Iowa State Researchers Earn USDA Grant to Compare Bioenergy Cropping Systems

August 18th, 2011

AMES, Iowa — ISU researchers are comparing the economic potential and environmental impacts of bioenergy cropping systems to help policymakers and producers make informed land management decisions.

The project recently received a three-year, $725,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture - National Institute of Food and Agriculture to compare four feedstock production systems.

"This research will provide a practical framework for answering common questions about alternative cropping systems and their environmental impacts," said Michael Thompson, agronomy professor and one of the project's eight principal investigators.

Feedstock production systems included in the large-scale study are continuous corn, with and without a winter cover crop; reconstructed multispecies prairie plants, with and without fertilizer; and a conventional corn-soybean cash grain system for baseline comparison.

"By studying a range of production systems, we can gain new insights concerning the tradeoffs in optimizing bioenergy production with greenhouse gas emissions and ecosystem health," Thompson said.

Specifically, researchers will be comparing and cataloging each system's potential for:

* biomass production, fossil-fuel replacement, and net energy returns

* reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and increased belowground carbon storage

* maintenance of soil quality and reduction of water-quality impacts of nutrient exports, and

* net economic return to biomass producers and the environment.

"We hypothesize diverse mixtures of perennial plants used as feedstocks could have energy efficiencies comparable to corn-based feedstock production with fewer detrimental impacts to the environment," Thompson said.

Results will be used to make predictions about the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of each feedstock production system on a landscape and regional scale.



Michael Thompson, Agronomy, (515) 294-2415,

Melea Reicks Licht, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications, (515) 294-8892,