According to the FAO, today’s global economic scenario indicates that the demand for food, fiber and bioenergy will be increasing significantly. The world’s population is expected to increase by 9.3 billion people by 2050. This means that food production would need to increase by 80%. In addition to this, consumer income constantly increases and may raise these numbers even further.
Within this context, Brazil has the potential to supply much of this demand because of its extensive agricultural land and increasing crop productivity. However, there continues to be strong social and political pressure to begin farming new areas, and the way to guarantee increased production without disrespecting current environmental legislation is by optimizing existing agricultural land.
The Integrated Crop-Livestock-Forest system (ICLF) maintains environmental quality, adds value to human life and provides economic viability. ICLF focuses on sustainable production by integrating crops, livestock and forests on the same land. This integration can be done by intercropping, as well as by planting in succession or rotation. Improving existing farmland makes it possible for other areas to be used in accordance with environmental laws and increases production without deforestation. ICLF helps meet the needs of the world’s growing population without harming the environment.
There are four ways to practice ICLF: Crop-Livestock Integration or Agropastoralism - integrating crops and livestock; Livestock-Forest Integration or Silvopastoralism - integrating livestock and forestry; Crop-Forest integration or Agroforestry - integrating trees and crops; Crop-Livestock-Forest Integration or Agrosilvopastoralism – This is the most comprehensive form of ICLF and integrates crops, livestock and forestry.
Implementing an ICL / ICLF System
The needs of ranchers are best met by planting annual crops to renovate or restore pastures. Agricultural managers should plan which pastures will be renovated/restored each year based on the rancher's capacity to invest, so that within a few years all the pastures will have been recovered.
At this point, the rancher will have gained experience in managing crops and built up capital, perhaps even purchased machinery. This will enable him to implement a more intensive farming system.
A rancher can also lease land to or partner with grain producers. This can be very lucrative depending on the region. Finally, ranchers have the option to correct the pH level and fertilize pastures and then plant an annual crop, such as soybeans, to help cover the cost of pasture recovery.
There are two integration systems that are ideal for farmers interested in raising livestock: planting annual forages after crops are harvested or rotating crops and perennial pasture.
Farmers who are uninterested in livestock can also increase agricultural production by planting forages during the off-season. These pastures can then be leased to ranchers. This allows the farmer to increase production without becoming involved in livestock or having to purchase animals.
Many farmers are reluctant to pasture livestock, because of the costs, operational problems and the modifications that must be made for the animals, such as installing food/water troughs and fences. Over the years, though, the verticalization of your business will meet these costs and significantly increase revenue.
Silvopastoral integration systems provide food for people and livestock, timber, firewood, poles and fence posts, fruits and nuts, resins, opportunities for beekeeping and many other benefits. Using trees for timber production involves planning and knowing the available options, the amount of labor that is required and/or necessary employee training, expected production, costs and fees, as well as knowing the risks and rewards of the market.
Quality and species affect the price of wood, but harvesting and transportation costs, ease of access throughout the year and production regularity also play a part. Forming an association of small producers may increase the price by making it possible to market more wood and use a portable sawmill to boost the final product’s value.
Producing wood takes time and to achieve maximum benefits, the implemented systems should make use of the trees as much as possible, such as for protection from wind and shade. Excessive shading on forage grasses can reduce the production of dry matter. Pruning and thinning the trees will maintain the forage grasses’ productivity and even generate direct (sale of struts and poles) or indirect income (use on the farm).
SOESP ADVANCED in ICLF Systems
SOESP ADVANCED seeds facilitate planting no matter what seeding machine is used. This allows forages to be combined with annual crops or included in crop rotation, thereby reducing costs, while increasing uniformity and the system’s overall efficiency.
Treating the seeds with insecticides and fungicides encourages their establishment and benefits the subsequent growth of the pasture by preventing diseases and pest attacks.
Benefits of ICLF
- Improves the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil by increasing organic matter and nutrient cycling, as well as controlling erosion.
- Breaks the cycle of diseases, pests and weeds which reduces pesticide use.
- Increases productivity during dry spells, when coupled with proper soil fertility management and direct seeding of ground cover.
- The shade of the trees increases the livestock’s quality of life during the hot months.
- By using natural resources efficiently and increasing productivity, ICLF decreases the pressure to farm new ground.
- Reduces methane emissions per kilogram of beef produced and increases carbon sequestration in the soil. This improves the public image of farmers in our eco-conscious society.
- Agricultural diversification reduces economic risks and increases the production of fiber, biofuels and biomass.
- Improves the quality of life for the farmer/rancher, his family and workers by increasing social inclusion, generating employment, enhancing income in rural areas and encouraging professional development.
Integrated farming is one of the commitments ratified by Brazil’s Climate Change Policy and further consolidated by the Low-Carbon Agriculture Program (ABC). According to researchers, ICLF has the potential to sequester large amounts of carbon in the soil through forage and forest biomass, as well as the accumulation of organic matter in the soil. These benefits would reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere.
Integrated farming is being implemented throughout Brazil, especially in the Midwest and South. Approximately 1.6 to 2 million hectares of land are currently being used in different forms of ICLF. SOESP has had the pleasure of participating in about 20% of these endeavors by selling 450,000 hectares worth of Brachiaria Ruziziensis seeds for integrated farming during the 2014/2015 season.
Within the next 20 years, ICLF may be implemented on an additional 20 million hectares. If this is the case, the production of grains and forest products will double, while livestock production triples. Developing an agroecosystem such as this imitates natural ecosystems and therefore becomes stable and diverse.
BALBINO, L.C.; BARCELLOS, A.O.; STONE, L. F. Marco referencial: integração lavoura-pecuária-floresta. Brasília: Embrapa, 2011.
BALBINO, L.C.; BARCELLOS, A.O.; STONE, L.F. Point of reference: Crop-Livestock-Forest Integration. Brasília: Embrapa, 2011.
BRASIL. Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento. Plano setorial de mitigação e de adaptação às mudanças climáticas para a consolidação de uma economia de baixa emissão de carbono na agricultura: plano ABC (Agricultura de Baixa Emissão de Carbono) /Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento, Ministério do Desenvolvimento Agrário, coordenação da Casa Civil da Presidência da República. – Brasília: MAPA/ACS, 2012.
BRAZIL. Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply. Sectoral plan to mitigate and adapt to climate changes for the consolidation of a low-carbon economy in agriculture: ABC plan ( Low-Carbon Agriculture)/ Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply, Ministry of Rural Development, coordinated by the Civil Office of the Presidency of the Republic . - Brasília : MAPA/ ACS 2012 .