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Title: Tradeoffs in the quest for climate smart agricultural intensification in Mato Grosso, Brazil

item GIL, JULIAN - Wageningen University
item GARRETT, RACHAEL - Boston University
item Rotz, Clarence - Al
item DAIOGLOU, VASSILIS - Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
item VALENTIM, JUDSON - Embrapa
item PIRES, GABRIELLE - Universidade Federal De Vicosa
item COSTA, MARCOS - Universidade Federal De Vicosa
item LOPES, LUCIANO - Embrapa

Submitted to: Environmental Research Letters
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/15/2018
Publication Date: 6/6/2018
Citation: Gil, J.D., Garrett, R.D., Rotz, C.A., Daioglou, V., Valentim, J., Pires, G.F., Costa, M.H., Lopes, L. 2018. Tradeoffs in the quest for climate smart agricultural intensification in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Environmental Research Letters. 13:1-12.

Interpretive Summary: Low productivity cattle ranching, with its linkages to rural poverty, deforestation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, remains one of the largest sustainability challenges in Brazil. We conduct a farm-scale analysis of different pasture intensification strategies in the Brazilian agricultural frontier of Mato Grosso to reveal their economic and environmental costs and benefits under different climate scenarios. We find clear tradeoffs in GHG emissions, climate resilience, and nitrogen, water and energy footprints across systems, under current and future climate scenarios. Relative to specialized beef cattle systems, crop-livestock integration shows higher food production and lower GHG emissions per unit of human digestible protein, as well as increased production and economic resilience under climate change. By underscoring the economic feasibility of improving the performance of cattle systems via both rotational grazing and crop-livestock integration, and by highlighting the tradeoffs of each option, our results are useful for directing agricultural and climate policy.

Technical Abstract: Although there has been significant growth in productivity in livestock production systems in Brazil over the last decades, the greatest environmental challenge in the Amazon and Cerrado is the continued prevalence of low productivity cattle ranching, usually linked to high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land cover change, land abandonment, and low farm incomes. Climate change is expected to add complexity to these issues. Agricultural intensification is being promoted as a pathway towards “climate smart” agriculture, as more productive pastures may help mitigate climate change by lowering the emission intensity of a given system while increasing farmers’ adaptive capacity to climate shocks. We found that a specialized soybean production system outperformed cattle systems in the reduction of reactive nitrogen losses and GHG intensity under every climate scenario considered. Yet, when balancing meat and grain production, high economic returns and low levels of climatic and economic risk, an integrated cattle and soybean system was the best option despite the environmental tradeoffs involving nitrogen and energy. Both of these systems were found to be more resilient to projected climate change than more extensive cattle production systems. Identifying ways to promote the diffusion of specific agricultural practices is crucial and should be done in parallel to the development of spatially representative studies, able to accurately account for synergistic effects of more complex systems.