FORAGES AND PASTURES SYMPOSIUM: COVER CROPS IN LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION: WHOLE-SYSTEM APPROACH: Managing grazing to restore soil health and farm livelihoods.
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To ensure long-term sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems, agricultural production should be guided by policies to ensure regenerative cropping and grazing management protocols. Changing current unsustainable high-input agricultural practices to low-input practices that regenerate ecosystem function will be necessary for sustainable, resilient agroecosystems. Effective soil management provides the greatest potential for achieving sustainable use of agricultural land with rapidly changing, uncertain and variable climate. With appropriate management of grazing enterprises, soil function can be regenerated to improve essential ecosystem services and farm profitability. Affected ecosystem services include carbon sequestration, water infiltration, soil fertility, nutrient cycling, soil formation, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and increased ecosystem stability and resilience. Collectively, conservation agriculture managed regeneratively supports ecologically healthy, resilient agroecosystems and enhances watershed function. To accomplish this, it is important for scientists to partner with farmers who have improved the environment and excel financially to convert experimental results into sound environmental, social, and economic benefits regionally and globally. Benefits include addressing questions at commercial scale; integrating component science into whole-system responses; identifying emergent properties and unintended consequences; incorporating pro-active management to achieve desired goals under changing circumstances; and including the potential of the human element to achieve superior economic and environmental goals. Developing and implementing regenerative management protocols that include ruminant grazing animals will be necessary to ensure long-term sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems.