FFAR Awards $1 Million Grant to University of Nebraska to Develop Integrated Livestock and Crop Production Systems

Adding Cattle to Crop Fields Shows Potential to Increase Profits and Conserve Resources

portrait of Dr. James MacDonald

James MacDonald, Ph.D., associate professor of animal science and ruminant nutrition in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is leading the team of collaborators. (Photo Credit: Craig Chandler – University of Nebraska)

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit established in the 2014 Farm Bill with bipartisan congressional support, today awarded a $1 million Seeding Solutions grant to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) to improve land use efficiency by integrating livestock and crop production systems. The FFAR grant is matched by the UNL Institute of Agriculture and National Resources and the Platte River-High Plains Aquifer for a total $2.4 million investment.

Researchers will investigate various outputs including yields, soil health, and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the economic feasibility of adopting these new practices, which bring crop production and cattle grazing together on the same land.

“As the population continues to expand, we must find more efficient ways to produce enough food to feed the growing population,” said Sally Rockey, Executive Director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. “FFAR is pleased to support a project that will help efficiently manage resources and provide economic opportunities for American farmers and ranchers.”

The availability of perennial forage for livestock production has decreased as farms move to less diversified systems to grow individual crops. Highly specialized systems, such as monoculture, may be less sustainable than diversified approaches in terms of both resource efficiency and long-term profitability.

The research team, which includes members of a new Nebraska Beef Systems Research Initiative, expects an integrated system, which overlays cattle grazing with existing crop production systems, to increase output per acre and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with production.

“As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I know how important it is for producers to maximize livestock production and increase overall productivity,” said Rep. Don Bacon, the congressman representing Nebraska’s 2nd District. “Nebraska is the number one state for beef and veal exports and for commercial red meat production. This grant will allow the University of Nebraska to contribute to the state’s cattle production and research effective land use practices to help new farmers. I’m excited for the opportunities that lie ahead for Nebraska’s agriculture community.”

James MacDonald, Ph.D., associate professor of animal science and ruminant nutrition in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is leading the team of collaborators. Integrated systems have unique benefits for young and beginning farmers, he says.

“It’s very difficult for new or young farmers to get started,” said MacDonald. “You may not own the land or need to work with a family member’s existing system to start your own enterprise. Integrating cattle without disturbing crop production with minimal investment can help young producers get started and stay in agriculture.”

The first goal of the research is to develop a combined cattle and crop production system that maximizes land use efficiency, improves soil health, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The project will also investigate if the benefits of using cover crops are retained when they are used for livestock forage, a research gap that has not had much scientific inquiry.

“Cover crops are a long-term investment to improve soil health and reduce erosion, but they can be difficult for producers to pay for,” said MacDonald. “If producers can graze cattle on cover crops they could increase land efficiency and mitigate costs.”

Producers will play a vital role in the research by participating in surveys and focus groups to gather input about how they make decisions. Outcomes of this study will help farmers and ranchers understand which practices will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions while efficiently producing food in a diversified system.

This project is supported by FFAR through its Seeding Solutions grant program, which calls for bold, innovative, and potentially transformative research proposals in the Foundation’s seven Challenge Areas. This grant supports the Protein Challenge, which aims to enhance and improve the environmental, economic, and social sustainability production of diverse proteins for a growing global population.

Additional members of the team include, Tala Awanda from Nebraska’s Agricultural Research Division; Simanti Banerjee and Jay Parsons from the Department of Agricultural Economics; Humberto Blanco and Daren Redfearn from the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture; Mary Drewnoski and Galen Erickson from the Department of Animal Science; Jane Okalebo and Andy Suyker from the School of Natural Resources; and George Burba from LI-Cor Biosciences.

###

About the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit organization established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

Learn more: www.foundationfar.org Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

Overcoming Water Scarcity

Overcoming Water Scarcity

Continue

Agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Overcoming Water Scarcity Challenge Area addressed water use efficiency in agriculture by developing water conservation and reuse technologies, improving crop and livestock breeds, creating improved agronomic practices, increasing the social and economic tractability of conservation practices and enhancing the efficacy of Extension services.

FFAR’s Sustainable Water Management Challenge Area builds on earlier work to increase water availability and water efficiency for agricultural use, reduces agricultural water pollution and develops water reuse technologies.

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms

Continue

FFAR’s 2016-2018 Healthy Soils, Thriving Farms Challenge Area increased soil health by building knowledge, fueling innovation, and enabling adoption of existing or new innovative practices that improve soil health.

The Soil Health Challenge Area advances existing research and identifies linkages between farm productivity and soil health, while also addressing barriers to the adoption of soil health practices.

Protein Challenge

Protein Challenge

Continue

FFAR’s 2016-2018 Protein Challenge Area sought to improve the environmental, economic and social sustainability of diverse proteins.

The Advance Animal Systems challenge area supports sustainable animal production through environmentally sound productions practices and advancement in animal health and welfare. Additionally, the Next Generation Crops Challenge Area develops non-traditional crops, including plant-based proteins, and creates new economic opportunities for conventional crops to increase future crop diversity and farm profitability.

Food Waste and Loss

Food Waste and Loss

Continue

About 40 percent of food in the US, or $161 billion each year, is lost or wasted. FFAR’s 2016-2018 Food and Waste Loss Challenge Area addressed the social, economic and environmental impacts from food waste and loss through research that developed of novel uses for agricultural waste, improved storage and distribution, supported tracking and monitoring, minimized spoilage through pre- and post-harvest innovations and changed behaviors to reduce food waste

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area addresses food waste and loss and supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.

Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability

Continue

Supporting innovation is necessary for sustainable results. Over the last 50 years, farmers have tripled global food production thanks to agricultural innovations. Forging the Innovation Pathway to Sustainability was a 2016-2018 Challenge Area that focused on understanding the barriers and processes that prevented the adoption of technology and research results into sustainable practices.

Urban Food Systems

Urban Food Systems

Continue

The 2016-2018 Urban Food Systems Challenge Area addressed feeding urban populations through urban and peri-urban agriculture and augmenting the capabilities of our current food system.

The Urban Food Systems Challenge Area continues this work and enhances our ability to feed urban populations.

Making My Plate Your Plate

Continue

FFAR’s 2016-2018 Making My Plate Your Plate Challenge Area focused on helping Americans meet the USDA 2015 Dietary Guideline recommendations for fruit and vegetable consumption, including research to both produce and provide access to nutritious fruits and vegetables.

FFAR’s current Health-Agriculture Nexus Challenge Area supports innovative, systems-level approaches to reduce food and nutritional insecurity and improve human health in the US and globally.