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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SOIL CARBON CYCLING, TRACE GAS EMISSION, TILLAGE AND CROP RESIDUE MANAGEMENT

Location: Soil Management Research

Title: A Matter of Balance: Conservation and Renewable Energy

Authors
item JOHNSON, JANE
item Reicosky, Donald
item Allmaras, Raymond
item ARCHER, DAVID
item Wilhelm, Wallace

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: August 8, 2006
Publication Date: August 30, 2006
Repository URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10113/14532
Citation: Johnson, J.M., Reicosky, D.C., Allmaras, R.R., Archer, D.W., Wilhelm, W.W. 2006. A matter of balance: Conservation and renewable energy. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society 61(4):120A-125A.

Interpretive Summary: Two critical questions need to be answered: How much crop biomass is needed to protect and maintain the soil resource, and how much can be harvested for renewable fuel? The carbon captured in crop biomass is useful for nurturing the soil biology, maintaining soil quality and producing bioenergy. The dual needs require a practical compromise between protecting soils' ability to resist erosion, produce food and produce energy. Economics will drive development of biomass for biofuel industries; however, we cannot afford to ignore the long-term costs of environmental degradation, which may be difficult to see and measure. Thus far, society has failed to place economic value on ecosystem services provided by our agricultural watersheds. Competing uses for crop biomass have broad implications related to global climate change, energy conservation, food production and sustained soil quality. We suggest a cautious approach until science-based research provides answers and guidance on the amount of crop biomass that can be removed from fields. Public support is needed to garner the resources and funds to provide land managers, the biomass industry, and action agencies with sound, scientifically based, tested guidelines for sustainable production and harvest of crop biomass within the short timeframe set by DOE for domestic renewable fuels to be a significant contributor to the nation's energy and product supply. Biomass industry and corn producers will benefit from guidelines for harvesting biomass.

Technical Abstract: Two critical questions need to be answered: How much crop biomass is needed to protect and maintain the soil resource and how much can be used as renewable fuel? Through photosynthesis, plants transform carbon dioxide into grain and biomass, which can be used for nurturing the soil biology, maintaining soil properties important in soil quality and producing bioenergy. The competing expectations require a practical compromise of the need for soil conservation and renewable energy production. Economics will drive development of biomass for biofuel industries; however, we cannot afford to overlook the long-term costs of environmental degradation, which are not readily apparent or whose economic impacts are easily quantified. Thus far, society has failed to place economic value on ecosystem services provided by our agricultural watersheds. We suggest a cautious approach to harvesting crop biomass for energy until science-based research provides answers and guidance to the critical questions of how much, when and where to harvest crop biomass. Public support is needed to garner the resources and funds to provide land managers, the biomass industry, and action agencies with sound, scientifically based, tested guidelines for sustainable production and harvest of crop residues. Especially, in light of the short timeframe DOE set for domestic renewable fuels to become a significant contributor to the nation's energy and product supply. As the biomass energy industry develops, we strongly encourage energy conservation to achieve sustainable energy security.

Last Modified: 8/27/2014
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