“Sustainability is not an end goal,” says Alan Franzluebbers, an ecologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Raleigh, N.C. “It’s a path.”

Farmers’ goals include productivity and profit, but protecting the environment is also important. More are doing that by converting to reduced tillage production practices, Franzluebbers said during a presentation to the annual No-till Oklahoma Conference in Norman.

“Farmers start with no-till systems,” he said. “Then they add cover crops over time to achieve sustainability goals. They need cover crops and a diverse rotation program that provides benefits to the soil and the crops.”

He’s worked with various systems in both North Carolina and previously at the USDA’s Watkinsville, Ga., research center near Athens and the University of Georgia campus. Diverse rotation systems have included corn and wheat with a clover cover crop; cotton, rye and peanuts; integrated crop and livestock systems; and agro-forestry or silva/pasture programs.

He said the climate around Watkinsville often includes water deficits in the summer and surpluses in the winter. He’s worked for several years on the interaction and the effect that livestock grazing on cover crops has on subsequent crop production.