Livestock integration into soybean systems improves long-term system stability and profits without compromising crop yields

Sci Rep. 2021 Jan 18;11(1):1649. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-81270-z.

Abstract

Climate models project greater weather variability over the coming decades. High yielding systems that can maintain stable crop yields under variable environmental scenarios are critical to enhance food security. However, the effect of adding a trophic level (i.e. herbivores) on the long-term stability of agricultural systems is not well understood. We used a 16-year dataset from an integrated soybean-beef cattle experiment to measure the impacts of grazing on the stability of key crop, pasture, animal and whole-system outcomes. Treatments consisted of four grazing intensities (10, 20, 30 and 40 cm sward height) on mixed black oat (Avena strigosa) and Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) pastures and an ungrazed control. Stability of both human-digestible protein production and profitability increased at moderate to light grazing intensities, while over-intensification or absence of grazing decreased system stability. Grazing did not affect subsequent soybean yields but reduced the chance of crop failure and financial loss in unfavorable years. At both lighter and heavier grazing intensities, tradeoffs occurred between the stability of herbage production and animal live weight gains. We show that ecological intensification of specialized soybean systems using livestock integration can increase system stability and profitability, but the probability of win-win outcomes depends on management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / economics
  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Agriculture / standards
  • Animal Feed*
  • Animal Husbandry / methods*
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Climate Change
  • Crop Protection / methods*
  • Crop Protection / standards
  • Livestock / physiology*
  • Models, Statistical
  • Soybeans / growth & development*
  • Soybeans / physiology