A mixed-methods approach to understanding farmer and rancher interest in supplying woody biomass in the U.S. Northern Great Plains
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Bioenergy produced from cellulosic feedstocks could serve as an opportunity to strengthen local and regional economies, reduce fossil fuel energy consumption for transportation or electricity production, and also jointly produce various environmental services. In the U.S. Northern Great Plains, woody bioenergy crops can provide multifunctional benefits while building biomass supply capacity when established within existing farm and ranch systems. Understanding what facilitates or constraints potential biomass suppliers' level of interest in biomass production is essential to fully assess the regional potential of biomass-based bioenergy in the Northern Great Plains. Qualitative data from a regional focus group series illustrates the complexities associated with farmer definitions of marginality, attitudes towards trees and bioenergy production, while also characterizing influences on farmer/rancher interest in woody biomass production. Quantitatively, a region-wide representative survey of farmers and ranchers managing marginal land captures a snapshot of operator interest in woody biomass production. Results indicate that 61% of farmers and ranchers have some degree of interest in woody biomass production, while results from an ordered probit regression further illustrate how farm/ranch system attributes, individual farmer/rancher characteristics, relevant attitudes and knowledge significantly affect interest. Data from both methods allow us to highlight attributes of operators who are most likely to be early adopters of a woody biomass crop, can serve as an input to local or regional assessments of potential for renewable energy production, and have implications for the development of relevant policy initiatives and management practices.