Research Projects

Switchgrass phenology in Iowa environments.
This study aims to better understnd the growth and phenology of switchgrass varieties, both upland and lowland in Iowa environments. Graduate student, Muhhamad AurangZaib, collected field data during the 2012 and 2013 field season from switchgrass plots in central Iowa at the Sorensen Research Farm in Boone County, IA. Switchgrass phenology data will be used in the "APSIM" model framework to help develop phenology modules for Iowa's environment. In addition, samples will be anlayzed for chemical and quality including sequential fibers (ANKOM Technology), total non-structural carbohydrates, and total C and N to determine quality of biomass for ethanol production.


Kenaf quality.
This study will begin in spring/summer of 2014. Graduate student, Marie Bourguignon, will be working with Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus), an annual, non-native, fiber crop mostly used in the textile and paper industry. The study will be designed to investigate feedstock composition responses to N, row spacing, seedling rate, and planting date. Kenaf has the potential to be used a a multi-purpose non-food crop. In addition to biomass composition, samples will also be analyzed in the thermochemical process, fast-pyrolysis, to explore other potential uses of kenaf in the bioenergy industry.


Evaluating diverse corn genotypes for biomass production in Iowa.
This study will explore tropical corn and their adapted strains for biomass production in an Iowa environment. Graduate student, Pedro Infante, will be working with the adaptability of genotypes including biomass quality and quantity. Management practices will be explored to determine those for biomass production compared to typical grain production. Results obtained will be incorporated into a process-based model (APSIM) to conduct scenrio studies and explore the adaptability and productivity of corn genotypes in Iowa.


Evaluation of Tryptophan biosynthesis for corn production.

This project aims to evaluate the potential of Tryptophan biosynthesis products as a valuable plant nutrient resource for corn production. Tryptophan (TRP) is an amino acid containing a hydrophobic side chain and an indole functional group. TRP is an important precursor of indole acetic acid, an important phytohormone. Biosynthesis of amino acids, including TRP, provides valuable products and byproducts for livestock. However, utilization of these products as plant nutrients is poorly documented. This project comprises both field and greenhouse experiments. The first field evaluation was done during the 2013 growing season at a farm located near Ames, Iowa and was conducted by MS student, Juan Carlos Quezada. Pre-plant iso-nitrogenous treatments were applied to evaluate the effect of replacing nitrogen from conventional nitrogen fertilizers with a TRP biosynthesis product. Results from our first year indicate that the TRP product can replace ammonium nitrate without compromising corn grain or stover. The 2014 growing season will consist of one more field evaluation and two greenhouse experiments to evaluate the effect of TRP foliar applications. Funded by Ajinomoto.


Managing perennial cover crops for sustainable corn stover biomass production.
Crop residues currently are the most readily available feedstock for conversion to fuel in the North Central Region. Corn stover is an underutilized resource that can provide 20 to 30% of the feedstock necessary to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard. Utilization of perennial grass as living groundcovers is a promising corn production system, previously documented in small-plot studies in Iowa. Graduate student, Cyndi Bartel will be investigating whether establishment of perennial cover crops is superior with soybean or corn using large-plots using conventional farming equipment. Additionally, we will compare continuous corn production in conventional tillage and perennial cover crops systems, with and without residue removal. We hypothesize that perennial cover crop systems will have sustained soil quality despite residue removal while conventional tillage, continuous corn with residue removal will suffer reduced soil quality, leading to decreased long-term productivity. Full Project Description (pdf). Funded by the DOE North Central Sun Grant Initiative.


Corn and biomass rotational study.
This long-term crop rotation experiment is evaluating the effects of growing corn in rotation. Crop sequences being evaluated include: (1) continuous corn, (2) corn-soybean, (3) corn-corn-corn/switchgrass-switchgrass-switchgrass-switchgrass, and (4) corn-soybean-triticale/soybean. Switchgrass was interseeded into corn-switchgrass rotation in the third year of the sequence to minimize production losses during switchgrass establishment. Triticale is double cropped with soybean. Grain and biomass are measured for yield and soils are measured for quantitative analyses of how these cropping systems affect soil quality. Beginning in 2012, after one complete six-year rotation of treatments through plots, biochar was added to one half of each plot in a split-plot design to further measure the effects of returning a byproduct of bioenergy conversion to the soil on plant and soil responses. Research activities in the project address three focal areas: (1) how perennial species might play a larger and more sustainable role in Iowa's agricultural landscape, particularly within the context of a rapidly developing bioeconomy; (2) how annual and perennial cropping systems might be designed to enhance nutrient cycling and carbon storage; and (3) how economic and energetic costs of bio-based energy production might be reduced. Full Project Description (pdf).


Evaluating the effects of varying corn CRM in an adapted zone on yield, harvest index, and factors influencing biofuel production.
This research will evaluate corn hybrids of varying comparative relative maturity (CRM) grown in a single location for differences in total yield (grain and stover), harvest index, and qualitative factors of grain and stover that influence biofuel production. With the variability in grain prices, it poses the question of whether it is economically feasible to grow a corn crop more suited to total biomass yield rather than maximum grain yield. The easiest way to do this with corn is to move a more southern adapted hybrid (greater CRM) farther north. It is the goal of this research to study how moving corn hybrids out of their area of adaptability (longer and shorter) influences yield and quality of grain and stover specifically for biofuel production. Shorter season hybrids will also be studied to better complete the picture of changes in grain, stover and quality factors as hybrids are moved out their area of adaptability. Full Project Description (pdf). Funded by Pioneer.


Development of new and improved perennial grass cultivars. Objective 1.
As part of the CenUSA project, led by Dr. Ken Moore (lead investigator), research plots are being managed to investigate the potential of new and improved perennial grass cultivars (Big Bluestem, Switchgrass, and Indiangrass) for bioenergy production in the Midwest. Research plots are located in rural Boone County, IA near the ISU Ag Engineering and Agronomy Farm. Trials were established in spring 2012 and another in spring 2014 when additional candidate cultivars are available. Three field trials are established at each location, one for each species. Harvest management consists of one harvest, taken in late autumn or after a killing frost before snowfall. Full Project Description (pdf). Funded by an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.