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Open AccessArticle

Opportunities for Energy Crop Production Based on Subfield Scale Distribution of Profitability

1
Biofuels and Renewable Energy Technologies Department, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, ID 83415, USA
2
Environmental Engineering and Technology Department, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, ID 83415, USA
3
AgSolver, Inc., Ames, IA 50010, USA
4
National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Ames, IA 50011, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Energies 2014, 7(10), 6509-6526; https://doi.org/10.3390/en7106509
Received: 14 May 2014 / Revised: 19 September 2014 / Accepted: 29 September 2014 / Published: 13 October 2014
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Renewable Energy for Agriculture)
Incorporation of dedicated herbaceous energy crops into row crop landscapes is a promising means to supply an expanding biofuel industry while benefiting soil and water quality and increasing biodiversity. Despite these positive traits, energy crops remain largely unaccepted due to concerns over their practicality and cost of implementation. This paper presents a case study for Hardin County, Iowa, to demonstrate how subfield decision making can be used to target candidate areas for conversion to energy crop production. Estimates of variability in row crop production at a subfield level are used to model the economic performance of corn (Zea mays L.) grain and the environmental impacts of corn stover collection using the Landscape Environmental Analysis Framework (LEAF). The strategy used in the case study integrates switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) into subfield landscape positions where corn grain is modeled to return a net economic loss. Results show that switchgrass integration has the potential to increase sustainable biomass production from 48% to 99% (depending on the rigor of conservation practices applied to corn stover collection), while also improving field level profitability of corn. Candidate land area is highly sensitive to grain price (0.18 to 0.26 $·kg−1) and dependent on the acceptable subfield net loss for corn production (ranging from 0 to −1000 $·ha−1) and the ability of switchgrass production to meet or exceed this return. This work presents the case that switchgrass may be economically incorporated into row crop landscapes when management decisions are applied at a subfield scale within field areas modeled to have a negative net profit with current management practices. View Full-Text
Keywords: biomass; subfield management; switchgrass; corn stover; Landscape Environmental Assessment Framework (LEAF) biomass; subfield management; switchgrass; corn stover; Landscape Environmental Assessment Framework (LEAF)
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Bonner, I.J.; Cafferty, K.G.; Muth, D.J., Jr.; Tomer, M.D.; James, D.E.; Porter, S.A.; Karlen, D.L. Opportunities for Energy Crop Production Based on Subfield Scale Distribution of Profitability. Energies 2014, 7, 6509-6526.

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