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Publication #SS-AGR-126

Sod/Livestock-Based Peanut/Cotton Production System: Why We Recommend It! 1

D. L. Wright, J. J. Marois, T. W. Katsvairo, and J. R. Rich2

The past two decades have seen major changes in cultural practices in the peanut/cotton cropping systems. Among these changes are consolidation of farm units, increased irrigation, reductions in corn/soybean acreage, large increases in cotton production, and changes in support programs for peanut. Technological changes have also been rapid, and include an almost 100% adoption of transgenic use for corn and soybean, and cotton and planting date changes for peanut based on tomato spotted wilt virus control. Furthermore, conservation tillage is now widely adopted in the U.S. Southeast (SE), and the SE leads the nation in the use of this practice (National Crop Residue Management Survey, 2002).

The changes in economics, technology, and government support programs have led to the need for integration of the traditional peanut/cotton rotation and livestock production systems. Other less obvious factors have also prompted the need for the change from simple rotations to more complex rotations. The yields for peanut and cotton reached a plateau almost 25 years ago and have since remained stagnant (USDA, 2004). This is not surprising because short two-year rotations can become susceptible to classic problems similar to monocultures, such as stagnant yields, soil degradation, and pests and disease surviving and adapting to the rotations (Crookston, 1995; Tanaka et al., 2002). It is thus essential to find alternative cropping systems that can increase yields and simultaneously enhance soil quality and conservation and promote environmental stewardship.

An excellent system to achieve higher yields and environmental benefits is a four-year sod-based rotation, which includes bahiagrass for two years, followed by one year of peanuts, and then a year of cotton, in place of the traditional peanut/cotton rotation. To increase economic returns in the overall system, livestock can be integrated into the peanut/cotton cropping system. Numerous benefits can be obtained by including bahiagrass in the rotations and also by integrating livestock in the crop farming system.

Bahiagrass is a good choice for a perennial grass in the SE because traditionally it is grown as a pasture grass; hence, it is not new to most farmers. It is drought tolerant and can be grown on a wide range of soil types, including sandy soils (Field and Taylor, 2002). Furthermore, its nutritional value, including crude protein (CP), acid detergent fiber (ADF) and neutral detergent fiber (NDF) values, is comparable to other grasses, and it can be grazed or harvested for seed or hay. This article is an introduction to a series of articles that report on an extensive program from the Tri-State region (Florida, Georgia and Alabama) on the many benefits of adopting sod/livestock/peanut/cotton farming systems. In this article, we outline the challenges that have prompted the need to adopt the livestock-based cropping system.

Farmers tend to specialize in the crops because of environmental constraints, economics, infrastructure, or because that is what's been grown for many years. However, like all successful ventures, farming is dynamic and must respond to changing environmental and economic conditions. While conservation tillage greatly reduces soil degradation, including perennial grasses will improve soil health and consequently improve crop growth.

Furthermore, bahiagrass is a non-host to several plant pathogens and nematodes. Synergistic effects are achieved with a combination of improved soil health, resulting in enhanced plant growth. In turn, this leads to a better ability to outcompete weeds and an ability to better tolerate diseases. All of these culminate in higher yields at reduced costs. While cotton and peanut yields have been stagnant, the cost of agricultural chemicals including fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides conversely has continued to rise. Thus, for peanut/cotton production systems to remain viable, there is a need for an alternative farming system that reduces chemical inputs. Reduction in the use of synthetic chemicals is in accord with environmental stewardship but, more important to growers, a necessity to reduce production costs. There are numerous examples worldwide of agricultural chemicals infiltrating into the ecosystem, and these problems are more serious in the southeastern United States because of its fragile ecosystem.

Early in U.S. agricultural history, mixed livestock and crop production were the norm. While mixed farming was necessary for early farmers, the last half of the 20th century was a time with increasing emphasis on commercial farming, and an increase toward specialization. However, changing economic, technological, and ecological values have made it necessary to re-visit diversified crop/livestock enterprises. Integrated livestock/crop farming systems feed into each other; the products from one enterprise can be used as inputs for the other enterprise.

Additionally, diversified cropping can provide a buffer against unpredictable weather, such as droughts and hurricanes. A good example is the four major hurricanes that swept through Florida in 2004. While all four hurricanes caused economic damage to crops at different stages of growth, Hurricane Ivan severely impacted cotton during the boll opening stage, and as a result, a number of farmers lost a large part of the crop. If a grower had most of their farm in cotton, they would have lost most of their income. On the other hand, if a grower had some section of the farm under bahiagrass, the bahiagrass would have survived the hurricanes and perhaps produced higher yields due to good moisture.

Diversified cropping systems also reduce economic risks by reducing yearly variations in returns and also increase the total income. We developed an interactive business model that evaluates the economic feasibility of a four-year livestock/peanut/cotton/sod rotation. The URL for the model is http://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/programs/sod_rotation.shtml. Results from the model show returns to be 3- to 6-fold greater for the fourth year of the integrated sod/livestock/peanut/cotton farming system compared to the conventional peanut/cotton rotation. Other researchers also identify livestock as the key link in developing sustainable systems. There are other advantages of the sod/livestock/peanut/cotton farming systems, which go beyond the monetary values.

Expansion of cropland coupled with intensification of agriculture have drastically reduced both micro and macro flora and fauna population density and diversity. It is thus imminent that flora and fauna biodiversity be progressively maintained in agricultural farmlands. Sod-based cropping systems can provide niches to preserve biodiversity.

Numerous factors interact to bring about the positive outcome for implementation of the sod-based livestock/peanut/cotton cropping system. Development of an effective sod-based livestock integrated cropping system is an economically and ecologically viable alternative to the current peanut/cotton cropping system. Furthermore, this system is applicable under different climatic conditions and soil types. We recommend growers read our related articles on this subject for details and also visit our website http://nfrec.ifas.ufl.edu/programs/sod_rotation.shtml for more information.

References

Crookston, R.K. 1995. The rotation effect in corn: A summary of fifteen years of field research in Minnesota. Minnesota Agric. Exp. Stn. no. 22-180. Univ. of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.

Field, T.G. and R.E. Taylor. 2002. Beef production management decisions. Pearson Education. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ. 07458.

National Crop Residue Management Survey. 2002. Conservation of Agriculture's future. [Online]. Available at http://www.conservationinformation.org/. Conservation Technology Center, Lafayette, IN.

Tanaka, D.L., J.M. Krupinsky, M.A. Liebig, S.D. Merrill, R.E. Ries, J.R. Hendrickson, H.A. Johnson, and J.D. Hanson. 2002. Dynamic cropping systems :An adaptable approach to crop production in the Great Plains. Agron. J. 94:957-961.

USDA. 2004. Historical track records. [Online]. Available at http://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Track_Records/index.asp. National Agricultural Statistics Service, Washington, D.C.

Footnotes

1.

This document is SS-AGR-126, one of a series of the Agronomy Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date July 2006. Reviewed August 2009. Revised September 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

D. L. Wright, professor, Agronomy Department, North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy, FL; J. J. Marois, professor, Plant Pathology Department, North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy, FL; T. W. Katsvairo, former post doc.; and J. R. Rich, professor emeritus, Entomology and Nematology Department, North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy, FL; Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication do not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.