Reduced nitrogen losses after conversion of row crop agriculture to perennial biofuel crops

Candice M. Smith, Mark B. David, Corey A. Mitchell, Michael D. Masters, Kristina J. Anderson-Teixeira, Carl J. Bernacchi, Evan H. DeLucia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Current biofuel feedstock crops such as corn lead to large environmental losses of N through nitrate leaching and N2O emissions; second-generation cellulosic crops have the potential to reduce these N losses. We measured N losses and cycling in establishing miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L. fertilized with 56 kg N ha-1 yr-1), and mixed prairie, along with a corn (Zea mays L.)-corn-soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] rotation (corn fertilized at 168-202 kg N ha-1). Nitrous oxide emissions, soil N mineralization, mid-profile nitrate leaching, and tile flow and nitrate concentrations were measured. Perennial crops quickly reduced nitrate leaching at a 50-cm soil depth as well as concentrations and loads from the tile systems (year 1 tile nitrate concentrations of 10-15 mg N L-1 declined significantly by year 4 in all perennial crops to <0.6 mg N L-1, with losses of <0.8 kg N ha-1 yr-1). Nitrous oxide emissions were 2.2 to 7.7 kg N ha-1 yr-1 in the corn-corn-soybean rotation but were <1.0 kg N ha-1 yr-1 by year 4 in the perennial crops. Overall N balances (atmospheric deposition + fertilization + soybean N2 fixation - harvest, leaching losses, and N2O emissions) were positive for corn and soybean (22 kg N ha-1 yr-1) as well as switchgrass (9.7 kg N ha-1 yr-1) but were -18 and -29 kg N h-1 yr-1 for prairie and miscanthus, respectively. Our results demonstrate rapid tightening of the N cycle as perennial biofuel crops established on a rich Mollisol soil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-228
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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