Ecosystem Impacts and Productive Capacity of a Multi-Species Pastured Livestock System

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Summary: This paper, written by Savory Hub leader Dr. Jason Rowntree of Michigan State University, conducted a whole-farm life cycle assessment (LCA) of a multi-species pasture rotation (MSPR) farm in the southeastern United States that was originally converted from degraded cropland. They compared the production outputs, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land footprints, and soil health outcomes to a conventional, commodity (COM) production system of each respective species. The 20-year MSPR chronosequence of soil C and other soil health indicators shows dramatic improvement since establishment, sequestering an average of 2.29 Mg C ha−1 yr−1. Incorporation of soil C sequestration into the LCA reduced net GHG emissions of the MSPR by 80%, resulting in a footprint 66% lower than COM. However, when comparing required land between the two systems for food production, MSPR required 2.5 times more land when compared to COM. Thus, while the model indicates that MSPR can simultaneously produce protein while regenerating land, a considerably greater land area is needed when compared to COM. Results present an important yet paradoxical conclusion on land and food production balance. 

Citation: Rowntree JE, Stanley PL, Maciel ICF, Thorbecke M, Rosenzweig ST, Hancock DW, Guzman A and Raven MR (2020) Ecosystem Impacts and Productive Capacity of a Multi-Species Pastured Livestock System. Front. Sustain. Food Syst. 4:544984. doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2020.544984

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