Integrated farming is when crop production and livestock management systems are combined in a series of circular and sustainable processes resulting in a highly efficient farm. In order to optimize their operations integrated farms can also incorporate aspects of energy efficiency, crop health and protection, crop nutrition, soil management, nature conservation, water protection, air quality, human capital, waste management and pollution control.
There are three primary aims of integrated farming:
Farming activity in any given region ends up having an impact on the local environment. Integrated farming should be designed with the surrounding region in mind. Each unit should be designed with the aim of maintaining and enhancing the region’s local biodiversity. There should be an emphasis on soil fertility and water conservation. Additionally, integrated farming units should be designed to continuously provide a wide range of food as well as fiber and renewable materials all year round. Below are some common practices and characteristics of integrated farms.
1. Units are separated
Livestock should be maintained in a separate part of the farm, such as pastures, corrals, or barns. Pastures should be located on parts of the farm which are never cropped. Supplemental forage crops should be grown on other areas of the farm. Manure from livestock enclosures should be collected and applied to crop and forage fields, or added to compost pits.
2. Units are rotated
The land used to for livestock cultivation and crop cultivation should be rotated periodically. Livestock waste and activities such as trampling, grazing and pecking enriches the soil quality. Rotating livestock and farming units periodically decreases the pressure from any given field and spreads nutrients and activity across the entire farm.
3. The farms are a closed loop
Every process should take part, or all, of its inputs from another process on the farm and pass its byproducts on to the next process. In this way, a properly calibrated integrated farm will be a closed loop – with very few inputs required from the outside world.
Benefits of Integrated Farming
Integrated crop and livestock systems have been recognized to be able to:
A good integrated farming setup should incorporate nutrient cycling, which occurs when nutrition is cycled across livestock and crop produce. Animals recycle nutrients contained in forage and feed and make them available in their excreta, becoming part of the on-farm nutrient cycle. Relative quantities of phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium vary considerably among species, depending on the foraging preferences of the livestock as well as the feed the farmer chooses to provide. Excreta from rotationally managed animals is dumped directly into pasture ﬁelds that are later planted with seasonal crops. Rotational systems of integrated farming have the potential to contribute signiﬁcantly to soil nutrition and to plant health.
Properly managed, livestock waste can provide the soil organic matter, macronutrient, and trace mineral needs of the soil. Therefore, decreasing the need for external inputs of purchased fertilizer.
Integrated farming can be used to manage weed and pest populations both by the direct effects of livestock feeding habits and by the indirect effects of pasture on weed and pest populations. Poultry, for example, eat weeds and can therefore be used either before crops are planted to clean farms or during crop growth as herb grazers. Reducing farm weeds can, in turn, be correlated to significantly higher crop yields.
Additionally, weeds are suppressed indirectly by the effect of crops planted for foraging. Several studies conducted in Canada in the last decade found that forage plants were as effective as chemical herbicides for control of farm weeds.
In terms of mollusk and arthropod pest control, some livestock, especially poultry, often feed directly on pest species while others, such as cattle, can modify pest habitats enough to mitigate population growth. Animal assisted pest management allows farmers to decrease the need for external inputs of pesticides or the introduction of other pest-control measures.
The use of carnivorous ducks helps reduce snail populations to manageable sizes. Free-range chickens are good at significantly reducing Japanese beetle populations through predation. In some cases of integration farming, cattle grazing has successfully managed to reduce pest grasshopper outbreaks. Cattle compete with grasshoppers for food and alter vegetation and soil, making conditions inhospitable to grasshoppers.
A properly designed integrated farm imitates nature’s principles. At our units, we have increased farm productivity by recycling water and essential nutrients across various subsystems. By designing our facilities to use the latest integrated systems, processes and technologies we have significantly lowered the use of water and space while maintaining high quality and nutrient-dense produce.