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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Evaluation of Perennial Herbaceous Biomass Crops in North Dakota for Production of Ethanol and Other Value-Added Products

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

2013 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
The objective of this cooperative research project is to develop economically and environmentally sustainable uses for North Dakota’s natural resources by comparing the productivity of perennial warm and cool season potential bioenergy grasses at the western edge of the historic switchgrass range. Soil from plots testing 20 different treatments will be analyzed prior to planting and 5 and 10 years after establishment. This project will also educate producers and small communities concerning biomass crops and their economic and natural resource benefits including identifying the most appropriate perennial bioenergy crop(s) for each region and determining the requirements for and economics of establishment, maintenance and harvest and levels of soil carbon storage potential. Finally, data from this project will be used to evaluate the feasibility to provide enough consistent perennial biomass for 10% of the needs of a coal and biomass co-fired power plant.


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
Twenty treatments replicated four times will be established at five North Dakota State University (NDSU)Extension Service Experiment Stations (i.e. Hettinger, Williston, Minot, Streeter, and Carrington) in western and central North Dakota. Treatments include two harvests (annual and biennial) of three individual grass species and six mixes. The individual grass species are two switchgrass cultivars, tall wheatgrass, and intermediate wheatgrass. The mixes include: 1. a CRP mix with tall and intermediate wheatgrass; 2. a CRP mix with tall and intermediate wheatgrass plus alfalfa and sweetclover; 3. switchgrass and tall wheatgrass; 4. switchgrass and big bluestem; 5. switchgrasss and alti wildrye; and 6. alti and basin wildryes. Plots will be established and maintained for 10 years at each location by North Dakota Natural Resources Trust (NDNRT) and NDSU staff. Baseline soil samples were collected prior to grass planting and will be compared to soil samples collected 5 years after establishment and 10 years after establishment. Soil samples will be analyzed by USDA-ARS, Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory scientists for gravimetric water content, soil bulk density, electrical conductivity, soil pH, total carbon and nitrogen, soil inorganic carbon, particulate organic matter, extractable nitrate and phosphorus, glomalin, and water-stable aggregation.


3.Progress Report:

This investigation was done in conjunction with a broader study objective which sought to determine appropriate grass and legume species, harvest methods, and management practices to maintain productive perennial biomass stands in North Dakota. Ten perennial plant species and species combinations, each split by two harvest schedules (annual and biennial), were seeded at all sites in spring 2006. Baseline samples were collected prior to seeding followed by sampling in 2011 and 2016 at the 5- and 10-year marks. Production of perennial herbaceous crops as biofeedstocks had subtle short-term effects on soil properties due to the inherently fertile soil conditions and high within-site variation in soil properties. Data collected in 2011-2012 showed changes in soil properties were most prevalent at the Williston site, where the less fertile sandy soil and high biomass production contributed to increases in SOC, TN, and available P. A site difference was detected for the WSA and BRSP values due to inherent differences in rainfall and soil type across these sites with a greater weight of aggregates in the largest aggregate size class (1-2 mm) while it declined in the two smaller sizes (0.25-1, and 0.053-0.25 mm). Data collected in 2012-2013 is being assessed for glomalin concentrations in each of these aggregate size classes.

Monitoring of performance for this project was conducted by regular teleconferences with the Cooperator’s PI, at project meetings, and in frequent email contacts.


Last Modified: 9/2/2014
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