The Project

Circular Agronomics > The Project

The Challenge

A good management of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in agriculture is crucial to maintain a fertile and healthy soil and allow adequate plant growth and development.

It is estimated that around 13.6 Mt of N and 1.8 Mt of P enter the EU agricultural system annually in the form of mineral fertilisers and feed. However, N use throughout the whole European agri-food chain is inefficient: for every five tons of N entering the EU agri-food chain, only one ton is converted to finished products for human consumption. The case is similar for P and K.  These low nutrient use efficiencies, together with poor soil management practices is leading to a loss of organic carbon in soils.  This is in turn leading to large losses of nutrients and carbon into the environment with significant negative impacts on soils, water and air resulting in unacceptable health and environmental costs.

Addressing these challenges will require finding effective solutions to improve nutrient efficiency in agro-ecosystems, reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and protecting soil carbon stocks, while at the same time addressing the social, economic and political dimensions that will make changes in the field possible. Overall, it’s the sustainability of agricultural systems and the food-chain that will need to be improved.

Objectives

The broader objective of Circular Agronomics is to facilitate a development towards smart, sustainable, resilient and inclusive economies that are part of circular and zero-waste societies.

This wide objective will be achieved by focusing on 4 specific objectives:

  • Increase the understanding of C, N, P flows and the related potential to reduce environmental impacts at farm and regional level under different bio-geographical conditions
  • Closing loops within cropland farming, from livestock to cropland farming and to increase the reuse of waste/wastewater from food-industry to improve soil fertility and to increase nutrient use efficiency
  • Highlight the performance of different prototypes of agro-ecological systems and increase sustainability of food production in the EU
  • To contribute to the improvement of the European Agricultural Policies by providing evidence based, farmer led and consumer relevant recommendations for the agri-food chain

Solutions

Circular Agronomics will assess N and P flows, stocks and emissions will be within agricultural, livestock and food processing settings for six case studies at regional and territorial level representing a variety of biogeographic scenarios and environmental challenges typical of the EU agricultural sector.

As a whole, the project will propose a wide range of measures to improve nutrient and carbon fluxes in the EU including:

  • Production of novel soil organic amendments from agricultural and industrial byproducts to decouple C, N and P streams and facilitate soil C sequestration, reducing N & P losses and GHG emissions, and enhancing N and P use efficiency.
  • Investigating cropland and grassland management practices to optimize N&P nutrient cycling and minimize losses, including precision farming, conservation tillage, crop rotation, stimulating biodiversity, fertilizer application strategies, plant genotypes for enhanced nutrient use efficiency, agricultural residue management and fertigation
  • Livestock management to minimize GHG emissions and optimize manure characteristics, including feeding strategies and feed additives
  • Multiple manure, digestate and food waste valorization techniques for fertilizer recovery, including N recovery via ammonia stripping with vacuum degasification, N recovery as ammonium sulfate solution, co-digestion, S/L separation, post-treatment of the liquid fraction, solar and thermal drying and acidification of solids, phytase addition to solid food waste or food wastewater to increase the soluble phosphate fraction, P depletion of food waste/wastewater and recovery as struvite
  • Food-industry wastewater treatment for recovery of C-rich compounds (cellulose, lignin and proteins) for reuse on farms, towards the circular economy

These solutions will all be reinforced by an exhaustive environmental assessment (by means of life cycle assessment tools), exploitation plans for industrial partners, and dissemination towards different stakeholders from science, policy, industry and directly to the farmers.

The project is structured around 7 work packages:

  • WP1: Plant-Soil Interactions (leads: WUR)
  • WP2: Livestock emissions and residues treatment (leads: IRTA)
  • WP3: Carbon and Nutrient valorization from food-waste and food-processing waste-(water) (leads: KWB)
  • WP4: Social and Economic Evaluation (leads: Teagasc)
  • WP5: Environmental Evaluation (leads: AREC)
  • WP6: Dissemination and Exploitation (leads: RISE)
  • WP7: Management (leads: IRTA)
  • WP8: Ethics