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Exploring agricultural production systems and their fundamental components with system dynamics modelling

Jeffrey P. Walters, David W. Archer, Gretchen F. Sassenrath, John R. Hendrickson, Jon D. Hanson, John M. Halloran, Peter Vadas, Vladimir J. Alarcon
Ecological modelling 2016 v.333 pp. 51-65
crops, dynamic models, environmental impact, food safety, input costs, issues and policy, livestock, production technology, sustainable agriculture, United States
Agricultural production in the United States is undergoing marked changes due to rapid shifts in consumer demands, input costs, and concerns for food safety and environmental impact. Agricultural production systems are comprised of multidimensional components and drivers that interact in complex ways to influence production sustainability. In a mixed-methods approach, we combine qualitative and quantitative data to develop and simulate a system dynamics model that explores the systemic interaction of these drivers on the economic, environmental and social sustainability of agricultural production. We then use this model to evaluate the role of each driver in determining the differences in sustainability between three distinct production systems: crops only, livestock only, and an integrated crops and livestock system. The result from these modelling efforts found that the greatest potential for sustainability existed with the crops only production system. While this study presents a stand-alone contribution to sector knowledge and practice, it encourages future research in this sector that employs similar systems-based methods to enable more sustainable practices and policies within agricultural production.