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Title: Principles of Dynamic Integrated Agricultural Systems: Lessons learned from an examination of Southeast Production Systems

item Sassenrath, Gretchen
item Hanson, Jonathan
item Hendrickson, John
item Archer, David
item Halloran, John
item Steiner, Jeffrey

Submitted to: Agroecosystem Management for Ecological, Social, Economic Sustainibility, Advances in Agroecology Series
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/14/2008
Publication Date: 2/12/2009
Citation: Sassenrath, G.F., Hanson, J.D., Hendrickson, J.R., Archer, D.W., Halloran, J.M., Steiner, J.J. 2009. Principles of Dynamic Integrated Agricultural Systems: Lessons learned from an examination of Southeast Production Systems. Agroecosystem Management for Ecological, Social, Economic Sustainibility, Advances in Agroecology Series. pp 259-269

Interpretive Summary: American agriculture has evolved in response to a variety of internal and external forces. These forces can be divided into four main categories: social/political; economic; technological and environmental. The net result of these changes has been the development of a highly productive, technologically advanced agricultural production system in the US. Continual changes in the global economy, rural communities, and societal expectations from agriculture present distinct challenges for future production success. Well-designed integrated agricultural systems may help farmers and scientists face these challenges. A group of scientists is working closely with farmers to determine principles that underlie successful agricultural choices. This report summarizes the results from the Integrated Agriculture Workgroup held in Auburn, AL in 2005. Five producers from around the Southeast were invited to present their production systems and discuss production practices and concerns with the group. Presentations were made by two chicken/hay/cattle producers, one catfish/cattle/row crop farmer, one row crop/hay/cattle producer, and one row crop producer. Following the one hour producer presentations, participants discussed principles and characteristics common to the production systems. Reports from the discussion groups were compiled into lists of drivers, characteristics, and potential principles. An examination of Southeast production systems demonstrated the importance of internal social drivers in production choices. The farmers interviewed showed a great desire to remain in farming, and enjoyed the lifestyle that agriculture offered. However, the lack of freedom to make management decisions, especially among poultry producers, was a major source of dissatisfaction. Additional pressure came from external social and political pressures, including environmental concerns, lack of skilled labor and changes in the Farm Bill. While farmers were supportive of new technologies, they were much more likely to incorporate these technologies if they had ready access to an expert in the area. Other factors that were not apparent in the initial analysis of production systems included the geographic distribution limitations, and the importance of farmer’s knowledge to implementing new procedures. Debt accumulation and lack of available funds also affected decisions regarding sustainability. Dynamic-integrated agricultural systems expand on the income stability and risk reduction gained by integration of multiple enterprises by providing producers with increased flexibility. This flexibility can provide producers with the ability to adjust to unknown future conditions, and may provide a means of transitioning to more sustainable production systems.

Technical Abstract: In the past, American agriculture was focused solely on its ability to produce sufficient food, fuel and fiber to meet national and global demands. While productivity will continue to be a major factor in food production systems, increased societal demands for environmentally sound management, the need for rural community viability, and a rapidly changing global marketplace have resulted in challenges for the current agricultural system. New production systems developed around principles of integrated agricultural systems may assist in addressing some of these challenges. However, when helping to design and manage these systems, researchers need to be aware of how external influences may affect these systems. A framework for agricultural management systems is being developed that increases the use of renewable resources, decreases the reliance of agricultural production on fossil-derived fuels and fertilizers, and enhances producer flexibility to meet individual and societal goals. The four main categories that influence agricultural systems include 1) social/political factors; 2) economic factors, 3) technological factors, and 4) environmental factors. A case study from the Southeastern U.S. is used to demonstrate the evolution of the current production system from these four factors. From these case studies, we examine sustainability issues for future agriculture, and potential changes needed to attain economic and environmental sustainability.