Latest SCI publications
Designing runs in free-range laying hen farming in order to establish resilient production systems and to strengthen biodiversity in agriculture
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2021-12-01 - 2025-11-30
This project aims to evaluate the integrated crop-livestock production system with poultry. The project can positively contribute to farm animals’ welfare, biodiversity maintenance and species conservation while supporting cultivators and ensure high food quality. In this project, laying hens are taking as example for free range poultry. Typically, most hens do not use the available free range area under free range conditions, but instead stay close to the henhouse. This leads to increased social stress among birds, as well as eutrophication and overexploitation of the free range area. At the same time, farmers experience restriction to use the sub-utilized land by hens in another way and are thus confronted with land loss. Moreover, in the last decades, intensification of agriculture lead to a substantial biodiversity decline in cultivated landscapes. Connected with this, a decline in insect diversity and population was observed. Insects represent an important feed for other animals and contribute to ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes. However, by turning hen runs into rotational grazing pastures and introducing enriched structures via diverse, native plants (i.e. hedges), farmers can positively contribute to animal welfare, but most important, to preserve biodiversity using the production system to provideecosystem services at the same time. Enriched hen free range area attract a higher number of insects species that provide us with fundamental goods (nutrient recycling, pollination) and thus realize implementations of principles of the EISA (2001) and CBD (1993). In addition, farmers can enhance their image and economical success using the free range area for e.g. energy crops (silphie, miscanthus, etc), timber, christmas trees), contributing to CO2-neutral operation of the farm. Futhermore, hens start using larger parts of their free range areas when well structured, reducing stress induced by social interactions or predation pressure. Hens have access to a larger diversity of plants and insects representing also additional protein sources. Therefore, an adequate and adapted surrounding for free ranged hens have positive effects on their development, health and thus quality of meat and eggs. Additionally, plants in the well-structured free range area contribute to nitrogen fixation, reduce soil erosion and prevent over fertilization. Farmers are confronted with several statutory provisions. Often these legal regulations are not adequate for the hens nor they are a good solution for the farmers. Especially smallhold farmers suffer under ever-changing provisions and formal challenges. The implementation of integrated crop-livestock systems and rotational grazing represent a comprise between ecological and economical needs, a sustainable and future-orientated solution for nature conservation and successful agriculture.
Machine learning und deep learning for improving mycotoxin tolerance and fusarium resistance in oats
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2022-07-01 - 2023-06-30
Oats (Avena sativa L.) are an important crop in modern conventional and organic crop production systems. Nevertheless, the oats acreage in the European Union has decreased from about 3.1 million to 2.6 million hectares in recent years. With the decline in oat acreage in favour of other small-grain cereals such as wheat or maize, breeding activities in this traditional crop have also decreased. However, the cultivation of oats can significantly contribute to loosening crop rotation and increasing agrobiodiversity in farming, while oats are also considered a nutrient-rich food and feed. Saatzucht Edelhof, based in the Waldviertel, is a traditional Austrian plant breeding company that has been involved in oats breeding since the beginning of the 20th century and is currently the only breeder of new oat varieties in Austria. Through years of expanding and utilising the genetic diversity of its oat gene pool, Saatzucht Edelhof has a broad portfolio of modern oat varieties, both for the Austrian and international markets. There is therefore also considerable interest from foreign partner companies in Saatzucht Edelhof's oat varieties, and many varieties have already been registered in several European countries. With the increase in disease and pest pressure due to climate change and the striving towards a more sustainable agriculture with less agrochemical inputs such as fungicides, resistance breeding has become more and more a focus in recent years. Infection of oats used for food and feed by Fusarium fungi plays an especially important role: If oat panicles are infested with Fusarium graminearum during the flowering phase, a high concentration of fungal toxins (=mycotoxins) that are harmful to humans and animals can later be found in the harvested crop. The breeding of Fusarium-resistant oat varieties can thus be seen as a key technology to enable farmers to produce healthy and mycotoxin-free crops. However, the adequate assessment of Fusarium resistance in oats is a great challenge, e.g. due to the special flowering behaviour with a long and sequential flowering of the individual spikelets within each panicle. The OatToxLess project aims to develop the basis for the development of a scoring scheme for Fusarium resistance in oats and to investigate the possibility to use associated morphological traits as indirect selection. For this purpose, a panel of breeding lines and oat varieties will be investigated in a field trial to collect high quality data as a basis for developing an effective Fusarium screening method in oats in order to guide selection decisions in oat breeding programs.
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2023-03-01 - 2024-02-29
Project objective: To develop the residual material from insect farming into a high-quality fertiliser with an integrated microbial system. In the next few years, the production of insects is expected to increase dramatically due to the growing demand for alternative protein sources. The advantage of insects is that they take up little space in the breeding process compared to other farm animals and cause far fewer climate-damaging emissions. Considering the zero-waste context and the need to contribute to the circular economy, it is necessary to recycle all components of insects, including their by-products. One by-product generated from insect breeding is the frass, which consists of the unreacted food source and the faeces produced by mealworms. This has a high potential to partially or completely replace conventional NPK fertilisers due to its rapid mineralisation and high content of readily available nutrients. Benefits for the company Threepoint GmbH: On the one hand, this alternative way of upgrading the insects' residues improves the value cycle of mealworm breeding and represents a possibility to provide a sustainable fertiliser in the near future, which not only serves as a nutrient supply, but also increases the diversity in the soil.