Simulating Potential Switchgrass Production in the United States
Using results from field trials of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) in the United States, the EPIC (Environmental Policy Integrated Climate) process-level agroecosystem model was calibrated, validated, and applied to simulate potential productivity of switchgrass for use as a biofuel feedstock. The model was calibrated with a regional study of 10 yr switchgrass field trials and subsequently tested against a separate compiled dataset of field trials from across the eastern half of the country. An application of the model in a national database using 8-digit watersheds as the primary modeling unit produces 30-yr average switchgrass yield estimates that can be aggregated to 18 major watersheds. The model projects average annual switchgrass productivity of greater than 7 Mg ha-1 in the Upper Mississippi, Lower Mississippi, and Ohio watersheds. The major factors limiting simulated production vary by region; low precipitation is the primary limiting factor across the western half of the country, while moderately acidic soils limit yields on lands east of the Mississippi River. Average projected switchgrass production on all crop land in the continental US is 5.6 Mg h-1. At this level of productivity, 28.6 million hectares of crop land would be required to produce the 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol called for by 2022 in the 2007 Energy Act. The model described here can be applied as a tool to environmental consequences of switchgrass production.