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College of Veterinary Medicine

Sustainable Crop-Livestock Summit


Collectively, K-State has the expertise, experience, culture of multidisciplinary working, and the federal and industry partnerships to address some of the biggest challenges facing the development and implementation of science-based policies for sustainable crop-livestock systems.

Recognizing this potential, on 9 January 2017 faculty from the colleges of agriculture, engineering and veterinary medicine convened with a professional facilitator and experts from the World Bank and USAID Sustainable Innovation Lab for Livestock (University of Florida) to discuss the broad scientific needs and to identify areas of work which would improve the contribution of crop-livestock systems to sustainable food delivery.

The afternoon began with presentations from two Sustainable Crop-Livestock Systems experts, followed by small group discussions and meeting outputs. The results of these activities are described below.


Pierre Gerber (Senior Livestock Specialist at the World Bank)

Crop-livestock systems are ‘farming systems that to some degree integrate crop and livestock production activities as to gain benefits from the resulting crop-livestock interactions’. Current global trends show - an overall increase in the numbers of livestock; increased and more intensive use of limited land resources; scaling up of livestock systems; geographical concentration. The food system is part of the climate change problem with an estimated 13% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to agriculture and a further 11% related to land use change. If current trends continue and if action is not taken to limit GHG emissions from agriculture, projections suggest that by 2050 agriculture and land use changes will contribute 70% of total GHG emissions globally. Agriculture will need to reduce its emission intensity by 60% to maintain its current footprint. Livestock contributes to all 15 of the UNSDGs. Livestock and crop production has become highly geographically concentrated and on a global level the two sectors are dislocated. Crop-livestock systems have potential to be effective (supplying required goods in a safe and robust manner); efficient (minimize resource use and noxious emissions); socially adequate (suit societal and ethical expectations). A drive to achieve sustainability provides benefits for both the public and private sectors. Broad research needs at global level include:

-Broad picture: modelling of inputs and outputs of crop-livestock systems

-Systems level: reconnecting dislocated crop and livestock productions systems (manure, crops, residues, food by-products and waster products)

-Technology adoption and effectiveness: developing metrics for assessment of sustainability and for benchmarking; and determining the drivers of practice change and innovation

-Field and animal level: crop breeding for edible residues; rapid assessment of manure content; manure processing, crop residues management


Marjatta Eilitta (Deputy Director USAID Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems, University of Florida)

The lab aims for sustainable improvements in productivity, health, marketing and consumption to alleviate poverty and improve nutrition of vulnerable livestock holders in target countries which include Burkina Faso, Niger, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Nepal and Cambodia. In West Africa crop and livestock systems are becoming more intensive and specialized (with variable integration) to match increased demand resulting from rapid population growth. Availability/cost/safety/quality of feed is a key driver for livestock systems in all countries.

Research priorities include:

  • Feed: synergies/tradeoffs, evaluation, variety development, increasing productivity, processing, conservation, feed markets – and incentives
  • Rangeland improvement and management – including policies
  • Disease impacts from changing systems
  • Understanding and developing markets for livestock products (milk, meat)

Group exercise and meeting outputs

Faculty (n=68) were divided into 10 tables, each of which had a similar multidisciplinary profile (soil science, water science, animal production, crops, climate, epidemiology, infectious diseases, and bio-engineering). With the help of an external facilitator the groups discussed and responded to the following 3 questions:

Question 1 - If we were to hold a Symposium in the fall of 2018, what could we hope to achieve? And what topics should be covered?

Question 2 - What strengths does K-State have to offer for making advances in sustainable crop-livestock systems?

Question 3 - Taking into account global priorities, what research idea, that requires a multi-disciplinary effort, could be pursued because it addresses a serious research gap in terms of sustainable crop-livestock system needs?

Although the questions had a specific context the answers could be interpreted to provide 3 levels of information - 1) the core strengths of K-State which could facilitate the delivery of science to improve the sustainability of crop-livestock systems, 2) the baseline knowledge/tools needed to further develop a sustainable crop-livestock systems initiative, 3) ideas for research projects to improve the contribution of crop-livestock systems to sustainable food delivery.

Group responses indicated that:

1. The strengths of K-State included:

  • Comprehensive expertise and experience in basic and applied field research which is relevant to sustainable crop-livestock systems
  • A culture of collaborative multidisciplinary synergistic working
  • Administrative infrastructure to support the management of large national and international projects
  • Access to unique state of the art research facilities
  • Proximity (in Kansas) to diverse ecological and agricultural production systems
  • Strong partnerships, including with federal agencies, international organizations, industry (agricultural, pharmaceutical, feed and producers), other educational and research institutes (nationally and internationally)

2. Baseline knowledge/tools included:

  • A common understanding of sustainability in the context of crop-livestock systems
  • A set of metrics to measure the ‘sustainability’ of crop-livestock systems
  • Shared experience of current ‘best’ and ‘worst’ practices in crop-livestock systems
  • Research priorities (gaps in knowledge) to inform more sustainable approaches to crop-livestock systems
  • An assessment of factors (technical, political, economic) that challenge the implementation of sustainable crop-livestock systems and policies
  • An understanding of stakeholders views and needs (stakeholder consultation)
  • Transdisciplinary methods to address sustainability of crop-livestock systems
  • A framework for bringing natural and social scientists together to combine technology development and adoption
  • Facilitated exchanges on sustainable crop-livestock systems for multidisciplinary groups
  • Engagement of donors/funding sources

3. Ideas for research projects included (3 categories):

• Developing metrics to measure the sustainability of crop-livestock systems

• Improving efficiency and effectiveness of sustainable crop-livestock systems:

o Optimize production potential of crop-livestock systems
o Reduce yield gaps and post-harvest losses (including maximizing the use of food waste)
o Identify and understand the microbiome throughout the entire production system (with a view to finding a relationship between soil health and animal health)
o Genetic modification and other genetic solutions for disease resistance
o Assess new crops in specific ecosystems (including their impact on wildlife)
o Assess and demonstrate the sustainability of different crop-livestock systems in various ecosystems and geographical settings, including:

- Based on models, design and implement pilot crop livestock systems in different settings and measure sustainability factors
- Assess the adaptation of crop-livestock systems to changing ecosystems (climate, emerging and endemic diseases, soil, surface water, peri-urban settings)
- Assess the impact of production system changes on disease epidemiology
- Develop demonstration/research farms with local educational institutions to define crop/livestock challenges to specific regions and demonstrate solutions to improve sustainability, economic conditions, and productivity

o Improved nutrition of humans and livestock based on local available food and feed
o Integrate different objectives for manure management
o Assess methods for translating science into policy for sustainable crop-livestock systems

• Capacity development (technology, training) to support sustainable crop-livestock systems

o Sustainable integrative epidemiology and diagnostic laboratory adaptable to multiple settings for multiple uses (food safety, zoonotic disease, toxins, plant diseases)
o Develop educational tools for specific stakeholder communities
o Resilience of crops, humans and livestock to climate change


  1. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Sustainable Development Platform. Sustainable Development Goals [cited 2017 Jan 16] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300  
  2. United States of America International Development (USAID). Sustainable Agriculture. [cited 2017 jan16] https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/agriculture-and-food-security/investing-sustainable-agriculture
  3. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Tackling Climate Change through Livestock. FAO, Rome 2013
  4. Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock [cited 16 Jan 2016] http://www.livestockdialogue.org/