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Title: Evaluating strategies for sustainable intensification of U.S. agriculture through the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research network

item Spiegal, Sheri
item Bestelmeyer, Brandon
item Archer, David
item Augustine, David
item BOUGHTON, ELIZABETH - Archbold Biological Station
item BOUGHTON, RAOUL - Archbold Biological Station
item Clark, Pat
item Derner, Justin
item Duncan, Emily
item Cavigelli, Michel
item Hapeman, Cathleen
item Harmel, Daren
item Heilman, Philip - Phil
item Holly, Michael
item Huggins, David
item King, Kevin
item Kleinman, Peter
item Liebig, Mark
item Locke, Martin
item McCarty, Gregory
item MILLAR, NEVILLE - Michigan State University
item Mirsky, Steven
item Moorman, Thomas
item Pierson Jr, Frederick
item Rigby Jr, James
item ROBERTSON, G. PHILIP - Michigan State University
item Steiner, Jean
item Strickland, Timothy - Tim
item SWAIN, HILARY - Archbold Biological Station
item Wienhold, Brian
item WULFHORTS, JD - University Of Idaho
item YOST, MATTHEW - University Of Utah
item Walthall, Charles

Submitted to: Environmental Research Letters
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/15/2018
Publication Date: 3/7/2018
Publication URL:
Citation: Spiegal, S.A., Bestelmeyer, B.T., Archer, D.W., Augustine, D.J., Boughton, E., Boughton, R., Clark, P., Derner, J.D., Duncan, E.W., Cavigelli, M.A., Hapeman, C.J., Harmel, R.D., Heilman, P., Holly, M.A., Huggins, D.R., King, K.W., Kleinman, P.J., Liebig, M.A., Locke, M.A., McCarty, G.W., Millar, N., Mirsky, S.B., Moorman, T.B., Pierson, F.B., Rigby, J.R., Robertson, G., Steiner, J.L., Strickland, T.C., Swain, H., Wienhold, B.J., Wulfhorts, J., Yost, M., Walthall, C.L. 2018. Evaluating strategies for sustainable intensification of U.S. agriculture through the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research network. Environmental Research Letters. 13(3):034031.

Interpretive Summary: Agriculture is increasingly expected to meet growing demands for food, fuel, and fiber now while protecting environmental quality for the future. Sustainable intensification, wherein production is increased while the adverse impacts of agriculture are minimized or reversed, has emerged as a primary framework for addressing this grand challenge. This article evaluates the strategies for sustainable intensification under investigation in U.S. croplands, pasturelands, and rangelands by scientists and partnering producers in the Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network. The action-oriented, networked approach to sustainable intensification detailed in the article is significant because of its potential to help support Earth’s natural and human systems for the long term.

Technical Abstract: Sustainable intensification is an emerging model for agriculture designed to reconcile accelerating global demand for agricultural products with long-term environmental stewardship. Defined here as increasing agricultural production while maintaining or improving environmental quality, sustainable intensification hinges upon decision-making by agricultural producers, consumers, and policy-makers. The Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) network was established to inform these decisions. Here we introduce the LTAR Common Experiment, through which scientists and partnering producers in US croplands, rangelands, and pasturelands are conducting 21 independent but coordinated experiments. Each local effort compares the outcomes of a predominant, conventional production system in the region ('business as usual') with a system hypothesized to advance sustainable intensification ('aspirational'). Following the logic of a conceptual model of interactions between agriculture, economics, society, and the environment, we identified commonalities among the 21 experiments in terms of (a) concerns about business-as-usual production, (b) 'aspirational outcomes' motivating research into alternatives, (c) strategies for achieving the outcomes, (d) practices that support the strategies, and (e) relationships between practice outreach and adoption. Network-wide, concerns about business as usual include the costs of inputs, opportunities lost to uniform management approaches, and vulnerability to accelerating environmental changes. Motivated by environmental, economic, and societal outcomes, scientists and partnering producers are investigating 15 practices in aspirational treatments to sustainably intensify agriculture, from crop diversification to ecological restoration. Collectively, the aspirational treatments reveal four general strategies for sustainable intensification: (1) reducing reliance on inputs through ecological intensification, (2) diversifying management to match land and economic potential, (3) building adaptive capacity to accelerating environmental changes, and (4) managing agricultural landscapes for multiple ecosystem services. Key to understanding the potential of these practices and strategies are informational, economic, and social factors—and trade-offs among them—that limit their adoption. LTAR is evaluating several actions for overcoming these barriers, including finding financial mechanisms to make aspirational production systems more profitable, resolving uncertainties about trade-offs, and building collaborative capacity among agricultural producers, stakeholders, and scientists from a broad range of disciplines.