INTEGRATED AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS FOR THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS
Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory
Title: Incorporating Grasslands into Cropping Systems: What are the Keys?
Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: March 5, 2008
Publication Date: October 21, 2008
Citation: Hendrickson, J.R., Hanson, J.D. 2008. Incorporating Grasslands into Cropping Systems: What are the Keys?. Meeting Abstract.
American agriculture in the 20th century has been shaped by social/political, economic, environmental and technological drivers. During this time, American agricultural systems became increasingly specialized and input driven resulting in agricultural production being dominated by ‘commodity crop production’ and ‘supply chain livestock production’. Both agricultural systems are highly productive but their specialization and reliance on inputs may make them vulnerable to future climatic, social, economic and environmental changes. Predicting the shape of future agricultural systems is difficult and so agricultural systems need to be adaptable to respond to unknown challenges. Incorporating grasses into existing agricultural systems may provide this adaptability and serve as an alternative to highly specialized systems. Incorporating perennial grasses into an existing cropping system can enhance crop and livestock integration, increase enterprise diversity, improve soil quality, sequester carbon, and provide a biofuel source. However, despite these advantages, the use of perennial grasses in a cropping system has been relatively limited. Producers are concerned with the ability to transition between perennial grasses and annual crops, the productivity and economic viability of perennial grasses compared to cropping systems and the scale at which to incorporate perennial grasses. The use of annual companion crops seeded with perennial grasses and no-till seeding may help in the transition phases. Management strategies need to focus on enhancing system productivity on per unit area basis rather than focus on a single species or enterprise. Productivity and economic viability may be enhanced by filling multiple aboveground feeding niches (multi-species grazing) or taking advantage of the multiple uses (biofuels and grazing) of grasslands. Grasslands can also add to ecosystem and landscape diversity but information is needed on the amount of diversity needed and at which spatial scale to incorporate it into cropping systems. For example, perennial grasses could be incorporated into a cropping system within a plot, as alternating plots within a field or as alternating fields within a landscape. The temporal scale or length of time a perennial should be left in a cropping system is also unknown. Incorporating these ideas into meaningful management systems will enhance agricultural sustainability.