Productivity and nutrient cycling in bioenergy cropping systems

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Heggenstaller, Andrew
Major Professor
Matt Z. Liebman
Robert P. Anex
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The Department of Agronomy seeks to teach the study of the farm-field, its crops, and its science and management. It originally consisted of three sub-departments to do this: Soils, Farm-Crops, and Agricultural Engineering (which became its own department in 1907). Today, the department teaches crop sciences and breeding, soil sciences, meteorology, agroecology, and biotechnology.

The Department of Agronomy was formed in 1902. From 1917 to 1935 it was known as the Department of Farm Crops and Soils.

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  • Department of Farm Crops and Soils (1917–1935)

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One of the greatest obstacles confronting large-scale biomass production for energy applications is the development of cropping systems that balance the need for increased productive capacity with the maintenance of other critical ecosystem functions including nutrient cycling and retention. To address questions of productivity and nutrient dynamics in bioenergy cropping systems, we conducted two sets of field experiments during 2005-2007, investigating annual and perennial cropping systems designed to generate biomass energy feedstocks. In the first experiment we evaluated productivity and crop and soil nutrient dynamics in three prototypical bioenergy double-crop systems, and in a conventionally managed sole-crop corn system. Double-cropping systems included fall-seeded forage triticale (x Triticosecale Wittmack), succeeded by one of three summer-adapted crops: corn (Zea mays L.), sorghum-sudangrass [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench], or sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea L.). Total dry matter production was greater for triticale/corn and triticale/sorghum-sudangrass compared to sole-crop corn. Functional growth analysis revealed that photosynthetic duration was more important than photosynthetic efficiency in determining biomass productivity of sole-crop corn and double-crop triticale/corn, and that greater yield in the tiritcale/corn system was the outcome of photosynthesis occurring over an extended duration. Increased growth duration in double-crop systems was also associated with reductions in potentially leachable soil nitrogen relative to sole-crop corn. However, nutrient removal in harvested biomass was also greater in the double-crop systems, indicating that over the long-term, double-cropping would mandate increased fertilizer inputs. In a second experiment we assessed the effects of N fertilization on biomass and nutrient partitioning between aboveground and belowground crop components, and on carbon storage by four perennial, warm-season grasses: big bluestem (Andropogon geradii Vitman), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), indiangrass [Sorghastrum nutans (L.) Nash], and eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides L.). Generally, the optimum rate of fertilization for biomass yield by the grasses was 140 kg N ha-1. Nitrogen inputs also had pronounced but grass-specific effects on biomass and nutrient partitioning, and on carbon storage. For big bluestem and switchgrass, 140 kg N ha-1. maximized root biomass, favored allocation of nutrients to roots over shoots, and led to net increases in carbon storage over the study duration. In contrast, for indiangrass and eastern gamagrass, root biomass and root nutrient allocation were generally adversely affected by N fertilization and carbon storage increased only with 0 or 65 kg N ha-1. For all grasses, 220 kg N ha -1 tended to shift allocation of nutrients to shoots over roots and resulted in no net increase in carbon storage. Optimal nitrogen management strategies for perennial, warm-season grass energy crops should take into consideration the effects of N on biomass yield as well as factors such as nutrient and carbon balance that will also impact economic feasibility and environmental sustainability.

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Tue Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2008