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Local Context: The Story of a Lake Construction of Lake Decatur was linked to a business decision that changed the Midwest agricultural landscape. A. E.

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Presentation on theme: "Local Context: The Story of a Lake Construction of Lake Decatur was linked to a business decision that changed the Midwest agricultural landscape. A. E."— Presentation transcript:

1 Local Context: The Story of a Lake Construction of Lake Decatur was linked to a business decision that changed the Midwest agricultural landscape. A. E. Staley wanted to expand his companys grain processing operations in Decatur. The City Council agreed to build a new dam on the Sangamon River to provide water for Staleys mills and a growing city. Construction started in That same year, Staley announced plans for the first soybean crushing plant in Illinois. He went on to become a cheerleader for the new crop. National context: Cellulosic biomass, Gulf hypoxia, and climate change Corn-based ethanol, pioneered in Decatur by the Archer Daniels Midland Company, made agriculture a source of renewable energy. Intensive corn production has significant environmental impacts. One notable example is that nitrogen and phosphorus lost from tile-drained corn fields contributes to hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. The 2007 Federal Energy Act mandates dramatically increased production of advanced biofuels made from cellulosic renewable biomass. If implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard leads to more perennial crops on the agricultural landscape, the outcomes could be to increase soil carbon and reduce erosion; improve water quality, biodiversity, and wildlife habitat; and generally make agriculture more resilient and sustainable. Perennial biomass crops are the only source of renewable energy that can provide these environmental goods. However, since current energy policy does not mandate or incentivize use of perennial biomass crops, it is widely assumed that corn stover will be the main cellulosic biofuel feedstock in Corn Belt states. The Local Bioenergy Initiative – Overview Vision Statement Make the Lake Decatur Watershed a national showcase for perennial crops grown for both renewable energy & enhanced water quality. Sustainable Decatur Plan – Year 2020 Targets: 10,000 acres of perennial energy crops 75,000 tons/year of biomass used or exported 1. Outreach & Assistance to Early Adopters AWI and University of Illinois maintain energy grass small plots on the grounds of the Farm Progress Show. Every other year when this major farm show is held in Decatur, we host an Energy Grass Education Area with plots, exhibits, and equipment displays. 2. The Challenge of Market Development A local stakeholder learning group convened by AWI in concluded that making grass pellets for residential heating or co-firing biomass with coal in industrial boilers was not economically viable without significant incentives to make perennial biomass price competitive with fossil fuels. The Local Bioenergy Initiative is demonstrating production, processing, and use of perennial grasses for heating on a small scale in order to learn lessons that can be applied when economic conditions for scale-up are in place. 3. Multifunctional agricultural landscapes Introduction of perennial biomass crops in corn-soybean watersheds like the Upper Sangamon offers great opportunities to apply and evaluate the Green Lands Blue Waters (GLBW) vision for multifunctional agriculture. So far, the Local Bioenergy Initiative has provided incentives and technical assistance for 10 energy grass plots totaling about 50 acres, excluding the Farm Progress Show and Caterpillar demonstration plots. Most producers are not interested in planting energy crops until they know there will be a market. systems. Transformational Change: Perennial Biomass, Clean Water, & Wildlife The Local Bioenergy Initiative is advancing AWIs vision of the Lake Decatur watershed as a laboratory in which to study and demonstrate continuous living cover systems. Scientists sometimes approach AWI, or vice versa, about collaborative research in the watershed. Several such projects are underway or have pending proposals. The city-farm partnership and the extensive data record from Illinois State Water Survey monitoring are big pluses. AWI, ISWS, and the Macon and Champaign County SWCDs are conducting a project, with Illinois EPA and City of Decatur funding, to develop Total Maximum Daily Load implementation plans for nutrients in two Lake Decatur subwatersheds. Perennial crops and cover crops are among the scenarios being modeled by ISWS. It is good to remind ourselves that cropping patterns have changed over the past century and may be about to change again. Climate change, the shift from fossil fuels to renewables, and Gulf hypoxia may represent drivers of change on a par with the introduction of inorganic fertilizer after World War II. If so, there is a window of opportunity to make sure we are moving toward greater sustainability and resilience. GLBW envisions a transition to a more sustainable Midwestern landscape as a new generation of multifunctional agricultural systems, including more continuous living cover, gain acceptance. Perennial biomass crops used for animal feed, renewable energy, or bio-based products can play an important role in making this vision a reality. Current farm and energy policies may actually discourage adoption of perennial biomass crops. For example, crop insurance may result in floodprone or poorly drained acreage remaining in annual crops instead of being converted to perennials that can thrive in wet conditions. On the energy side, perhaps Renewable Fuel Standard regulations could do more to incentivize perennials managed to provide clean water and wildlife habitat in addition to bioenergy feedstock. Incentives to Lake Decatur watershed producers funded by the City of Decatur are in effect green payments for source water protection. To achieve the transformational potential of perennial biomass on a large scale, policies are needed to incentivize their environmental benefits The Heart of the Sangamon Ecosystem Partnership includes: City of Decatur, Macon County Conservation District, Macon, Piatt, and Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Agricultural Watershed Institute, University of Illinois Extension, Macon and Piatt County Farm Bureaus, Sanitary District of Decatur, Prairie Rivers Network, Decatur Audubon Society, Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy, Allerton Park, Millikin University, Illinois State Water Survey Additional participants in the Local Bioenergy Initiative: Cooperating producers & landowners, Illinois Biomass Working Group, Caterpillar Inc., ADM, Eastern Illinois University, FDC Enterprises, Chip Energy, Energy Biosciences Institute, Argonne National Laboratory, Richland Community College Funding: City of Decatur, Walton Family Foundation, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency ______________________________________________________ Opinions, findings, conclusions, and recommendations expressed herein are those of the author and may not reflect the views of partner organizations and funders. The Local Bioenergy Initiative: Perennial Biomass Crops in the Lake Decatur Watershed Perennial grasses for bioenergy, forage, and clean water in a tile-drained landscape Stephen F. John – Agricultural Watershed Institute Despite generally flat topography in the 925 square mile watershed, it soon became apparent that soil erosion was choking waterways and filling Lake Decatur with sediment. Soil conservationists hired by the City helped to establish Soil & Water Districts in the counties of the Lake Decatur watershed. In 1949, University of Illinois Extension published a booklet titled The Story of a Lake that used Lake Decatur as a case study to drive home the importance of soil conservation. The authors urged farmers to put into crop production only land that can be safely used for that purpose and leave the rest for hay, pasture, and timber. But about that time, production of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer was beginning to make it possible to grow corn without relying on livestock to provide manure. By 1970, hay and small grains were mostly gone and the local landscape was dominated by corn and soybeans. Today. about 87% of the watershed area is in these two crops. Decatur has provided watershed conservation funding to Macon County SWCD since the mid- 1980s. In 2003, the Agricultural Watershed Institute (AWI) was formed to conduct research and education on practices to address problems found in the Upper Sangamon and throughout the Midwest. Continuous living cover, with an emphasis on perennial biomass crops, is a watershed protection strategy of AWI and our partners. The advice offered by Extension scientists more than 60 years ago is relevant, and even innovative, today. Elements of the Initiative: 1.Outreach and technical/financial assistance to farmers & landowners 2.Collaborate with public, private, and nonprofit sector partners to develop markets for perennial biomass 3.Develop and demonstrate landscape design concepts for coproduction of biomass and environmental benefits, especially water quality Perennial biomass crops: Switchgrass, Miscanthus, or other grass monocultures Native warm season grass mixes Native grass/forb polycultures Willows and other Short Rotation Coppice trees. Field days and small mammal studies are conducted on the site. During the drought of 2012, switchgrass was harvested for hay. Plans are being made to harvest biomass for use in bioenergy demonstrations. Extension educators, SWCDs, and AWI provide technical assistance to early adopters. As funding permits, financial incentives are offered. A few on-farm energy grass plots have been planted with assistance designed to be comparable to the initial and annual payments in USDAs Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). AWI partners with Caterpillar Inc. for 65 acres of Prairie for Bioenergy plots on company land near its Decatur facility. Plots range from switchgrass monoculture to a 33 species prairie polyculture When small, affordable pellet mills and heating appliances designed for grass biomass are readily available, Local Bioenergy systems comparable to Local Food systems can support more sustainable communities.. A Community Supported Energy farmer could grow energy grasses and make pellets or briquettes for home/farm heating. AWI has cost-shared installation of grass-burning heating units for two homes and one farm building. Stakeholder networks including the Illinois Biomass Working Group are working to overcome barriers to help grass energy get past the chicken-and- egg problem. There are also larger potential markets. For example, Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, IL, replaced its old coal-fired heating plant with a Renewable Energy Center that is initially burning wood chips. EIU is working with a bioenergy logistics company and AWI on steps toward testing a grasswood blend. With no bioenergy market yet in place, we started encouraging producers to consider harvesting their plots as warm season forage. At our 2013 field days, we began offering assistance and incentives for perennial crops, including alfalfa, planted for forage plus water quality benefits. Plans are proceeding for forage crops to be planted in at least two locations in The 27-acre sloping site shown here is expected to be planted mainly in alfalfa, with warm season prairie grasses in swales and floodprone areas. Forage may be a transitional use until bioenergy markets develop. Or it may be the best use for these crops. Either way, such sites will create opportunities for on-farm studies of the economic and environmental outcomes of multifunctional perennial cropping Printed by Green Lands Blue Waters


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