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Science in action to improve the sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and food systems
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Integrating low-disturbance organic grain and livestock production

This research addresses primary constraints on organic dryland grain production in Eastern Washington by developing conservation tillage practices for organic systems, N supply data for grain crops after forages, methods of establishing organic crops, alternative forages, and economic comparisons of mixed crop-livestock systems versus other alternatives. Integration of crops with livestock provides nutrient cycling, and diversification of farm products provides the options for taking advantage of market opportunities. In economic comparisons, integrated organic grain + hayed pasture systems generally outperform both a grazed livestock only, and an integrated grain + grazed livestock scenarios except in cases where livestock price was > $1.54 / lb or hay price was <$180 / ton.
Having sustainable options in both grazing and cropping, and the transitions between these, are critical pieces in building an integrated system. Alternative crop trials in 2009 indicate that soybeans may be workable in the Pullman area (22 inches rainfall) and milo in the Benge area (12 inches rainfall). One of the clearest advances during this project has been in conservative tillage for taking out established alfalfa or pasture. Where alfalfa is incompletely controlled, subsequent grain yield plummets. Aggressive, wide sweeps control both alfalfa and erosion. Outputs during the past year included two farm field days to present and discuss the project with producers and policy-makers. The potential for organic grain production in this region continually gains interest, and providing on-the-ground examples of options continues to improve credibility of organic production in our region.

Grant Information

  • Project ID: 050
  • Project Status: Complete

2009

  • Principal Investigator(s): Carpenter-Boggs, L.
  • Investigator(s): Huggins, D.
  • Grant Amount: $50,000

2010

  • Principal Investigator(s): Carpenter-Boggs, L.
  • Investigator(s): Huggins, D.
  • Grant Amount: $45,000

Impacts

The cooperator CCR is now using a wide sweep for routine take-out of perennials prior to planting annual crops. This method preserves soil quality and structure, effectively kills perennial crowns, and minimizes erosion potential. We hope through wider demonstrations to increase the use of this practice in organic systems. Over the past years several new and continuing projects have developed, stemming from or related to the present project. We are
involved with one farm in particular where CRP and wheat lands are being converted to organic grass-fed beef. The vision of a fully integrated crop-livestock system is solidifying with the understanding that the beef-production phase must increase soil fertility (and provide income) while the grain phase will be relatively short and “feed” from the fertility built in the perennial phase. We are finding that this not only changes the agronomic system and its environmental impact, but the social system and its community and economic impact. Very few people or operations will want to or be able to manage the entirety of an integrated system. Rather, some producers will likely focus more on the livestock side and others focus more on the cropping side. Only in working together over time does the system become truly integrated and sustainable.