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Research Project: Strategies to Support Resilient Agricultural Systems of the Southeastern U.S.

Location: Plant Science Research

Title: Should we consider integrated crop-livestock systems for ecosystem services, carbon sequestration, and agricultural resilience to climate change?

item Franzluebbers, Alan
item Hendrickson, John

Submitted to: Agronomy Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/28/2023
Publication Date: 3/1/2024
Citation: Franzluebbers, A.J., Hendrickson, J.R. 2024. Should we consider integrated crop-livestock systems for ecosystem services, carbon sequestration, and agricultural resilience to climate change?. Agronomy Journal. 116:415-432.

Interpretive Summary: Industrialization of agriculture since World War II has resulted in simplification of biotic resources on farms, resulting in serious issues with resilience to pests, market vagaries, and climate change. More complex agricultural systems with integrated crop and livestock operations intertwined on farms or among farms could provide important benefits to build agricultural resilience. Two ARS scientists from Raleigh North Carolina and Mandan North Dakota collaborated to summarize recent research on integrated crop-livestock systems to address climate change issues. This effort was needed to help create more diverse and functional agricultural systems to meet production and environmental goals with the ongoing threats of climate change. This manuscript was invited as part of a special issue across journals of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America. This review and synthesis will benefit farmers, extension specialists, scientists, and policy makers to help create more resilient agricultural systems.

Technical Abstract: Contemporary agricultural systems can be generalized as highly specialized operations that are fueled by mechanization; supplied with external nutrients to maximize production; crops protected by petrochemicals to fight against weed, disease, and insect pressures; and livestock protected by therapeutics to ward off virus and bacterial infections when managed in confinement. Such specialized systems have led to low levels of diversity, elevated environmental risks from contamination, loss of soil organic matter, ecological instability, and limited adaptability to climate change. More diversified farming systems are possible, but research required to characterize them in a holistic manner as an alternative to contemporary, specialized systems remains challenging to fund and sustain over time, primarily because they require more labor, management skills, and accessible markets to achieve additional ecological, environmental, and social goals. We share some perspectives as to (1) how specialized systems became the norm and (2) what changes could be made to reverse some ecological risks and environmental declines associated with specialization, acknowledging there is no panacea. Strong evidence exists for perennial forages to restore soil organic carbon (C) and nitrogen, but system-level analyses of the net balance in greenhouse gas emissions remain to be characterized in the myriad of potential integrated crop–livestock systems that might be deployed across the diversity of edaphic, environmental, and socio-economic conditions. We suggest there are abundant opportunities for more sustainable agricultural production to sequester soil organic C, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and develop more climate-resilient agricultural systems that will be needed in a future dominated by climate change issues.