Kevin Kephart, South Dakota State Univ, South Dakota State Univ., Adm 130 Box 2201, Brookings, SD 57007
Many generations of Americans have thrived economically partially because of abundant and affordable food and energy. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, it has become increasingly evident that energy security is a national concern. Many people recognize that agriculture has a role in addressing the nation's projected energy problems. Increased involvement of agriculture in production of non-food products raises many issues that will expand research and education from agronomists and environmental scientists. A joint study by the US Department of Energy and USDA estimates availability of 1.3 billion tons of lignocellulosic feedstocks annually for conversion to energy. Additionally, these resources will be used to produce biobased products such as composites, lubricants, and construction materials. It is expected that biomass feedstock production systems will allow for low cost production and add greater sustainability and reliability to agriculture. Perennial herbaceous species, such as warm-season grasses offer high potential yields of lignocellulosic biomass that can be used in biobased industries, including ethanol and power generation. Feedstock production is expected to be more beneficial to the environment than current agricultural production practices. Other aspects of biomass production are of concern, however. Although perennials offer many advantages over annual crops species, their management is different because stand persistence must be considered with each management decision. In some cases, it may be a mistake to rely on monocultures of perennial species. Investigation of diverse grassland mixtures will be important. The “Billion Ton Report” identifies annual crop residues as the single most abundant lignocellulosic resource currently available. Excessive removal of annual crop residues, however, may have negative impacts on soil quality and production potential. This panel will explore many issues regarding biomass feedstock production and hopefully lead to increased involvement by society members in this critical subject.