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Designing Iowa Agricultural Landscapes to Improve Environmental Co-Benefits of Bioenergy Production...

by Esther S Parish, Douglas Karlen, Keith L Kline, Kevin Comer, William Belden
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10051 to 10051

Cellulosic bioenergy feedstocks are needed to improve carbon (C) management while provisioning biomass for bioproducts and biofuel. The transition to increased cellulosic biomass production can be guided by land management plans designed to improve economic, environmental, and ecological performance. We constructed a sustainability model to compare landscape designs for biofuel production from corn (Zea mays L.) stover and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) in central Iowa, USA. We used the model to compare environmental and socioeconomic outcomes associated with four landscape management strategies, with and without cellulosic biomass markets. We evaluated (1) a fuelshed area containing over 1.2 million ha (3 million acres) of corn and soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.) within 80 km (50 miles) of a commercial-scale cellulosic biorefinery in Nevada, Iowa, and (2) the South Fork watershed containing over 72,000 ha (178,000 acres) of these row crops within eight north central Iowa HUC-12 (hydrologic unit code) watersheds. At both landscape scales, we found that it is possible to achieve multiple environmental and socioeconomic benefits concomitantly with cellulosic biomass production by strategically collecting corn stover and converting the 10% of the lowest-profitability row crop land to perennial switchgrass. Potential benefits from landscape design include increased biodiversity, soil and water quality improvements, increased soil carbon sequestration for climate change mitigation, and reduced fertilizer use and cost. Our model results showed that increasing benefits can accrue when complementary conservation practices (e.g., reduced tillage, use of a rye cover crop) are combined and integrated throughout a fuelshed or watershed area. We conclude that ecologically based landscape designs offer valuable insights about costs and benefits of land management alternatives, with relevance for achieving stakeholder goals.