By News Release
February 25, 2016 - The USDA’s Farm Service Agency established the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) 30 years ago in an effort to improve water quality, reduce soil erosion, and increase habitat for sensitive wildlife species. The program pays rent to farmers in exchange for land to be taken out of row crop production and planted with species that improve environmental quality.
Thereafter, the land and its cover crop are to be left essentially untouched for the duration of the 10- to 15-year contract. But what if the biomass from CRP land could be harvested as a source for bioenergy? A team led by University of Illinois researchers set out to determine potential biomass yield and economic benefits of using CRP land to meet government mandates for ethanol production.
“In 2008, we started long term research at the field scale. We wanted to estimate CRP biomass yield and best management practices, including nitrogen application rates and harvest timing, to maximize yield,” notes the study’s principal investigator, U of I agronomist D.K. Lee.
Along with collaborators, Lee identified CRP study sites in Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. In each 20-acre research site, nitrogen fertilizer was applied to one acre plots at three rates (0, 50, and 100 lbs per acre). Plots were also harvested at two times: at the peak of biomass production, which differed according to the mixture of species planted at each location; and/or at the end of the growing season, after a killing frost.