Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Biofuel study looks at cost to wildlife and environmental diversity

05.08.2010
AgriLife scientist: 'Time to take the monoculture blinders off'

Whether we can grow bio-energy crops such as switchgrass and forage sorghum isn't the question, said a Texas AgriLife Research scientist.

The question is, where's the nitrogen going to come from to grow these crops and how much is it going to add to the cost of the end product, said Dr. Gerald Smith, AgriLife Research legume breeder based in Overton.

And there also are hidden costs, such as the effect of fencerow-to-fencerow crops on wildlife and biodiversity, he said.

"It's time to take the monoculture blinders off," Smith said.

Smith and a team of scientists based at Texas AgriLife Research and Extension centers at Overton, Beeville, Beaumont, Stephenville, Vernon and Lubbock are looking at various cropping systems to solve both problems -- the cost of nitrogen and ways to preserve habitat for valued species such as the whitetailed deer.

"We don't know the long-term future of cellulose bio-fuel crops, but we want to be ready in Texas to grow them if they prove lucrative," he said. "And we want to preserve our wildlife while we do so."

Smith and other Overton forage and livestock researchers have worked with legumes for livestock systems specifically for East Texas and the southern U.S. for years. Smith, a legume breeder, has developed numerous varieties bred for improving winter grazing, including Apache Arrowleaf Clover and Rio Verde lablab, a new forage and seed crop for Texas.

But this study is one of the more complicated that he's been involved with, he said, as it tries to look at the interactions in the big picture, not just what is happening in the hay pasture or wildlife food plot.

"We know we can use legumes as a source of nitrogen," Smith said. "We have a couple of different kinds that we have worked with here that we know will work in these soils. But now we want to look at sustainable production of cellulosic biomass with attention to natural resource conservation and wildlife stewardship. It's a different ball game. There's a lot we need to learn."

Smith and the team know that both cool-season legumes like clovers and warm-season legumes such as cowpeas can bring a lot of nitrogen in a cropping system. They even have a pretty good idea of how much nitrogen, in terms of pounds per acre, different varieties under various cropping systems can add to the soil.

Any type of plant other than a legume quickly exhausts nitrogen reserves in the soil and has to have some source of nitrogen, either from commercial fertilizer made from fossil fuels or animal waste such as composted chicken litter. The cost of producing and hauling the litter to the field can be a limiting factor on economical crop production, particularly in the southern region, where nitrogen is more quickly leached from sandy, acidic and weathered soils, Smith said.

"We have known this for a long time," Smith said. "But there's a lot of things we don't know. We also want to be able to match that or complement the use of the fertilization nitrogen with the nitrogen that we are gaining from the legumes. If we have to apply nitrogen (as well) through commercial fertilizer or manure, we want to make sure the plant that we are applying it for uses it very efficiently."

For example, though it's known how much nitrogen a legume fixes in the soil, it's not known how much will be made available to a crop such as a high-biomass sorghum. And if commercial fertilizer or manure has to be added to the system, it is not known when can it be added so that the legume won't over-compete with the biomass crop for space and nutrients.

And there are questions about the effect on wildlife. In previous studies, Smith and Dr. Billy Higginbotham, Texas AgriLife Extension Service wildlife specialist, have established the most attractive legume mix for whitetailed deer food plots. But they don't know how deer will adapt to various cropping systems where legumes are intercropped with high-biomass sorghum.

"There are a lot of questions," Smith said. "Can we make the system more efficient by using multiple sources of legumes and a really low rate of fertilizer, or is it more efficient to maybe even skip a year of application of fertilizer? Is it more efficient to grow cowpeas one year and the high bio-mass sorghum the next year?”

There are also questions about what happens in a drought, in terms of crop survival and nitrogen usage, he said.

All these questions make for a very complicated research design. And in Texas, one size or design doesn't fit all, Smith said.

For example, from eastern to the western limits of northern Texas, average annual rainfall varies greatly. In Longview, it is about 46 inches. In Lubbock, 450 miles to the west, it is less than 19 inches, he said.

"Obviously such a gradient will dictate differing specifics such as farming systems, appropriate legumes, adapted cellulosic biomass species and targeted wildlife such as whitetailed deer, quail and turkey," Smith said.

Soils and other environmental aspects also differ widely from border to border. In northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma, soils are sandy and low in plant nutrients and nitrogen costs for pastures or any crop will be high.

At the Overton site, tests will examine how legumes fit into any forage production system for grazing or biofuel feedstock. Smith and Higginbotham will give special attention to the effect on whitetailed deer grazing using automatic cameras, Smith said.

In Central Texas, near the Stephenville, dryland trials will examine biomass production from native, warm-season perennial grasses grown with native warm-season annual legumes and naturalized annual cool-season legumes. The tests will look at carbon sequestration, soil organic matter and nitrogen levels on different soils over several years.

At Vernon, team members will work with annual medics and alfalfa, both legumes, to reduce nitrogen fertilization on perennial cool-season and warm-season grasses.

At Beeville, about 70 miles north of Corpus Christi, annual precipitation is about 32 inches and temperature varies from 42 degrees in January to 95 in August. Team members will look at multi-year and multi-location cellulose yields of native, warm season perennial grasses fertilized with native warm-season annual legumes.

Despite the different cropping systems, it's important to remember that sites will evaluate adapted legumes as nitrogen-source crops for cellulosic biomass production systems, Smith said.

Robert Burns | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.tamu.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Alkaline soil, sensible sensor
03.08.2017 | American Society of Agronomy

nachricht New 3-D model predicts best planting practices for farmers
26.06.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>