Jayawardena, D. M., G. P. Robertson, G. R. Sanford, and K. D. Thelen. 2023. Comparative productivity of six bioenergy cropping systems on marginal lands in the Great Lakes Region, United States. Agronomy Journal 115:2451-2468.
Growing lignocellulosic crops on marginal lands is a promising solution for sustainable biofuel production. We evaluated the productivity of bioenergy cropping systems (switchgrass [Panicum virgatum L., var. Cave-In-Rock], miscanthus [Miscanthus × giganteus, ‘Illinois clone’], hybrid poplar [Populus nigra × P. maximowiczii A. Henry ‘NM6’], native grasses [five species], early successional vegetation, and restored prairie vs. historical vegetation [as reference control]) with and without nitrogen fertilization on low-fertility former cropland at five sites in the Great Lakes Region, United States. We reported biomass yields for the first 7 years after establishment. Switchgrass was most consistently productive across all sites but miscanthus was more productive at three of the five sites. When averaged across sites, years, and nitrogen (N) treatments, biomass yields followed the order miscanthus > switchgrass > hybrid poplar ≈ native grasses > restored prairie > early successional vegetation ≈ historical vegetation, but varied substantially by crop and site, with a significant crop by site interaction. Yields of miscanthus and switchgrass peaked after four–five growing seasons and declined thereafter, while yields of both native grasses and restored prairie increased throughout 6 years with no sign of follow-on decline, suggesting that polycultures may outperform monocultures over the long term. Yields of early successional vegetation—similar in composition to historical vegetation at each site—did not improve with time. Nitrogen fertilization increased the yields of all cropping systems at all sites. Our results demonstrate the viability of low-productivity former cropland for long-term bioenergy production and suggest there is no single crop best suited for all low fertility soils.
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GLBRC Marginal Land ExperimentGet PDF back to index