A new European research project has started in April 2012 to develop novel cropping systems based on cover crops and living mulches. The 4 year project, called OSCAR brings together 20 partners from 11 countries and is led by University of Kassel, Germany.
OSCAR aims to Optimise Subsidiary Crop Application in Rotations in order to increase the duration of soil coverage by plants, to introduce diversity to the crop rotation and to reduce the need for and the intensity of soil tillage. Particular attention is given to conservation tillage systems. Both conventional and organic agricultural systems are considered in the research project to maximise the potential of ecological benefits of cover crops and living mulches and to offer a rapid transfer into practical agriculture. Cover crops such as white clover or subterranean clover have multiple functions in agriculture, e.g. to protect the soil against erosion, and to increase soil fertility.
The organic farming systems group of the Swiss federal research station Reckenholz-Tänikon (ART) already investigates cover crops and conservation agriculture since a few years and will be an integrant part of this international project. Within OSCAR, we will particularly investigate the ecological impact of the use of cover crops and living mulches as well as different tillage practices on soil fertility and soil microorganisms, in particular arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). A Phytopathological risk assessment will also be evaluated in cover crop based cropping systems with special attention to the epidemiology, dispersal and mycotoxin production of Fusarium fungi.