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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Soil, Water & Air Resources Research » Research » Research Project #431959

Research Project: Woody Bioenergy Feedstocks from Marginal Agricultural Lands: Red Cedar Feedstock and Environmental Sustainability

Location: Soil, Water & Air Resources Research

Project Number: 5030-11610-005-70-S
Project Type: Non-Assistance Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Dec 1, 2016
End Date: Apr 30, 2019

Objective:
Complete a field-level financial appraisal to identify the potential profitability of marginal land woody systems.

Approach:
Field-level financial assessments are critical because field/farm financial viability of a particular land use is contingent upon the structure of costs and revenues over time compared to competing land-use options (e.g., short rotation woody crop vs. row-crop options vs. Conservation Reserve Program). Likewise, biomass policy designed to incentivize biomass production regionally such as the USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program needs regionally calibrated production cost and yield information so as to determine appropriate levels of cost-share availability and matched payments. To date, this financial information does not exist. For this financial assessment we will be utilizing discounted cash-flow protocols established for linear tree systems and tree-based bioenergy systems on marginal agricultural lands. Specifically we will estimate potential profitability of various marginal land eastern red cedar systems via the following steps: (i) construct regional capital budgets for the establishment and management of eastern red cedar plantings; and (ii) estimate break-even price curves for biomass over a range of rotation ages and estimated age-dependent yields. As part of this analysis we will develop and make available on-line downloadable spreadsheet based financial decision-support tools for regional landowners and technical service providers. To compliment the financial assessment, we intend to conduct a series of regional online focus groups with farmers in order to better understand the following: 1) views on bioenergy production and use; 2) interest in/questions about biomass production and the use of marginal land; 3) views on the joint production of biomass and environmental outcomes; and 4) desired profitability of biomass systems. A minimum of 6 synchronous (live) online focus groups will take place; we will supplement these events with asynchronous (or passive) sessions by using email and listserves. All of the information gleaned from these sessions will be used to create regional farmer-informed outreach programming. Our data-driven biophysical understanding of regional biomass potential and environmental outcomes combined with our understanding of what farmers need to know regarding these systems will guide a series of outreach webinars geared toward both farmers, technical service providers and natural resource agencies.