Determining spatially varying profit-maximizing management practices for miscanthus and switchgrass production in the rainfed United States

Na Zhang, Bijay P. Sharma, Madhu Khanna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Determining optimal management practices for the profitable production of perennial energy crops is critical for scaling up production beyond experimental levels. Although many experimental field studies have examined the effects of management practices on the performance of miscanthus and switchgrass, there are no recommendations for economically optimal nitrogen (N) application rates and how they should vary spatially and with the age of the energy crop as well as on optimal rotation age of the energy crop to maximize profits. We develop a modeling framework to determine economically optimal crop management decisions and simulate the variability under various scenarios for miscanthus and switchgrass production across 2287 counties in the rainfed United States. We find that profit-maximizing N recommendations for these crops vary across maturity stages and regions and can increase the landowner's profits compared with a uniform N rate across ages and regions. We also find that the optimal rotation for these crops is shorter than the productive physical lifespan (15–20 and 10 years for miscanthus and switchgrass, respectively). Specifically, the N rate that maximizes the economic returns is negligible for miscanthus and 111 kg ha−1 for switchgrass production at age 2. The mean profit-maximizing N rate increases with age for miscanthus, peaking at 151 kg ha−1 at age 11 before declining to 114 kg ha−1 at the optimal rotation age of 13 years while that for switchgrass is 150 kg ha−1 for middle-aged stands and declines to 114 kg ha−1 at the optimal rotation of 8–9 years. We find that miscanthus is the most profitable energy crop in the northern region of the rainfed United States while switchgrass is most profitable in the south of the rainfed United States. Our findings are useful for improving assessments of the profitability of energy crops and guiding future management decisions by landowners.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-282
Number of pages12
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • age
  • miscanthus
  • net present value
  • nitrogen
  • optimal lifespan
  • profit maximization
  • switchgrass
  • yield

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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