Great Plains Agroforestry: Evaluation of Bioenergy Feedstock and Carbon Sequestration as Potential Long-term Revenue Streams to Diversify Landowner Income

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $191,212.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: trees


  • Crop Production: windbreaks
  • Education and Training: extension, focus group, networking, workshop
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, feasibility study, agricultural finance, market study, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, afforestation, habitat enhancement, riparian buffers
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, employment opportunities

    Proposal abstract:

    This project will evaluate the potential of agroforestry plantings to provide bio-based feedstock, income, investment, and carbon sequestration opportunities in four Great Plains states. Focus groups and surveys will provide practical feedback on relevance of data for adoption, practices, and education material content and focus. A survey of owner/operators of identified marginal land in a case-study region will gauge farmer interests, concerns, and income thresholds. Using regional yield assessments, per ton feedstock break-even points will be calculated to predict minimum gate income for feedstock production. Economic assessment will be complimented by field results with full-cost accounting of potential woody biomass systems. A crop productivity index will be adapted to identify the distribution of soils that are marginal for crop production but suitable for tree growth. These ratings and results from the focus groups and surveys will be used to identify the most relevant tree species and soils for sampling. Existing agroforestry plantings (field windbreaks and riparian buffers) will be selected for field sampling, with two locally-representative multispecies plantings studied per state. A novel technique for estimating aboveground biomass will be tested and used to adjust forest-based biomass estimates for agroforestry practices using the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s COMET carbon management tool. Soil samples from transects across each planting will be used to quantify potential soil carbon sequestration and soil quality improvements. Assessments of farm operator and resource professional interest, economic analyses, and field measurements will be summarized regarding the potential for cellulosic bioenergy production in the study area.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall project goal is to evaluate the potential of agroforestry plantings in the Great Plains to provide bio-based feedstock, income, investment, and carbon sequestration opportunities. In achieving this goal, the project’s specific objectives are: 1) To identify farm operator and land management professional perceptions of agroforestry plantings on marginal lands as a practice for woody biomass production for bioenergy and obstacles for greater adoption of this practice, 2) develop a field-level financial appraisal to identify the potential profitability of various “marginal land woody systems”, 3) utilize an available land productivity interpretation tool to quantify the extent and distribution of marginal agricultural lands in the study area, 4) test and refine current tree biomass estimation equations to improve biomass estimates for trees in agroforestry plantings, and 5) measure soil organic carbon content beneath existing agroforestry plantings and compare with model predictions to enable regional estimates of potential carbon sequestration with agroforestry practices.

    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.