Ecological Intensification of Grazing Dairy and Beef Systems in Uruguay

V. Picasso, Eduardo Llanos, P.D. Modernel Hristoff, G. Becona, Carolina Lizarralde, Laura Astigarraga

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


A major challenge for current and future agroecosystems is to address the needs for global demand for food while protecting biodiversity and providing ecosystem services. Ecological intensification is a new paradigm within agroecology which seeks to redesign agroecosystems based on the utilization of ecological processes, by increasing reliance on biodiversity, attaining greater resource use efficiency and reducing the need for external inputs. Dairy and beef systems on the native grasslands in southern South America have historically produced animal proteins with little external inputs. Recent intensification of these systems based on increased use of grain in diets, and therefore more fertilizers, pesticides, and fossil energy has produced several negative environmental impacts, including increased soil erosion, water pollution, energy use, and biodiversity loss. The aim of this study was to identify ecological intensification strategies for grazing dairy and beef systems using case studies from Uruguay. Production and environmental indicators were assessed for 29 dairy farms, 20 cow-calf beef farms, and 5 finishing beef farms in Uruguay, using a partial life cycle assessment. Dairy farms with a higher proportion of pasture consumption, achieved higher efficiency of utilization of feed concentrates and thus used less fossil energy and achieved better economic outcome. Cow-calf farms which optimized the stocking rate and forage production achieved higher beef productivity and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Finishing beef farms based on native grasslands or improved pastures achieved improved environmental performance, although trade off exist between different environmental indicators. These results suggest that sustainable intensification of grazing livestock systems should rely on efficient utilization of pastures rather than increasing use of external inputs. There is great potential to improve grazing livestock systems productivity while improving ecosystems services provision by improving grazing management of biodiverse grasslands.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventResilience Emerging from Scarcity and Abundance: ASA/CSSA/SSSA Annual Meetings 2016 - Phoenix Convention Center North, Room 231 B, Phoenix, United States
Duration: 6 Nov 20169 Nov 2016


ConferenceResilience Emerging from Scarcity and Abundance
CountryUnited States
Internet address

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