. Watson, Eric Justes, Göran Bergkvist, Erik Steen Jensen, Cairistiona F. E. Topp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


In the face of climate change, cropping systems need to achieve a high performance, providing food and feed and adapting to variable environmental conditions. Diversification of cropping systems can support ecosystem services and associated biodiversity, but there is little evidence on which temporal field arrangement affects the performance of crop yields (productivity and stability), partly due to a lack of long-term data and appropriate indicators. The objectives of this study were to quantify the effect of cropping system diversification on yield stability, environmental adaptability, and the probability of diversified systems to outperform less diverse cereal-based systems in Europe. Spring and winter cereal yields were analyzed from long-term field experiments from Sweden, Scotland, and France. We investigated diversification through (i) introduction of perennial leys, (ii) increasing the proportion of ley in the rotation, (iii) varying the order in which crops are positioned in the rotation, (iv) introduction of grain legumes, and (v) introduction of cover crops. The results showed that cereal crops within cropping systems incorporating perennial leys outperformed systems without leys in 60–94% of the comparisons with higher probabilities at low fertilizer intensities. The yield stability of oat did not differ, but mean yields were 33% higher, when grown directly after the ley compared to oat grown two years later in the crop sequence under similar management. Durum wheat grown in a cropping system with grain legumes had higher yields in lower-yielding environmental conditions compared to rotations without legumes. Diversification with cover crops did not significantly affect yield stability. We conclude that diverse cropping systems can increase cereal productivity and environmental adaptability and are more likely to outperform less diverse systems especially when introducing perennial forage legumes into arable systems. Effects of diversification on cereal yield stability were inconsistent indicating that higher productivity is achievable without reducing yield variability. These novel findings can support the design of more diverse and high-performing cropping systems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number118
JournalAgronomy for Sustainable Development
Early online date5 Dec 2022
Publication statusFirst published - 5 Dec 2022


  • Coefficient of variation
  • oat
  • legume
  • cover crops
  • ley
  • rotation
  • stability
  • Taylor’s power law
  • Variability
  • wheat
  • Legumes
  • Ley
  • Oat
  • Stability
  • Cover crops
  • Rotation
  • Wheat


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