Dedicated Bioenergy Crops and Water Erosion

J Environ Qual. 2019 Mar;48(2):485-492. doi: 10.2134/jeq2018.10.0380.


Information on the water quality impact of perennial warm-season grasses (WSGs) when grown in marginal lands as dedicated energy crops is limited. We studied how WSGs affected runoff, sediment, and nutrient losses and related near-surface soil properties to those of no-till corn ( L.) on an eroded soil in southwestern Iowa and a center pivot corner in east-central Nebraska. The experiment at the eroded soil was established in 2012, and treatments included 'Liberty' switchgrass ( L.) and no-till continuous corn. The experiment at the pivot corner was established in 2013 with 'Liberty' switchgrass, 'Shawnee' switchgrass, low-diversity grass mixture, and corn. We simulated rainfall at 63.5 ± 2.8 mm h for 1 h to portray 5-yr return periods and measured water erosion in spring 2017. Time to runoff start and runoff depth did not differ between WSGs and corn. On the eroded soil, sediment and nutrient losses did not differ between treatments. At the pivot corner, sediment (0.71 vs. 0.15 Mg ha) and PO-P (0.037 vs. 0.006 kg ha) losses were five times higher in corn than in WSGs. Near-surface soil properties did not differ on the eroded soil, but at the pivot corner, wet aggregate stability was four times higher and residue cover was 34% higher in WSGs than in corn. Water-stable aggregates were negatively correlated with NO-N and PO-P losses. Overall, WSGs can improve water quality in marginally productive croplands, but their effectiveness appears to be site specific.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Biodegradation, Environmental*
  • Crops, Agricultural
  • Geological Phenomena*
  • Nebraska
  • Nitrogen / analysis
  • Non-Point Source Pollution / prevention & control*
  • Phosphorus / analysis
  • Soil
  • Zea mays


  • Soil
  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen