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The Importance of Social Support and Communities of Practice: Farmer Perceptions of the Challenges and Opportunities of Integrated Crop–Livestock Systems on Organically Managed Farms in the Northern U.S.

1
Rodale Institute, 611 Siegfriedale Road, Kutztown, PA 19530, USA
2
Department of Animal Science, University of Minnesota, Haecker Hall, 1364 Eckles Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA
3
Department of Animal Science, West Central Research and Outreach Center, University of Minnesota, 46352 State Highway 329, Morris, MN 56267, USA
4
Departments of Horticulture and Agronomy, Iowa State University, 106 Horticulture Hall, Ames, IA 50011, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2018, 10(12), 4606; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10124606
Received: 17 October 2018 / Revised: 17 November 2018 / Accepted: 2 December 2018 / Published: 5 December 2018
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Abstract

Most U.S. farms today specialize in either crop or livestock production, failing to harness the potential economic and environmental benefits of integrated crop–livestock systems (ICLS). This specialization is particularly contradictory for organic operations, which aim to promote biodiversity and reduce reliance on outside sources of feed and fertility. This study investigated the challenges and opportunities experienced by farmers interested in integrating crops and livestock on organically managed farms in Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. Qualitative methods, including focus groups and interviews, generated four categories of challenges: farming norms, complexity of management, biophysical conditions, and financial costs, and four categories of opportunities: increasing support for ICLS, financial and labor advantages, biophysical improvements, and animal welfare. Discussion of the data analysis demonstrates how most of the challenges of ICLS are mitigated by opportunities. For instance, increasing support for ICLS means there are growing communities of practice in which farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange and peer support overcome obstacles to success in these systems. Unmitigated challenges that are beyond the control of farmers include regional infrastructure, financing and insurance, and long time horizon for returns. These three unmitigated challenges may require interventions such as policy support, economic incentives and social infrastructure to enable successful farm transitions to ICLS in this region. View Full-Text
Keywords: integrated crop–livestock systems (ICLS); best management practices (BMP); farm transitions; organic agriculture; small-scale farms; closed-loop; qualitative methods; barriers to adoption integrated crop–livestock systems (ICLS); best management practices (BMP); farm transitions; organic agriculture; small-scale farms; closed-loop; qualitative methods; barriers to adoption
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Hayden, J.; Rocker, S.; Phillips, H.; Heins, B.; Smith, A.; Delate, K. The Importance of Social Support and Communities of Practice: Farmer Perceptions of the Challenges and Opportunities of Integrated Crop–Livestock Systems on Organically Managed Farms in the Northern U.S.. Sustainability 2018, 10, 4606.

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