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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Soil, Water & Air Resources Research

Title: Landscape management for sustainable supplies of bioenergy feedstock and enhanced soil quality

item Karlen, Douglas - Doug
item Muth, Jr., David

Submitted to: Agrociencia
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/7/2012
Publication Date: 12/16/2013
Citation: Karlen, D.L., Muth, Jr., D.J. 2013. Landscape management for sustainable supplies of bioenergy feedstock and enhanced soil quality. Agrociencia. 17(2):121-130.

Interpretive Summary: Sustainable feedstock (crop residue or dedicated energy crops) production is needed to provide biomass for conversion into bioenergy or other bio-products and to preserve and improve soil quality. This study demonstrates the conceptual impact of using landscape management principles to increase the amount of feedstock that could be harvested in a sustainable manner. The results confirm that the "residue tool," which was developed to help guide producers as they make decisions regarding the amount of crop residue or dedicated bioenergy crop that can be harvested without damaging soil and water resources, does help increase the projected amount of feedstock that can be harvested without having negative consequences. The results will be useful for conservationists, scientists, and those striving to establish a sustainable bioenergy industry in the U.S. and around the world.

Technical Abstract: Agriculture can simultaneously address global food, feed, fiber, and energy challenges, provided our soil, water, and air resources are not compromised in doing so. As we embark on the 19th Triennial Conference of the International Soil and Tillage Research Organization (ISTRO), I am pleased to proclaim that our members are well poised to lead these endeavors because of our comprehensive understanding of soil, water, agricultural and bio-systems engineering processes. The concept of landscape management, as an approach for integrating multiple bioenergy feedstock sources, including biomass residuals, into current crop production systems, is used as the focal point to show how these ever-increasing global challenges can be met in a sustainable manner. Starting with the 2005 Billion Ton Study (BTS) goals, research and technology transfer activities leading to the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Revised Billion Ton Study (BT2), and development of a residue management tool to guide sustainable crop residue harvest, will be reviewed. Multi-location USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Renewable Energy Assessment Project (REAP) team research and on-going partnerships between public and private sector groups will be shared to show the development of landscape management strategies that can simultaneously address the multiple factors that must be balanced to meet the global challenges. Effective landscape management strategies recognize the importance of nature’s diversity and strive to emulate those conditions to sustain multiple critical ecosystem services. To illustrate those services, the soil quality impact of harvesting crop residues are presented to show how careful, comprehensive monitoring of soil, water and air resources must be an integral part of sustainable bioenergy feedstock production systems. Preliminary analyses suggest that to sustain soil resources within the U.S. Corn Belt, corn (Zea mays L.) stover should not be harvested if average grain yields are less than 11 Mg ha-1 (175 bu ac-1) unless more intensive landscape management practices are implemented. Furthermore, although non-irrigated corn grain yields east and west of the primary Corn Belt may not consistently achieve the 11 Mg ha-1 yield levels, corn can still be part of an overall landscape approach for sustainable feedstock production. Another option for producers with consistently high yields (> 12.6 Mg ha-1 or 200 bu ac-1) that may enable them to sustainably harvest even more stover is to decrease their tillage intensity which will reduce fuel use, preserve rhizosphere carbon, and/or help maintain soil structure and soil quality benefits often attributed to no-till production systems. In conclusion, I challenge all ISTRO scientists to critically ask if your research is contributing to improved soil and crop management strategies that effectively address the complexity associated with sustainable food, feed, fiber and fuel production throughout the world.

Last Modified: 08/17/2017
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