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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Booneville, Arkansas » Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #372030

Research Project: Sustainable Small Farm and Organic Grass and Forage Production Systems for Livestock and Agroforestry

Location: Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center

Title: Integrated approaches for multi-functional agricultural systems

item Franco, Jose

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/20/2019
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Integrated cropping systems, e.g. agricultural systems that include practices such as intercropping, cover cropping, crops and livestock, crops and forages and agroforestry in some combination, may be viable options to enhance on-farm profitability while either providing enhanced ecosystem services or mitigating negative environmental impact. As an example from my research, intercropping with three to four functionally diverse crops can, in the short-term, lead to enhanced yields per unit land area of up to 20% in a low-input organic system. This can be accomplished without sacrificing crop quality, and this approach can reduce weed pressure when incorporating a vining crop such as watermelon. This approach may also reduce crop stress on some but not all component crops. As another example, incorporating perennial forages into annual cropping systems can result in near-surface soil and crop yield benefits. When including at least four years of a perennial forage, soil acidification and bulk density were reduced when compared to a continuous spring wheat system. Spring wheat yields following just three years of a perennial alfalfa stand were higher as compared to a continuously fertilized spring wheat crop. After four years of a mixed alfalfa-intermediate wheatgrass stand, yields were comparable to continuous wheat with the added benefit of increasing particulate organic matter and water-stable aggregates. In summary, there are multiple ways in which integrated systems may benefit both crop production and ecosystem services, which will be discussed in this invited special seminar.

Technical Abstract: As a cropping systems ecologist, I develop and research diverse crop and forage production systems that serve multiple functions. These functions include production and farm profitability, but also encompass other functions such as soil quality enhancement, pollinator forage availability, and other benefits known as ecosystem services. Some of the practices I research include intercropping, cover cropping and crop-livestock systems, incorporation of perennial forages in annual crops, and agroforestry practices such as alley cropping and silvopasture – all practices that integrate multiple components to create synergistic relationships. Much of my work is targeted at small and medium sized farms, in which integrated approaches such as these can reduce costs and provide ecosystem services that increase long term profitability and sustainability. In my seminar I will highlight findings from previous work on how perennial forages can be incorporated into annual crop production systems to enhance soil quality and crop productivity and the use of livestock and perennial forages to facilitate reduced tillage during the organic transition. I will also introduce future work I will be conducting on agroforestry systems, whereby crops and forages can be grown between tree alleys to utilize space more efficiently.