Multi-year and Multi-site Establishment of the Perennial Biomass Crop Miscanthus × giganteus Using a Staggered Start Design to Elucidate N Response
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Much field research on perennial bioenergy crops confounds effects of plant age with those of the growing season, which increases uncertainty and the potential for erroneous conclusions, particularly in maturing stands. Most studies rely on stands planted in a single year and measured across multiple subsequent seasons. These “single-start” designs lack statistical power to separate temporal from environment effects. We used a staggered start experimental design to learn if increased statistical power clarified understanding of Miscanthus × giganteus nitrogen (N) needs. We conducted a staggered start experiment with three planting years and five N rates during the M. × giganteus yield-building phase at three sites across IA, USA. Third-year yields were 21.0, 25.0, and 27.1 Mg dry matter (DM) ha−1 at the northwest (NW), central, and southeast (SE) sites, respectively. Nitrogen fertilization effects changed with establishment conditions, but not with plant age. At the most N responsive site, N fertilizer changed yields at all stand ages, but not in every year. Yield increases of 150%, 36%, and 40% were observed in 1-, 2-, and 3-year-old stands, respectively, with N addition. Nitrogen effects on 1-year-old stands were positive in SE IA (2.7 kg DM kg−1 N added), negative (− 2.3 kg DM kg−1 N) in NW IA, and variable in central IA (− 2.2–9.6 kg DM kg−1 N), suggesting a site–year-specific response. Yield increases between the first and second years varied by > 100% depending on establishment conditions, highlighting the need for repeated planting before determining economic and agronomic crop viability.
KeywordsBioenergy Perennial grasses Staggered start Replicated planting year Age effect Experimental design Environmental effect
We thank Cathi Hunt, Valeria Cano-Camacho, and Collin De Graff for their help on designing the experiment, data collection, and processing; Lyle Rossiter, Mike Fiscus, Myron Rees, and general staff at the research farms for their support with on-farm management and data collection.
This project was funded by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch grant 1008969; the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; the Iowa Energy Center; the Iowa State University Department of Agronomy; and the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research DE-SC0018420.
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