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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Research Project #435878

Research Project: Sustainable Intensification of Crop and Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems at Multiple Scales

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Project Number: 8070-66000-001-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Nov 20, 2018
End Date: Nov 19, 2023

Objective 1: Assess and improve sustainable intensification strategies of crop and integrated crop-livestock systems for farm systems, watersheds, and landscapes. Sub-objective 1A: Quantify long-term sustainabilities of “business as usual” (BAU) and “aspirational” (ASP) dairy and beef production systems through farm simulation and life cycle assessment. Sub-objective 1B: Develop management and placement strategies for improving ecosystem service provisioning through diverse agricultural landscapes that integrate crop and livestock systems. Objective 2: Determine the sensitivity of farm systems, watersheds, and landscapes to climate variability and develop strategies for adapting agriculture to current and projected changes. Sub-objective 2A: Quantify effects of projected climate and potential adaptation strategies on long-term sustainabilities of “business as usual” (BAU) and “aspirational” (ASP) dairy and beef production systems through the use of farm simulation and life cycle assessment. Sub-objective 2B: Characterize the landscape-scale responses and trade-offs of agricultural ecosystem services, given projected climate and potential adaptation scenarios.

Agriculture faces increasing demands for productivity and efficiency that must be balanced against pressures to continually improve stewardship of natural resources. Climate models from 1950 through 2100 predict increases in temperature and precipitation in the Northeast, further complicating agricultural sustainability planning. Our research focuses on whole farms, watersheds, and landscapes to quantitatively evaluate both long-term sustainabilities and broader environmental impacts of various agricultural production systems under current and predicted climate. We will evaluate alternative production strategies based on economic viability, implementation feasibility, and impacts to ecosystem services and disservices. We are concerned with not only provisioning ecosystem services such as dairy, beef, and crop production but also supporting and regulating services like nutrient cycling and landscape diversity. Disservices from agriculture include greenhouse gas emissions and other nutrient losses to air and water. Our two objectives assess “business as usual” (BAU) and “aspirational” (ASP) agricultural production strategies for sustainable intensification at multiple scales. The (A) sub-objectives are farm-scale in detail and industry-wide in scope. The (B) sub-objectives focus on landscape-scale hydrology and ecology within the Northeast to inform both local and multi-regional research efforts. Objective 1 assesses strategies under recent climate conditions (1980-2005), and corroborates our modeling tools in representing BAU and ASP strategies. To be most valuable, however, developed strategies and tools must be successful under future climate conditions. Objective 2 corroborates our tools under historical climate (1960-1980) and applies them under future mid-century (2040-2060) and late-century (2080-2100) climate projections, assessing ASP strategies that most effectively meet the challenges and opportunities of future climate. We will collaborate with larger USDA-led research networks, including the Long-Term Agroecological Research network (LTAR), Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP), and Dairy Agroecosystems Working Group (DAWG). Such networking provides expertise and data on outcomes from management strategies for cropping and integrated crop-livestock systems that will be used to confirm results of the first objective and provide a basis for extrapolation of future systems for the second. We will analyze data using both simple and complex process-based simulation models, life cycle assessment, and advanced computational techniques. With an emphasis on sustainable intensification in accord with climate predictions, our research will support systems-level understandings of current and potential agricultural systems in the Northeast, and how these can continue to produce food and fuel in the future. Outcomes of this research will support farmers directly through management strategies and decision support tools, and will provide scientifically-valid data to federal and state programs aimed at improving nutrient management, conservation, and resource use efficiency.