An Integrated Landscape Management Approach to Sustainable Bioenergy Production
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Integrated landscape management has emerged in recent years as a methodology to integrate the environmental impacts of various agricultural practices along with yield and profitability in a variety of cropping systems. In this study, the Landscape Environmental Assessment Framework (LEAF), a decision support toolset for use in integrated landscape management and developed at Idaho National Laboratory, was used to evaluate the profitability of grain-producing subfields, to determine the efficacy of sustainably harvesting residual biomass after grain harvest, and to determine the efficacy of integrating bioenergy crops into grain-producing landscapes to enhance farmer profitability. Three bioenergy crops, sorghum, switchgrass, and miscanthus, were integrated into non-profitable subfields in four US counties. The manuscript describes in detail the material and methods used to define crop rotations, land management units and practices, subfield units and productivity, grain profitability, sustainability criteria, energy crop integration, and feedstock cost estimation. With the integration of bioenergy crops, the overall annual biomass production rates in the four counties could be increased by factors ranging from 0.8 to 21, depending on the energy crop and county, over the annual residue biomass production rates. By modeling the harvesting of residual biomass and energy crops using geo-referenced, precision harvesting equipment and optimal harvesting paths on individual subfields, the average logistics costs including harvesting of both residual biomass and energy crops were observed to fall well below US DOE’s 2017 goals for biomass feedstock price of US$84/ton or US$92.6/dry Mg. Miscanthus, grown in counties in Ohio and Kansas, provided the maximum potential, among the three energy crops considered, for increment in biomass production and also posed maximum threat to the grain production. Considerable variability was observed in the harvesting and total costs because of the size, shape, and productivity of individual subfields. It was shown that variability in the harvesting costs could be used to down-select non-profitable farms with low harvesting costs and high residue and bioenergy crop yields and to reduce the negative impacts of bioenergy crop integration into croplands on grain production. The results of the assessment suggest that (1) the potential to produce biomass is considerably enhanced when non-profitable grain-producing subfields are replaced by bioenergy crops and (2) the subfield-scale integrated landscape assessment provides a defensible methodology to directly address individual farmer’s profitability, sustainability, and environmental stewardship.
KeywordsLandscape Environmental Assessment Framework LEAF Biomass Energy crops Switchgrass Miscanthus Feedstock Herbaceous biomass Logistics cost Bioenergy
This work was supported by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Bioenergy Technologies Office, under DOE Idaho Operations Office Contract DE-AC07-05ID14517. Accordingly, the US Government retains a nonexclusive, royalty-free license to publish or reproduce the published form of this contribution, or allow others to do so, for US Government purposes. The authors would also like to acknowledge the analytical support provided by AgSolver to this study.
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