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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: SUCCESSFUL SUSTAINABLE FARMING PRACTICES FOR CROPS AND LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION

Author
item Reeves, Donald

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: December 12, 2002
Publication Date: December 12, 2002
Citation: Reeves, D.W. 2002. Successful sustainable farming practices for crops and livestock production. In: Proceedings of Sustainable Agriculture in Alabama Symposium, February 24-26, 2002, Birmingham, AL. Alabama Agricultual Experiment Station, Auburn University. p. 12-13.

Interpretive Summary: Soils in Alabama and other states in the Southeast are subject to extreme degradation from our humid warm climate. This degradation is exacerbated by our long history of agricultural mismanagement. This presentation suggests that the key to improving soil quality and improving economic and environmental sustainability is developing production systems that return carbon to the soil at a rate greater than it is decomposed in our warm humid climate. Conservation tillage conserves organic matter but cropping intensity and crop residues are the source of carbon needed to increase soil organic matter. Integrating livestock with sod-based rotations, even short term rotations like winter annual grazing of cover crops, is a natural fit to diversifying enterprises and reducing economic risks. High residue conservation tillage systems that integrate sod-based and winter grazing livestock systems can dramatically enhance soil quality when managed properly. The benefits from these systems: increased water infiltration and storage, improved erosion and weed control, reduced off-site environmental impacts, greater per-acre productivity, and lower production costs, can significantly improve producers' bottom lines and long-term sustainability. The model agricultural production systems proposed in this presentation can be used by extension, NRCS, and private-sector consultants to promote the use of sustainable farming practices.

Technical Abstract: The basis of soil quality and productivity is soil carbon or organic matter, which has a great influence on soil biological, chemical, and physical properties. The key to improving soil quality and improving economic and environmental sustainability is developing production systems that return carbon to the soil at a rate greater than it is decomposed in our warm humid climate. Conservation tillage conserves organic matter by protecting it from microbial oxidation, but cropping intensity and crop residues are the source of carbon needed to increase soil organic matter. Crop rotation, especially with high residue producing crops and sod-based rotations (also known as pasture, meadow, and ley rotations) are a proven soil management tool to increase carbon input and improve soil quality. Coupled with conservation tillage to preserve the carbon derived from aerial and root biomass, intensive and sod-based rotations can rapidly increase soil carbon. Integrating livestock with sod-based rotations, even short term rotations like winter annual grazing of cover crops, is a natural fit to diversifying enterprises and reducing economic risks. High residue conservation tillage systems that integrate sod-based and winter grazing livestock systems can dramatically enhance soil quality when managed properly. The benefits from these systems: increased water infiltration and storage, improved erosion and weed control, reduced off-site environmental impacts, greater per-acre productivity, and lower production costs, can significantly improve producers' bottom lines - and isn't that the key to sustainable agriculture?

Last Modified: 8/27/2014
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