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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lincoln, Nebraska » Wheat, Sorghum and Forage Research » Research » Research Project #434099

Research Project: Improving Bioenergy and Forage Plants and Production Systems for the Central U.S.

Location: Wheat, Sorghum and Forage Research

2018 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
The overall objectives of this continuing long-term project are to develop improved perennial grasses, management practices, and technologies for use in grazing lands and biomass energy production systems in the central USA. Over the next five years, the following specific objectives will be addressed. (1) Develop best management practices for Midwest and central Great Plains perennial grass, mixed grass, and grass-legume pastures to increase livestock production, provide biomass feedstocks for bioenergy production, and maintain ecosystem services; (2) Develop new cool- and warm-season grass cultivars and native legume germplasm for Midwest and Great Plains growing conditions; and (3) Identify biomass characteristics that impact conversion efficiency to liquid fuels. Utilize this information to develop improved breeding criteria and improved management practices.

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
Improved perennial grasses and legumes and associated management practices will be developed for use in the Central Great Plains and Midwest for bioenergy production and grazing when grown on land that is unsuitable or marginal for grain crop production. Perennial plant breeding technologies will be used to develop the improved cultivars. Improved management methods will be developed to fully utilize the genetic potential of the new cultivars by enhancing establishment, yields, and utilization by livestock, and all aspects of biomass energy crop production. Basic molecular biology and biochemistry/physiology information will be developed that will improve the breeding and management products. The project is a continuation of a long-term perennial grass project that has plant materials, management, and basic science studies in various stages of development and completion. Research will be conducted on both C3 (cool-season) and C4 (warm-season) grasses because both are needed in the region to maximize the length of the grazing season. Switchgrass, big bluestem, and indiangrass will be the primary C4 species and will be developed for use in both bioenergy and livestock production systems. Smooth and meadow bromegrass and intermediate, tall, and western wheatgrass will be bred for use in cool-season pastures. Native legumes will be enhanced for use with C4 grasses in biomass production systems. Grass technologies from this research when utilized on 6 million hectares in the Midwest could produce biofuels for 15 million cars. Beef production per hectare from pastures with new cultivars and improved management could be improved by 10 to over 25%.

3. Progress Report:
Under the bridging project we are finalizing research from the previous project while preparing research for the newly-submitted project. Both projects have three main research objective areas: 1) agronomy, 2) breeding, and 3) molecular biology/biochemistry. In Objective 1, two long-term studies, one at the plot scale and one at the field scale, are underway, with the field scale study receiving no N application in 2018 to fully-utilize available N in preparation for field treatments in 2019. Biomass will be harvested after killing frost. A multi-location trial in Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Illinois was planted a year early in 2018 to accelerate and expand data collection. In Objective 2, switchgrass and big bluestem populations were advanced in 2018 using new methodologies that improve breeding and selection efficiency and maximize genetic gains. Additional breeding populations of switchgrass and big bluestem are being evaluated for advancement in 2019. In Objective 3, field plots of switchgrass and big bluestem were planted a year early to accelerate quantifying flag leaf responses to N-fertilization at the biochemical and transcriptional level. Laboratory research has been initiated to identify expressed genes from Summer and Kanlow switchgrass that are missing from the switchgrass reference genome.

4. Accomplishments
1. A technique to isolate and analyze microbial communities in perennial grasses. The roles plant and soil microbial communities play in agricultural productivity are becoming increasingly important. However, techniques to analyze these microbial communities are cumbersome and a need exists for a rapid sampling technique for soil and plant tissue for accurate microbiome analyses. ARS scientists at Lincoln, Nebraska developed a video-based tutorial detailing proper excavation and proper plant and soil collection and preparation for DNA extractions. These methods benefit the plant and soil scientists by providing a complete step-by-step process to collect field samples, isolate, extract, quantify, amplify, and sequence DNA, and analyze microbial community diversity and composition in replicated field trials.

Review Publications
Fielder, J.D., Lanzatella, C., Edme, S.J., Palmer, N.A., Sarath, G., Mitchell, R., Tobias, C.M. 2018. Genomic prediction accuracy for switchgrass traits related to bioenergy within differentiated populations. Biomed Central (BMC) Plant Biology. 18:142.

Casler, M.D., Vogel, K.P., Lee, D.K., Mitchell, R., Adler, P.R., Sulc, R., Johnson, K., Kallenbach, R., Boe, A., Moore, K. 2018. 30 years of progress toward increased biomass yield of switchgrass and big bluestem. Crop Science. 58:1242–1254.