Integrated Livestock in Fruit and Vegetable Production
Livestock have been integrated into crop production systems for much of agriculture’s history, providing fertility, weed and pest control, and residue breakdown. Livestock can also provide an additional revenue stream for farmers, creating cash flow year round or providing income in the years before a perennial crop starts producing. Livestock, however, can also introduce sources of contamination, creating food safety concerns, especially for farmers growing crops that are eaten fresh, like many fruits and vegetables. Other challenges for integrated systems include crop and infrastructure damage, as well as livestock predation.
Research Impact Statement
WARC’s Integrated Livestock research and education project investigates the effects of livestock grazing on food safety, weed control, and soil health for fruit and vegetable farms. Through research trials and producer input, we are compiling applicable information to guide Montana farmers in making low-risk and profitable decisions about integrated management systems. We hope to help Montana fruit and vegetable producers access market opportunities, improve farm efficiency, and diversify enterprises to better weather the challenges of modern agriculture.
Click through the links below to find further details on the following topics related to this research:
Field research began in the spring of 2019, providing the first year of data exploring the impacts of integrated livestock on soil health, weed and pest pressure, crop production, and food safety within orchard production systems. We replicated the study with three batches of broiler chickens within three distinct orchard systems: a mature dessert apple orchard, grazed in the late spring; a mature cider apple orchard, grazed in the early fall; and a high-density cider apple orchard grazed in mid-summer. Livestock were removed from the dessert and mature cider apple orchards more than 90 days before harvest to minimize the risk of manure contaminating fruit. Within the high-density orchard, livestock presence and manure pose no food safety risk until the trees are old enough to bear fruit, so poultry were kept in that orchard until late in the growing season to maximize weed and pest control benefits.
Our research thus far has measured the effects of poultry and manure using spring soil testing, annual leaf tissue analysis, and pathogen testing during harvest season. Weed and pest counts in livestock and control plots were recorded multiple times over the course of the season to track pressure on the trees. Within new cider orchards, trunk width and height are measured annually to track growth, death, and damage relative to treatment type. To provide growers with financial comparisons of integrated livestock and standard production practices, we’ve recorded all costs and revenues of the livestock enterprise to compare with expenses for the control plots. As we find trends over the three seasons of research, this information will help growers determine whether integrated livestock can offer savings in labor, input costs, or resource consumption within their production systems.
If you are a producer who incorporates integrated systems on your farm, we would love
to hear from you! We have put together a short survey that will help us to focus our
research efforts based on the needs of Montana producers. Participate in the survey.
If you have any questions or other feedback, please contact Amy Hutton.