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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Research Project #433947

Research Project: Reconciling Economic and Biophysical Perspectives on Marginal Land for Sustainable Bioenergy Crop Production

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Project Number: 8070-21000-010-005-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Oct 1, 2017
End Date: Mar 31, 2021

Creation of a unified marginal lands atlas, identifying the underlying biophysical drivers of areas that are biophysically marginal, ecologically marginal, or economically marginal, and highlighting those most appropriate for conversion to dedicated bioenergy crops. Rigorous evaluation and demonstration of the ability of a process-based ecosystem model (DayCent) to represent perennial grass yield response across gradients of land quality. Identification of regionally-specific cost-GHG-water tradeoffs based on generalization of representative case studies. Evaluation of the implications of bioenergy technology diffusion on system viability and land quality.

Identify low productivity, and ecologically and economically marginal lands using the National Land Cover Database, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and Bioenergy Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) geospatial layers and characterize these marginal lands by intersecting with soils, Enhanced vegetation index (EVI), and other geospatial layers across a biophysical and climatic gradient, to develop perennial grass yield maps for the US. These maps will be used to calibrate DayCent for the ecosystem service tradeoff analysis to optimize placement of bioenergy crops in the landscape. Region-specific enterprise budgets for the dedicated bioenergy crops and displaced agricultural activities will be developed to better understand the stability of the landscape results relative key economic drivers such as price, yield, and input assumptions. Bioenergy landscape design case studies will be selected in different regions in order to gain additional insight into how design tradeoffs are affected by climatic and landscape factors. Case study selections will focus on regions with large areas of marginal land, and will be informed by second-generation cellulosic biorefinery and BCAP project area locations. These additional case studies will all consider switchgrass, a model biomass crop with wide geographic viability, in order to keep the focus on landscape and land quality effects. Optimization will then be further expanded to consider the potential for marginal land remediation and productivity feedbacks associated with soil organic matter enhancement. These scenarios will incorporate additional behavioral constraints associated with technology diffusion in the context of energy crop deployment and bioenergy co-product soil amendment use, developed in conjunction with the economic assessment team.