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Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems achieve comparable crop yields to specialized systems: a meta-analysis


Peterson, Caitlin; Deiss, Leonardo; Gaudin, Amelie (2020), Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems achieve comparable crop yields to specialized systems: a meta-analysis, Dryad, Dataset,


Production systems that feature temporal and spatial integration of crop and livestock enterprises, also known as integrated crop-livestock systems (ICLS), have the potential to intensify production on cultivated lands and foster resilience to the effects of climate change without proportional increases in environmental impacts. Yet, crop production outcomes following livestock grazing across environments and management scenarios remain uncertain and a potential barrier to adoption, as producers worry about the effects of livestock activity on the agronomic quality of their land. To determine likely production outcomes across ICLS and to identify the most important moderating variables governing those outcomes, we performed a meta-analysis of 66 studies comparing crop yields in ICLS to yields in unintegrated controls across 3 continents, 12 crops, and 4 livestock species. We found that annual cash crops in ICLS averaged similar yields (-7% to +2%) to crops in comparable unintegrated systems. The exception was dual-purpose crops (crops managed simultaneously for grazing and grain production), which yielded 20% less on average than single-purpose crops in the studies examined. When dual-purpose cropping systems were excluded from the analysis, crops in ICLS yielded more than in unintegrated systems in loamy soils and achieved equal yields in most other settings, suggesting that areas of intermediate soil texture may represent a “sweet-spot” for ICLS implementation. This meta-analysis represents the first quantitative synthesis of the crop production outcomes of ICLS and demonstrates the need for further investigation into the conditions and management scenarios under which ICLS can be successfully implemented.


We conducted a comprehensive literature search using three academic databases (Web of Science, CAB Abstracts, and Agricola) and the Google Scholar internet search engine in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The most recent database search was conducted in September 2018. We gleaned further records from the reference lists of review articles and research articles meeting the initial eligibility criteria. Targeted searches of governmental and independent agricultural research organizations were also performed in countries where medium-to-large scale, commercially oriented ICLS are known to occur. Finally, we performed a manual search of the grey literature including theses and dissertations and data from long-term experiments, both published and unpublished, in consultation with prominent integrated crop-livestock system researchers.

No prior review protocol existed for this study. The following search terms were employed for abstracts, titles, and keywords: (crop-livestock AND yield) NOT mixed); (“crop-livestock” AND integ*) OR “integração lavoura-pecuária" OR "integración agropecuaria”; "crop-livestock" AND yield; (crop*livestock OR crop OR livestock) AND (French OR France) AND yield AND graz*; (crop*livestock OR crop OR livestock) AND (Spain OR Spanish OR “Latin America” OR “South America”) AND yield AND graz*; intégration ("polyculture-élevage" OR polyculture OR élevage OR agriculture) rendement pâturage expérimental -arbres. Search results were deduplicated and restricted to full-text journal articles. Google Scholar results were additionally restricted to the years 2008-2018 due to the volume of results; other databases were searched for the full range of available years.

A total of 2,702 studies were identified from the database searches, unpublished dissertations, reference lists of eligible studies and literature reviews, and long-term datasets provided by ICLS researchers (Fig 1). The initial screening process involved manual scanning of titles and abstracts for clear instances of ineligibility, e.g. wrong field of study, wrong scope, wrong subject, or wrong language. A total of 2,569 records were excluded in the initial screening process, leaving the full text of 133 articles to be assessed in greater detail based on the following eligibility criteria:

  1. Study scope was restricted to agropastoral systems with annual crops. Duck-rice-azolla, agro-silvo-pastoral systems, and systems integrating livestock with perennial crops were excluded;
  2. Study involved a replicated field trial with both an integrated system (grazed treatment) and an unintegrated control (ungrazed treatment) and included at least one season each of the cropping component and the grazing component;
  3. Crops and livestock were co-located, i.e. spatially integrated at the field level. Cut-and-carry, manure amendments, or farm-level mixed systems were excluded due to disparities in system objectives and constraints as well as difficulties in determining adequate experimental controls for farm-level integration;
  4. Study was original research, dataset, or dissertation, i.e. not a review, book chapter, or conference proceeding.

Data on categorical environmental moderating variables were also collected for each study. Studies were grouped into climate and soil classes according to the Köppen climate classifications, which were extracted from the updated world map of the Köppen-Geiger climate , and soil texture characteristics extracted from the Harmonized World Soil Database v1.2. Additional moderating variables included crop species, livestock species, and the occurrence of dry weather anomalies. The latter was defined as a season during which precipitation accumulation was abnormally low according to specifications set by the authors of the relevant study. Crop species were grouped according to broad agronomic similarities: cereals (corn and sorghum), small grains (wheat, oat, barley, triticale, and rye), fiber (cotton harvested for lint), soybean, other legumes (peanuts and common bean), and oilseeds (canola). For animals, goats and sheep were grouped into small ruminants and beef and dairy cattle were grouped under cattle.


National Science Foundation, Award: 1650042

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Award: CA-D-PLS-2332-352H