The Centre of Excellence of Agroecology launches under the leadership of Professor Ülo Niinemets

Foto: Eve Runno-Paurson
Estonian-grown sweet potato at the Estonian University of Life Sciences' Erika experimental field

The project “Agroecology and new crops in future climates”, led by Ülo Niinemets, Professor of Plant Physiology at Estonian University of Life Sciences, is awarded funding in the 2023 call for Centres of Excellence grants.

According to Ülo Niinemets, the Centre addresses the challenges of field agriculture in future climates and the non-sustainable ecological footprints of food production systems.

“The research results and intellectual property of the Centre, including novel crop varieties, growth-promoting microbial lines, biofertilizers, and AI approaches for land type valuations, will find immediate application in food production,” explained Niinemets.

Per the Vice-Rector of Research, Rein Drenkhan, the University’s high level in agricultural sciences is widely known, and it is a great pleasure to be provided the opportunity for coordinating collaboration in the field of agroecology between Estonian research institutions with the Centres of Excellence grant. "Scientists can find solutions for coping with climate change, ensuring that we have sufficient food, clean water, air, and other essentials in the future as well," said Drenkhan.

Centres of Excellence are scientific consortia aimed at developing collaboration and joint activities of exceptionally high-level Estonian research groups to advance areas with significant potential. The Centre of Excellence of Agroecology will include top research teams from the University of Tartu and the Centre of Estonian Rural Research and Knowledge (METK).

“Since 2017, when the Chair of Plant Physiology was founded, the University has become a leading research centre of novel crops. As an example, we have experimented with sweet potato and have developed guidelines for growing sweet potato as a field crop,” explained Niinemets. He added that the University of Tartu possesses unique expertise in the study of plant-microbe interactions, nutrient cycles, and the application of artificial intelligence. METK contributes to the Centre of Excellence with its knowledge and experience in plant breeding.

The work period of the Centre of Excellence is seven years, until the end of 2030. In addition to “Agroecology and new crops in future climates”, the University also submitted centre of excellence grant applications for the establishment of the “One Health in Estonia” and “Adaptation of land use to climate change in the next century” centres, which, in this current competitive application round, did not receive funding. According to Rein Drenkhan, research at

the University on both of these crucial topics is also at a world-class level, and efforts for finding funding opportunities for further development of research collaboration will continue

Under the leadership of Professor Eve Veromann, researchers from the University are also involved in the work of the “Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Land Use”, led by Professor Evelyn Uuemaa at the University of Tartu. The aim of this Centre is to identify the connections between biodiversity and carbon fluxes and integrate this new knowledge into machine learning models along with satellite data. These tools can aid policy-makers, landowners and -users in decision making and land-use planning. In the project, the focus of the University’s research group is on questions related to agricultural ecosystems. Estonian Research Council’s Centres of Excellence call awarded funding to 10 Centres of Excellence, six of which are led by the University of Tartu, two by Tallinn University of Technology, and one each by the National Institute of Chemical Physics and Biophysics and the Estonian University of Life Sciences.


Additional information:

Ülo Niinemets

Professor of Plant Physiology

Estonian University of Life Sciences 5345 7189