Once upon a time, most livestock animals were raised on the same farms where the cash crops were grown. Manure could be collected and transferred a short distance to fertilize the fields.
Over time, as the livestock industry consolidated, the number of farms with both crops and livestock shrank, and what was once an on-farm fertilizer source increasingly became a pollution hazard. Farms wishing to reap the benefits of organic fertilizer often have to buy the manure and have it trucked in over long distances. Entire industries have sprung up around this practice.
Nowadays, the pendulum may be starting to swing back the other way. With prices for synthetic fertilizers spiking, farmers are looking for alternatives – and are increasingly recognizing the benefits of integrating crops and livestock on the same acreage. Green Lands Blue Waters recently published an infographic that sums these up.
The infographic pictures three main modes of integrating crops and livestock: managing livestock on pasture, grazing cover crops, and raising crops to feed livestock. It summarizes the benefits of the practice in three categories: increased profit per acre, soil benefits, and community benefits.
The profit category is further broken down into cost reduction and income benefits. In addition to the obvious one – using manure as fertilizer – cost reduction includes stretching the feed supply and breaking up pest and weed cycles. “Income benefits” covers diversifying revenue streams, as well as the possibility of marketable cover crops and/or payments for ecosystem services (through programs such as the USDA Conservation Stewardship Program, for example).
Soil benefits of integrating crops and livestock include improved fertility, enhanced water infiltration, and increased soil organic matter. These translate into such community benefits as better water quality, support for local farms and businesses, and opportunities for new farmers.
With the widespread use of winter wheat as cool-season pasture across much of Oklahoma, the idea of combining crop and livestock production may seem at first like nothing new. However, this new infographic is a timely reminder of the many ways in which this time-tested concept can be put back to work in new ways.