Transforming Agriculture, Perennially

Scientific Publications

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Toward plant breeding for multicrop systems

Author: Virginia M. Moore, Tessa Peters, Brandon Schlautman and E. Charles Brummer

Publication: PNAS Vol. 20 No. 14

Program leads from the Legume and Crop Stewardship Programs at The Land Institute released a paper detailing the ability of diverse cropping systems to address critical environmental issues connected to modern agricultural production and the subsequent need to pursue shifts in plant breeding, private sector, and policy initiatives to advance the adoption of multicrop systems on agricultural landscapes.


Increasing cropping system diversity has great potential to address environmental problems associated with modern agriculture, such as erosion, soil carbon loss, nutrient runoff, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. As with other agricultural sciences, plant breeding has primarily been conducted in the context of dominant monoculture cropping systems, with little focus on multicrop systems. Multicrop systems have increased temporal and/or spatial diversity and include a diverse set of crops and practices. In order to support a transition to multicrop systems, plant breeders must shift their breeding programs and objectives to better represent more diverse systems, including diverse rotations, alternate-season crops, ecosystem service crops, and intercropping systems. The degree to which breeding methods need to change will depend on the cropping system context in question. Plant breeding alone, however, cannot drive adoption of multicrop systems. Alongside shifts in breeding approaches, changes are needed within broader research, private sector, and policy contexts. These changes include policies and investments that support a transition to multicrop systems, increased collaboration across disciplines to support cropping system development, and leadership from both the public and private sectors to develop and promote adoption of new cultivars.

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