Integrated Agricultural Practices and Engineering Technologies Enhance Synergies of Food-Energy-Water Systems in Corn Belt Watersheds

Shaobin Li, Ximing Cai, Sundar Niroula, Kevin Wallington, Benjamin M. Gramig, Roland D. Cusick, Vijay Singh, Gregory McIsaac, Seojeong Oh, Chinmay Kurambhatti, Seyed Aryan Emaminejad, Steve John

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Interconnected food, energy, water systems (FEWS) require systems level understanding to design efficient and effective management strategies and policies that address potentially competing challenges of production and environmental quality. Adoption of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) can reduce nonpoint source phosphorus (P) loads, but there are also opportunities to recover P from point sources, which could also reduce demand for mineral P fertilizer derived from declining geologic reserves. Here, we apply the Integrated Technology-Environment-Economics Model to investigate the consequences of watershed-scale portfolios of agricultural BMPs and environmental and biological technologies (EBTs) for co-benefits of FEWS in Corn Belt watersheds. Via a pilot study with a representative agro-industrial watershed with high P and nitrogen discharge, we show achieving the nutrient reduction goals in the watershed; BMP-only portfolios require extensive and costly land-use change (19% of agricultural land) to perennial energy grasses, while portfolios combining BMPs and EBTs can improve water quality while recovering P from corn biorefineries and wastewater streams with only 4% agricultural land-use change. The potential amount of P recovered from EBTs is estimated as 2 times as much as the agronomic P requirement in the watershed, showing the promise of the P circular economy. These findings inform solution development based on the combination of agricultural BMPs and EBTs for the cobenefits of FEWS in Corn Belt watersheds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9194-9203
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number25
StatePublished - Jun 27 2023


  • Environmental benefit
  • FEW nexus
  • Phosphorus recovery
  • Trade-offs and synergies
  • Watershed approach

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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