Agriculture and Environment: Beef

Better Management Practices: Integrated Farms with Higher Carrying Capacity

Integrated farms are those that produce multiple products that are related to each other.

In some cases, integrated farm management allows farmers to turn waste into products that can be sold or substituted for inputs that would be otherwise be purchased. In other instances, integrated farming allows producers to add value to a product rather than selling it as a raw material (e.g., feeding corn to animals).

Income from marginal land
Finally, integrated farming practices allow producers to generate income from marginal areas (e.g., carry animals on marginal land during crop season and then allow them to graze stubble after harvest) or to reduce environmental impacts and increase productivity (e.g., build ponds to provide water for animals or fish for farmers).

Waste management & efficient input use
More than anything, integrated farms are about waste management and efficient input use. An integrated farm is more likely to recycle waste products and minimise costs. Effluents are not discharged into streams. For example, effluents that are rich in organic matter can be pumped onto pastures as nutrients.

Such integration can happen when management programs are in place to decontaminate wastewater by cleaning it. Revitalised pastures allow the cattle to enjoy grazing and chewing, activities they evolved to do. Such grazing may well be a key to maintaining the health of the animals.

Employing crop rotation
Crop rotation also improves overall productivity. In Argentina and Brazil, for example, it is increasingly common for producers to have 5 - 7 years of pasture production followed by 3 - 5 years in grain. Ironically, with no-till cultivation of crops, it is during the period of crop cultivation that organic matter is built up.

This increases grain yields and minimises weed and insect problems, but later it also improves pasture production during the rotation. This kind of rotation has two key advantages. First, it reduces the use of fertiliser, herbicides and insecticides. Second, it allows producers to rehabilitate degraded land so that they can actually make more money from increasing the value of the land than they can from increasing their overall crop or beef production.

Integrated farming at landscape level
To date, integrated farms, by definition, have been about the management of resources on a single operation. However, integrated farming can take place at the landscape level as well. This would allow wastes and resources to be used more efficiently while also allowing farmers to specialise to achieve sufficient scale in areas where they have a comparative advantage over their neighbours so that they can compete in larger markets.

Unless single operations are going to buy out all their neighbours, then scaling up integrated farming to the landscape level will require much better information management as well as waste and product flow systems.


Extracts from "World Agriculture & Environment" by Jason Clay - buy the book online from Island Press

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