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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: MANAGING FARMS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP AND PROFIT

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Title: Producing biofuel crops: environmental and economic implications and strategies

Author
item Veith, Tameria

Submitted to: Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Congress Proceedings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: August 26, 2011
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: An interpretive summary is not required.

Technical Abstract: The growing need for sustainable fuel sources must become compatible with the continued need for food by an ever increasing world population and the effects of climate change on ability to produce food and biofuel. Growing more hectares of biofuel crops such as corn increases sediment and nutrient losses to downstream waterbodies and can remove highly productive cropland from use as human food or livestock feed. However, growing native grasses, such as switchgrass, on marginal soils and in highly erosive areas, such as steep slopes and river banks, can provide biofuel feedstock while reducing soil and nutrient losses and can provide additional benefits such as wildlife habitat and streambank stabilization. Additionally, when a crop farmer switches from growing corn grain for livestock feed to corn for biofuel, less grain is available for purchase by livestock farmers and prices increase. This forces livestock farmers to change management practices and perhaps grow more grain. However, this often involves incorporating marginal lands or reducing rotations, which can lead to decreases in crop yield and soil quality. Management practices that build up soil quality, such as manure incorporation, cover cropping, and reduced tillage can help offset the impacts of more intensive farming. These and practices such as precision feeding and forage management can help improve downstream water quality, reduce air emissions, and decrease imported nutrients and chemicals. At the watershed and community level, it is important to prioritize improved management efforts and associated moneys on the locations most at risk for environmental degredation. It is also critical to distribute land use in a manner that best supports the biofuel and feed needs of the region. As climate gradually shifts, this distribution and interaction will need to be periodically reevaluated.

Last Modified: 7/23/2014
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