Tuesday, November 3, 2009: 2:45 PM
Convention Center, Room 308, Third Floor
Concerns about the impact of climate change and the longevity of petroleum supplies have generated great interest in the potential of agriculture to serve as a source of renewable energy. Estimating potential bioenergy feedstock production is challenging due to uncertainty about how biomass crops will perform across a wide variety of climates and soils and how ecological, economic, and social factors influence the suitability of land for feedstock production. To this end, our research team is examining the potential for herbaceous and woody biomass production from rural lands in New York State (NY). We are using a combination of geospatial modeling and statistical analysis to estimate the expected yields of feedstocks on NY soils. In addition, data on land use, crop yield trends, and livestock production efficiency are being used to determine how much land might actually be available for bioenergy crops once competing uses are considered. Recent land cover data show that New York had 2.6 million acres of cultivated cropland and 4.5 million acres of hay, pasture, and grassland in 2001. However, much of this land in herbaceous cover is already in use. We estimate that just 0.3 million acres of idle and fallow land on farms and an additional 1.4 million acres outside of farms and not used for horses is available for herbaceous bioenergy production. Cultivated cropland occurs on soils with higher productive potential than does hay, pasture, and grassland . For example, 71% of cultivated cropland has a National Commodity Crop Productivity Index rating of 0.4 or greater, compared to only 59% for other potentially available land. This research highlights the need to better understand competing uses for land and the yields of energy crops produced across large areas before we can make reliable estimates of sustainable feedstock production.