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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Research Project: Great Plains Agroforestry: Evaluation of Bioenergy Feedstock and Carbon Sequestration as Potential Long-term Revenue Streams to Diversify...

Location: Soil, Water & Air Resources Research

2013 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
Evaluate the potential of agroforestry plantings in the Great Plains to provide bio-based feedstock, carbon sequestration, income, and investment opportunities.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
Existing agroforestry plantings (field windbreaks and riparian buffers) in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas will be selected, with two locally-representative multispecies plantings studied per state. A novel technique for estimating aboveground biomass will be tested and used to adjust forest-based biomass estimates from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s COMET-VR carbon calculator for agroforestry (trees in open spaces). Potential carbon sequestration and bioenergy production will be estimated for direct combustion, wood cellulose to ethanol, and fast pyrolysis. Soil samples will be collected in transects across each planting to determine basic soil quality parameters and soil organic carbon. The National Commodity Crop Productivity Index (NCCPI) will be adapted to identify the distribution of soils that are marginal for crop production but suitable for tree growth. Economic assessment will compliment field results with full-cost accounting of potential woody biomass systems. Using regional yield assessments, per ton feedstock break-even points will be calculated to predict minimum gate income for feedstock production. A representative survey of owner/operators of identified marginal land in a case-study region will gauge farmer interests, concerns, and income thresholds. Focus groups and a workshop will provide practical feedback for relevance of data for adoption and practice and education materials content and focus.

3. Progress Report:
This project is under National Program 212 Climate Change, Soils and Emissions as it relates to feedstock production for bioenergy and the associated impacts on soil organic carbon storage. The focus of this research is assessing woody biomass production and soil organic carbon storage in agroforestry practices of the U.S. Great Plains. This project relates to the Maintain and Enhance Soil Resources priority area of NP 212. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 established a Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandating that 136 billion liters of biofuels are to be produced annually in the U.S. by 2022. Of that amount, 60.5 billion liters (44.4%) are to be produced from cellulosic feedstocks. Energy from biomass is an attractive climate change mitigation strategy as, unlike fossil fuels, energy derived from biomass recycles carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere into fuel and may sequester additional carbon in the soil and/or reduce greenhouse gas production providing additional mitigation benefits. There are extensive tree windbreak and riparian buffer plantings in the U.S. Great Plains that have a significant carbon (C) sequestration potential. The objectives of this project are to 1) identify farm operator and land management professional perceptions of agroforestry plantings on marginal lands as a practice for woody biomass production for bioenergy and obstacles for greater adoption of this practice, 2) develop a field-level financial appraisal to identify the potential profitability of various “marginal land woody systems”, 3) utilize an available land productivity interpretation tool to quantify the extent and distribution of marginal agricultural lands in the study area, 4) test and refine current tree biomass estimation equations to improve biomass estimates for trees in agroforestry plantings, and 5) measure soil organic C content beneath existing agroforestry plantings and compare with model predictions to enable regional estimates of potential C sequestration with agroforestry practices. The primary focus of FY13 activity has been on Objective 1. Several focus group meetings are scheduled for late summer 2013 to assess landowner and land management professional perceptions of agroforestry practices and their potential for bioenergy feedstock production. Results of these focus group meetings will influence each of the other objectives by helping refine the scope of the economic and field investigations.

4. Accomplishments

Last Modified: 05/29/2017
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