Ensuring Environmentally Sustainable Production of Dedicated Biomass Feedstocks
Ensuring acceptance of dedicated biomass feedstocks by landowners, agricultural communities, environmental and public interest groups, requires that the environmental benefits, concerns, and risks associated with their production be quantified. Establishment and management measures to benefit soil and water quality are being identified by ongoing research. Field studies are showing that nutrients are retained within the rooting zone of dedicated feedstocks, subsurface herbicide transport does not occur, and off-site chemical transport is minimal compared with traditional agricultural crops. The amounts and timing of fertilizer application were critical to minimizing off-site transport of nutrients. Maintaining soil cover decreased runoff, sediment losses, and nutrient transport compared with traditional agricultural crops. Conversion of traditional croplands to biomass and no-till crop production improved soil quality and soil carbon storage. Subsurface nutrient losses were less from biomass crops than adjacent natural forests or agricultural crops in Minnesota. Data across the spectrum of climates and soils from North to South show initial gains in soil carbon are greater at shallow depths (0- 10 cm) and in lower organic soils. Addressing environmental questions across planting scales and documenting changes in soil and water quality with biomass crop production on former agricultural lands is critical to identifying production options to (1) maximize environmental quality, (2) minimize environmental risks, and (3) ensure economic benefits for growers.