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

Location: Plant Science Research

Title: Farming with forages can reconnect crop and livestock operations to enhance circularity and foster ecosystem services

item Franzluebbers, Alan

Submitted to: Grass and Forage Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/19/2022
Publication Date: 12/28/2022
Citation: Franzluebbers, A.J., Martin, G. 2022. Farming with forages can reconnect crop and livestock operations to enhance circularity and foster ecosystem services. Grass and Forage Science. 77:270-281.

Interpretive Summary: Industrialization of agriculture in the last 70 years 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. An ARS scientist in Raleigh North Carolina collaborated with a scientist from INRAE in Castanet-Tolosan, France to summarize recent research on diversifying agricultural systems with perennial and annual forages. This effort was needed to help create more diverse and functional agricultural systems to meet production and environmental goals. This manuscript is the full version of a presentation originally presented at the European Federation of Grasslands Congress in Caen, France. Results of this effort will benefit farmers, extension specialists, scientists, and policy makers to create more resilient agricultural systems.

Technical Abstract: Agriculture has undergone dramatic changes over the past century. Many would argue that the changes have been unquestionably positive with huge gains in productivity, reduced labor requirements, and alleviation of food insecurity for most people. However, the adoption of increasingly specialized and separated crop and livestock enterprises has also had widespread negative consequences resulting in decline in biodiversity, degradation of groundwater and surface waters with agrochemical pollutants, poor soil health with monoculture crop production and frequent soil disturbance, large greenhouse gas emissions from both specialized cropping systems relying on external inputs and concentrated animal feeding operations that accumulate wastes, and general lack of ecological integrity among components of these specialized systems. Integrated systems with forages offer opportunities to gain ecological synergies when mixed crop-livestock systems rely on internal nutrient cycling dynamics, ecologically based weed, insect, and disease controls, and system-level sharing of resources in a circular-based agroecosystem. We provide a few examples of how annual and perennial forages can be an integral component of integrated crop-livestock systems, including grazing of cover crops, pasture-crop rotations, and among-farm integration. To be more sustainable, the ecological integrity of agriculture requires different types of forages utilized across a diverse landscape.