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Comparison of corn and switchgrass on marginal soils for bioenergy

Varvel, G.E., Vogel, K.P., Mitchell, R.B., Follett, R.F., Kimble, J.M.
Biomass and bioenergy 2008 v.32 no.1 pp. 18
bioenergy, corn, Zea mays, Panicum virgatum, crop residues, no-tillage, field experimentation, corn stover, grain yield, ethanol production, cropping systems, nitrogen, soil fertility, dryland farming, Nebraska
Crop residues such as corn (Zea mays L.) stover are viewed as an abundant and inexpensive source of biomass that can be removed from fields to produce bioenergy. Assumptions include that with minimum or no-tillage farming methods, there will be no deleterious production or environmental effects. A long-term field study was established in eastern Nebraska, USA, to compare the switchgrass managed as a biomass energy crop versus no-till corn on a non-irrigated site, marginal for row-crop production, in the western Corn Belt. Our objective in this paper is to report on corn stover removal effects on corn grain yields and potential ethanol production in both cropping systems. Corn, under no-till management, and switchgrass were grown at three N fertilizer levels. In the first 5 years (2001-2005), removal of half the available stover significantly reduced corn yields. During that same time period, the potential ethanol yield for switchgrass was equal to or greater than the potential total ethanol yield of corn grain and harvested stover fertilized at the same optimum N rate. The effect of crop residue removal on crop productivity needs to be investigated in other agro-ecosystems and the potential use of dedicated perennial biomass energy crops should remain a viable renewable energy option on non-irrigated marginal croplands.