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Maize, sweet sorghum, and high biomass sorghum ethanol yield comparison on marginal soils in Midwest USA

Maw, Michael J.W., Houx, James H., Fritschi, Felix B.
Biomass and bioenergy 2017 v.107 pp. 164-171
Glycine max, Sorghum bicolor, Zea mays, biofuels, biomass, brix, climate change, corn, drought, dry matter accumulation, economic feasibility, energy crops, ethanol, feedstocks, grain yield, juices, land management, prices, rain, seed development, soil, soybeans, sweet sorghum, Missouri
Emerging biofuel feedstock systems are well suited for use on less productive marginal soils in the Midwestern USA. The systems could replace commodity crop agriculture that may not be economically feasible on these soils with current input and output prices, and meet a growing renewable energy demand. Three annual bioenergy crops, maize (Zea mays L.), sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench), and high biomass sorghum (HBS) were grown in rotation with soybean (Glycine max L.) for five years on marginal soils at two locations. Maize aboveground dry matter (DM) yield and grain yield, sweet sorghum aboveground DM yield, and juice yield and Brix, and HBS DM yield were evaluated and used to calculate theoretical ethanol yields. Intermittent drought occurred at both sites during three of the five years notably reducing yield; a terminal drought in 2011 reduced sorghum yields and inhibited maize grain development at both sites. Theoretical ethanol yields averaged across years from sweet sorghum and HBS were greater than from maize at both locations, and indicate that sweet sorghum has the greatest yield potential, but HBS yield was the most stable. The central Missouri site maintained greater dry matter yield, and theoretical ethanol yield than the southwestern Missouri site. Due to the occurrence of drought during the study, the findings have relevance for evaluating marginal land management for annual bioenergy crops in differing rainfall patterns with climate change.