Submitted to: Agronomy Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: July 19, 2006
Publication Date: February 6, 2007
Citation: Franzluebbers, A.J. 2007. Integrated crop - livestock systems in the southeastern USA. Agronomy Journal. 99:361-372. Interpretive Summary: Specialization of crop and livestock operations in modern agriculture is common, but not necessarily the most profitable, ethical, nor environmentally appropriate modes of agricultural production. There is a need to explore alternative production systems that might optimize production, profit, and environmental quality issues. A scientist at the USDA – Agricultural Research Service in Watkinsville Georgia reviewed available literature to develop integrated crop – livestock production systems suitable for the southeastern USA. Rotation of crops with pasture could have benefits to both crop and livestock production systems. Growing crops in rotation with cover crops using conservation tillage would improve soil and environmental quality and increase income diversity and avoid risk, if cover crops could be grazed by cattle or other livestock. This review will assist scientists, extension specialists, and farmers to design and implement more robust agricultural systems to maintain high production, improve profit, spread investments costs across multiple operations, increase water and nutrient use efficiency, and improve environmental quality on the 100 million acres of farmland in the southeastern USA
Technical Abstract: Opportunities to integrate crops and livestock are abundant throughout the southeastern USA, because of a mild climate and rich natural resource base to produce different crops throughout the year. Although not currently common, integration of forage and grazing animals with cropping systems could benefit both production and environmental goals. This report summarizes research from some of the key components that could produce viable integrated crop – livestock production systems: sod-based crop rotation, cover cropping, intercropping, and conservation tillage. Sod-based crop rotations have been effective in breaking pest cycles and restoring soil organic matter, which critically controls a wide diversity of key soil and plant properties and processes. Cover cropping by itself has many agronomic benefits, but its adoption appears to be limited, because of cost without immediate economic benefit. Grazing of cover crops could provide an immediate economic benefit to producers, especially with the development of conservation tillage technologies to avoid deterioration of soil and water quality. The potential for advancement of integrated crop – livestock systems is exemplified in a few current research projects in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions. With greater integration of crops and livestock, new management guidelines and experiences will be needed, but the quantity and quality of production and economic return could increase, while at the same time, placing less degradative pressure on soil and water resources.