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ARS Home » Plains Area » Mandan, North Dakota » Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #222011

Title: Environment and Integrated Agricultural Systems

item Hendrickson, John
item Liebig, Mark
item Sassenrath, Gretchen

Submitted to: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/7/2008
Publication Date: 12/1/2008
Citation: Hendrickson, J.R., Liebig, M.A., Sassenrath, G.F. 2008. Environment and Integrated Agricultural Systems. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 23(4):304-313.

Interpretive Summary: The impacts of the environment on integrated agriculture as well as the impacts of integrated agriculture on the environment need to be clearly identified. We used alternate counties in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas to determine if there are environmentally driven limitations on the adoption and stability of integrated agricultural systems and conducted a literature review to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of integrated agricultural systems. We found surrogate data suggesting that the greatest adoption of integrated agricultural systems may be in intermediate precipitation zones and that integrated agricultural systems can enhance stability and reduce environmental impacts. Current adoption of integrated agricultural systems appears to be limited but may be greater in the future if fossil fuel availability is reduced and climatic variability increases.

Technical Abstract: Modern agriculture has done an excellent job producing food, feed and fiber, to feed the world’s growing population but there are concerns regarding its continued ability to do so especially with the world’s limited resources. To adapt to these challenges, future agricultural systems will need to be diverse, complex and integrated. Integrated agricultural systems have many of these properties, but how they are shaped by the environment and how they shape the environment is still unclear. In this paper, we used commonly available county level data and literature review to answer three basic questions. First, are there environmental limitations on the adoption of integrated agricultural systems? Second, are integrated agricultural systems more stable in variable climates and third do integrated agricultural systems have a lower environmental impact than more specialized systems? We focused on the Great Plains to answer these questions. Because farm-level data is lacking we focused on using county level indicators. The indicators selected were percent land base in pasture and crop diversity for counties on an east-west precipitation gradient in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. In the Dakotas, both percent pasture land and crop diversity indicated greater agricultural integration at the mid-point of the precipitation gradient but the trend was not as clear for Nebraska or Kansas. Integrated agricultural systems do appear to have potential to add stability in variable climates and reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment. However, current adoption of integrated agricultural systems appears to be limited. Future reductions in fossil fuel availability and greater climatic variability may enhance the adoption of integrated agricultural systems.