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Research Project: Improving Forage Genetics and Management in Integrated Dairy Systems for Enhanced Productivity, Efficiency and Resilience, and Decreased Environmental Impact

Location: Dairy Forage Research

Title: Ecological intensification of food production by integrating forages

item Franco, Jose
item BERTI, MARISOL - North Dakota State University
item Grabber, John
item Hendrickson, John
item Nieman, Christine
item PINTO, PRISCILA - University Of Wisconsin
item VAN TASSEL, DAVID - The Land Institute
item PICASSO, VALENTIN - University Of Wisconsin

Submitted to: Agronomy
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/15/2021
Publication Date: 12/18/2021
Citation: Franco Jr, J.G., Berti, M.T., Grabber, J.H., Hendrickson, J.R., Nieman, C.C., Pinto, P., Van Tassel, D., Picasso, V.D. 2021. Ecological intensification of food production by integrating forages. Agronomy. 11(12). Article 2580.

Interpretive Summary: A growing human population and limitations on the expansion of agricultural lands are placing ever-increasing demand on agriculture. The agricultural community must find ways to provide food, feed, fiber, and fuel to meet these demands while reducing its environmental footprint and also enhancing positive environmental outcomes. Ecological intensification is a systems approach to meet these complex set of goals. The intensification of food production using ecological approaches can be achieved through the greater use of diverse types of forages across the agricultural landscape. Annual cover crops can provide a number of benefits including taking up excess nutrients when a cash crop is not actively growing while also providing forage for livestock. The placement of perennial forages in annual crop rotations or intercropped with annual crops have time and again shown benefits to soils, and can provide a number of other benefits including taking up nutrients, suppressing weeds, and improving annual crop yields and crop nutritional quality. Dual-use crops/forages can provide a forage and grain crop in a single year. They provide an opportunity to reduce yearly inputs with the production of a perennial grain crop as compared to annual crops that require yearly intensive inputs. Each of these three approaches have limitations and challenges associated with them. However, understanding and overcoming these limitations will allow greater adoption of these systems, and will play a critical role in meeting food production and environmental goals.

Technical Abstract: Forage crops have the potential to serve multiple functions, providing an ecological framework to sustainably intensify food production, i.e., ecological intensification. We present a review of three key areas (annual forages, perennial forages, dual-use perennial crops/forages) we believe hold the greatest promise for meeting food production goals. When intercropped with, interseeded into or following an annual crop or when overseeded into perennial pastures, annual cover crops can provide additional forage resources while taking up excess nutrients and preventing nutrient losses from agricultural fields. The integration of perennial forages either temporally, such as annual crop rotations that include a perennial forage phase, or spatially, such as the intercropping of perennial forages with an annual cash crop, provides weed suppression, soil quality, and yield and crop quality benefits. Dual-use crops/forages can provide forage and a grain crop in a single year while providing multiple ecological and economic benefits. However, tradeoffs in balancing multiple functions and limitations in reducing the risks associated with these practices exist. Advancing our understanding of these systems so we can overcome some of the limitations, as well as identifying their proper placement across the landscape, will play a critical role in increasing food production while promoting positive environmental outcomes.