Energetics of a sustainable crop-livestock system
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This study compares the energy utilization of two systems for producing cattle of desirable slaughter weight and grade from weanlings. Both systems produce beef cattle as a primary output; various types of baled hay are produced as a secondary output. One system uses generally accepted, "best management practices" while the other uses experimental, sustainable agriculture techniques. Since the adoption of new practices in agriculture often hinges on economics, an economic comparison is also presented.Beef produced in the sustainable system required 32% less energy per kilogram than that produced in the conventional system. However, baled alfalfa produced in the sustainable system required 8% more energy per kilogram than the alfalfa grown in the conventional system. When all types of hay were considered, the sustainable system used 7% more energy to produce one kilogram of baled hay. To compare the energetics of the two systems on a whole farm basis, the amount of energy required to produce one dollar of return was calculated. The sustainable system required 12.4 megajoules to produce one dollar of return, while the conventional system required 17.1 megajoules to produce the same return. Although economic returns on beef and alfalfa production were comparable in the two systems studied, the conventional system showed greater returns on the whole farm, due to a greater export of baled hay.
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