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Developing biobased cropping systems with both water, carbon resiliency


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With a push to the future for farmers to grow renewable energy plants, limited water is a challenge. A Texas A&M AgriLife-led team is addressing that issue by evaluating biobased feedstock cropping systems with both water and carbon resiliency.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Research study will use a combination of feedstock germplasm and field production studies to develop a predictive system to identify the best-performing crops and cropping system for renewable energy and biobased products while maximizing carbon capture and retention in the soil. The study is focused on providing solutions for a sustainable bioeconomy.

“It all links back to climate change and increased carbon emissions,” said Mahendra Bhandari, Ph.D., a remote-sensing crop physiologist and assistant professor at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Corpus Christi. “We are looking for better products and systems that will minimize the use of fertilizers and other inputs to eventually benefit environmental sustainability.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture-funded study titled Bioproducts and Bioenergy from Warm-Season Perennial Grass Feedstock for Low-Input Conditions with Positive Water and Carbon Footprint, includes Bhandari, Jamie Foster, Ph.D., AgriLife Research professor of forage agronomy, Beeville; and Jorge Da Silva, AgriLife Research professor and sugarcane breeder, Weslaco, all within the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; and Hua Li, Ph.D., professor and industrial engineering graduate coordinator, Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

Creating a renewable cropping sequence

The project will screen energy cane, switchgrass and perennial sorghum genotypes for water- and nutrient-use efficiency. The most efficient entries will then be integrated with legume crops to create a cropping system.

The team will concentrate on southern growing regions in Texas and begin planting in August on Texas A&M AgriLife properties near Corpus Christi and Weslaco. Da Silva has a long history of breeding energy canes and has developed some of the energy cane cultivars. He will be evaluating the performance of those cultivars with respect to drought tolerance.

Sugarcane has one of the highest photosynthesis capacities of all plant species on the planet, Da Silva said. Energy cane is a sugarcane-derived crop freed of accumulating sucrose on its stems, so it uses its photosynthesis ability to accumulate fiber instead, resulting in high biomass. It also shows resistance to different stresses, which results in a low-input crop appropriate for this project.