Skip to main content
ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Agroecosystems Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #406433

Research Project: Sustainable Intensification in Agricultural Watersheds through Optimized Management and Technology

Location: Agroecosystems Management Research

Title: Integrated crop-livestock system sustainability assessment for Iowa using system-of-systems approach

item BASNET, KESHAV - Orise Fellow
item Papanicolaou, Athanasios - Thanos
item Malone, Robert - Rob

Submitted to: ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/8/2023
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Farmers, agricultural scientists, and engineers, as well as policy makers are concerned with both the productivity and environmental impact of intensive agriculture. Agricultural production techniques like integrated crop-livestock systems (ICLS) that use natural resources through the combination of crop and livestock inputs and outputs offer an alternate approach compared to conventional production practices. Adoption of cover crops (CC) as a standalone practice and/or to promote a more sustainable ICL through intercropping can further improve system production, economic viability, and environmental conditions. We investigated how the adoption of management strategies like ICLS, CC, and the combination of both supports sustainable agricultural production in Iowa, as a case study, and how these practices respond with future climate. A decision support tool was developed using the system-of-systems modeling approach through the Vensim platform to evaluate the performance of an agroecosystem and examine the interactions and feedbacks of five systems: cash crop production, livestock production, economics, environmental quality, and social quality. The model is based on empirical input/output relations that are interlinked across the five systems and provides quantitative means to test future scenarios. After successful testing (structural test and sensitivity analysis) of the system dynamics model, we conducted multi-dimensional (i.e., economic, environmental, and social) sustainability assessment of four agricultural production systems (cropping only, cropping with CC, ICLS, and ICLS with CC) in Iowa. Two scenarios were tested: one for current land use (with 4.2% forage area of farmland) and the other for alternative land use (with optimal forage area that was found to be 26% of farmland). Further, the effect of climate change on the sustainability for optimized land use was investigated. The results suggest the most optimum management strategy is the combination of ICLS and CC with highest overall sustainability among the four production systems which is sustainable both economically and environmentally.