Prof Rob Brooker is the head of the Ecological sciences department at the James Hutton Institute. Rob is a plant ecologist with over 25 years’ experience of ecological research. He has extensive experience of ecology in a wide range of environments, including arctic, montane, alpine, semi-arid and arable ecosystems, and currently undertakes research at sites across Scotland.
Increasing demand for food, a changing climate, and loss of farmland biodiversity are driving the development of farming practices that reduce impacts on the environment while maintaining or enhancing yields. Biodiversity can play a key role in such practices: evidence from ecological sciences demonstrates how key ecosystem functions – for example the productivity of plant communities – generally increases within increasing biodiversity. Some farming approaches give us a chance to harness these effects. Crop mixtures in particular generate benefits from enhanced within-crop biodiversity that include maintained or enhance yield with reduced inputs and positive effects on the wider farm environment. I will discuss the mechanisms by which these benefits are delivered, and some of the challenges for getting wider uptake of crop mixtures. These challenges include targets for ecological and plant science research, but also components of policy frameworks and supply chains. I’ll then consider some priority steps for helping develop crop mixtures as part of the sustainable farming toolkit.