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Re-think crop production on marginal lands
Grassland and pastures are smart options for marginal lands, experts say, and can reap more benefits than crop production.
Marginal lands tend to be the riskiest to grow crops on, often due to moisture limitations or overabundance, notes Beef Cattle Research Council’s science director, Reynold Bergen.
They’re also more ecologically sensitive, and no better example of that exists than the 1930s, when a tremendous amount of topsoil and sequestered soil carbon was lost, Bergen explains.
“That’s one example of what can happen when land that is best suited for perennial pasture is converted to crop production,” Bergen says.
Minimum till
While minimum tillage practices have made crop production much more environmentally sustainable, the advantages for marginal land still mostly favour perennial grassland with properly managed grazing, he says.
They allow for the sustainable production of beef protein while building soil, preventing soil and water erosion, maintaining plant, bird, insect and wildlife diversity, and supporting watersheds, Bergen says.
Quantifying the economic differences of production choices is a tall order.
Variation in crop productivity from year-to-year and region-to-region makes it difficult to estimate yields per acre for forage versus annual crops, Bergen says. Further muddying the waters are potential large swings in input costs, as well as crop, forage and cattle prices from year to year.
But Ontario studies prepared by Douglas Yungblut, president of Yungblut & Associates Consulting, give some indications as to the dollars and cents benefits.
Source : FCC