Bhardwaj, A. K., T. Zenone, P. Jasrotia, G. P. Robertson, J. Chen, and S. K. Hamilton. 2011. Water and energy footprints of bioenergy crop production on marginal lands. Global Change Biology-Bioenergy 3:208-222.
Water and energy demands associated with bioenergy crop production on marginal lands are inextricably linked with land quality and land use history. To illustrate the effect of land marginality on bioenergy crop yield and associated water and energy footprints, we analyzed seven large-scale sites (9–21 ha) converted from either Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) or conventional agricultural land use to no-till soybean for biofuel production. Unmanaged CRP grassland at the same location was used as a reference site. Sites were rated using a land marginality index (LMI) based on land capability classes, slope, soil erodibility, soil hydraulic conductivity, and soil tolerance factors extracted from a soil survey (SSURGO) database. Principal components analysis was used to develop a soil quality index (SQI) for the study sites based on 12 soil physical and chemical properties. The water and energy footprints on these sites were estimated using eddy-covariance flux techniques. Aboveground net primary productivity was inversely related to LMI and positively related to SQI. Water and energy footprints increased with LMI and decreased with SQI. The water footprints for grain, biomass and energy production were higher on lands converted from agricultural land use compared with those converted from the CRP land. The sites which were previously in the CRP had higher SQI than those under agricultural land use, showing that land management affects water footprints through soil quality effects. The analysis of biophysical characteristics of the sites in relation to water and energy use suggests that crops and management systems similar to CRP grasslands may provide a potential strategy to grow biofuels that would minimize environmental degradation while improving the productivity of marginal lands.
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