Phytobiomes Executive Summary

The Phytobiomes Roadmap offers a new vision for agriculture in which sustainable crop productivity is achieved through a systems-level understanding of diverse interacting components.
 

Phytobiomes consist of plants, their environment, and their associated communities of organisms. Interactions within phytobiomes are dynamic and profoundly affect plant and agroecosystem health, which in turn impacts soil fertility, crop yields, and food quality and safety.

Global demands for food, feed, and fiber are expected to double in the next 35 years. In the same timeframe, we face a world of diminishing arable land, extreme weather events, unsustainable fertilizer inputs, uncertain water availability, and plateauing crop yields. We need new innovative approaches to sustainably increase global crop productivity.

This Roadmap describes a strategic plan for acquiring knowledge of what constitutes a healthy, productive, and sustainable agroecosystem and translating that knowledge into powerful new tools in our crop management toolbox. Integration of these tools is needed to help increase food production from existing farmland while minimizing negative impacts on the environment, increase global arable land by rehabilitating marginal and degraded lands, and ensure sustained productivity and profitability of global food, feed, and fiber.

This Roadmap aims at maximizing sustainable food production by generating, optimizing, and translating into practice new knowledge of phytobiomes. Steps to achieve this vision are to explore phytobiome components and their interactions, integrate phytobiome systems-based knowledge, resources, and tools, optimize phytobiome-based site-appropriate solutions, and apply phytobiome-based solutions in next-generation agricultural practices to sustain enhanced food production worldwide, with concurrent efforts to educate and engage scientists, public and private partners, growers, educators, and society.

To help guide these efforts, this Phytobiomes Roadmap outlines major gaps in knowledge, technology, and infrastructure for research and translation and identifies challenges to efforts to educate and train a workforce that will carry this field into the future.

We are currently witnessing a nexus of technologies that will enable advances in fundamental knowledge of phytobiomes and translation into sustainable crop production practices. Conceptual and technological advances in diverse fields of research, including ‘omics sciences, systems biology, microbial ecology, data science, and precision crop management systems, are positioning researchers to achieve major leaps in characterizing, analyzing, and managing phytobiomes as integrated systems.

Strategic funding and public-private partnerships are needed to support critical research and infrastructure for developing phytobiome-based management approaches. Key research areas include fundamental studies of phytobiome components, interactions, dynamics, and functions; the generation of integrated systems-based models for phytobiome analysis and prediction; the development of practical phytobiome-based crop management strategies; and the establishment of collaborative global platforms for open communication among growers, researchers, industry, extension, agricultural consultants and advisors, and consumers. Filling the knowledge gaps will require interdisciplinary cooperation.

A new journal, Phytobiomes, will launch this year, and an international phytobiome alliance is being established to contribute to the coordination of research and communication among diverse disciplines and disciplinary initiatives relevant to phytobiomes. Working groups will be established to help develop priorities and standards for phytobiome research. Major thrusts will focus on forging international and public-private collaborations in foundational and translational phytobiome research and on attracting and strengthening the phytobiome workforce. The goal is to generate and integrate knowledge of phytobiomes with next-generation technologies to empower both small- and large-holder farms to produce, sustainably and profitably, sufficient crops to meet the increasing global demand.