Bioenergy and Diversity from Sustainable Systems and Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $138,638.35
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Sarah Carlson
Practical Farmers of Iowa
Dr. Rick Exner
Practical Farmers of iowa

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, oats, soybeans


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, continuous cropping, nutrient cycling, application rate management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, youth education
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, energy conservation/efficiency, energy use, wind power
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, nutrient mineralization, soil microbiology, soil chemistry, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    The project will bring sustainable agriculture further into the public discussion of energy options by demonstrating a basic, practical cropping system that uses a fraction of the energy inputs as continuous corn and provides a net energy output that can be essentially the same while also supporting a diversity of farm enterprises.

    The project will additionally bring the producer community direct experience with a number of bioenergy crops and farm-scale technologies. We will collaborate with one teaching institution, Dordt College, that prepare young people for farming and will now collaborate with Iowa State University through research being conducted on one of the research farms. We will utilize the on-farm research network of the nonprofit Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI). Dordt college will implement, side-by-side in replicated blocks, a continuous-corn system and a three-year "gateway to sustainability" rotation of corn, soybeans, and a winter-or-spring small grain/forage with legume underseeding. Interns at Dordt will document the environmental impact, energetics, and economics of these systems and be communicators to their classmates and to external audiences such as FFA. PFI farmers will demonstrate elements of these systems as well as other energy crops and technologies. The Iowa Energy Center will offer technical expertise to interns and be invited to cost-share and participate in field days and workshops.
    PFI will also collaborate with a continuing rotation study through work with Drs. Matt Liebman and Craig Chase. The Marsden Farm study since 2003 has been comparing environmental, economic and production differences among three rotations: corn-soybean; corn-soybean-spring small grain + red clover; and corn-soybean-spring small grain + 2 years of alfalfa. PFI will work with Dr. Craig Chase to add the energetic comparison to this current study and Rich Schuler, a PFI consultant will sync the data with the energetic comparisons on the Dordt data.

    In the short term, audiences will know there are immediate farm-scale bioenergy options. Intermediate-term, producers and future farmers will know sustainable agriculture is essential to energy independence, and they will be better prepared to make informed energy choices for their farms and communities. We will track progress toward these objectives with event participant evaluations and with pre- and post-testing of college and high school students. The primary audience is farmers and future farmers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Farmers, future farmers, and other students: familiar with techniques and technologies now and near-term to increase energy independence. Farmers, future farmers, other students, and others with interest in agriculture: understand the connection between sustainable energy and sustainable agriculture.

    Farmers and others: make informed choices that sustain the environment and are profitable in light of energy costs and their effects on agriculture commodity prices. Young people enter farming and other agriculture careers knowing how sustainable systems can support both farmers and global energy and environmental priorities.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.