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Perennial warm-season grasses for producing biofuel and enhancing soil properties: an alternative to corn residue removal
- Blanco-Canqui, Humberto, Mitchell, Robert B., Jin, Virginia L., Schmer, Marty R., Eskridge, Kent M.
- Global change biology 2017 v.9 no.9 pp. 1510-1521
- Andropogon gerardii, Bouteloua curtipendula, Panicum virgatum, Sorghastrum nutans, Zea mays, aggregate stability, biofuels, biomass, corn, crop residues, ecosystem services, feedstocks, fuel production, no-tillage, nutrients, perennials, plant available water, rainfed farming, silty clay loam soils, soil compaction, soil depth, soil ecosystems, soil fertility, soil hydraulic properties, soil organic carbon, warm season grasses, water erosion, wind erosion, Nebraska
- Removal of corn (Zea mays L.) residues at high rates for biofuel and other off-farm uses may negatively impact soil and the environment in the long term. Biomass removal from perennial warm-season grasses (WSGs) grown in marginally productive lands could be an alternative to corn residue removal as biofuel feedstocks while controlling water and wind erosion, sequestering carbon (C), cycling water and nutrients, and enhancing other soil ecosystem services. We compared wind and water erosion potential, soil compaction, soil hydraulic properties, soil organic C (SOC), and soil fertility between biomass removal from WSGs and corn residue removal from rainfed no-till continuous corn on a marginally productive site on a silty clay loam in eastern Nebraska after 2 and 3 years of management. The field-scale treatments were as follows: (i) switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), (ii) big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii Vitman), and (iii) low-diversity grass mixture [big bluestem, indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans (L.) Nash), and sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula (Michx.) Torr.)], and (iv) 50% corn residue removal with three replications. Across years, corn residue removal increased wind-erodible fraction from 41% to 86% and reduced wet aggregate stability from 1.70 to 1.15 mm compared with WSGs in the upper 7.5 cm soil depth. Corn residue removal also reduced water retention by 15% between -33 and -300 kPa potentials and plant-available water by 25% in the upper 7.5 cm soil depth. However, corn residue removal did not affect final water infiltration, SOC concentration, soil fertility, and other properties. Overall, corn residue removal increases erosion potential and reduces water retention shortly after removal, suggesting that biomass removal from perennial WSGs is a desirable alternative to corn residue removal for biofuel production and maintenance of soil ecosystem services.