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[en] For several years the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has been developing a Decision Support System for Agriculture (DSS4Ag) which determines the economically optimum recipe of various fertilizers to apply at each site in a field to produce a crop, based on the existing soil fertility at each site, as well as historic production information and current prices of fertilizers and the forecast market price of the crop at harvest. In support of the growing interest in agricultural crop residues as a bioenergy feedstock, we have extended the capability of the DSS4Ag to develop a variable-rate fertilizer recipe for the simultaneous economically optimum production of both grain and straw. In this paper we report the results of 2 yr of field research testing and enhancing the DSS4Ag's ability to economically optimize the fertilization for the simultaneous production of both grain and its straw, where the straw is an agricultural crop residue that can be used as a biofeedstock. For both years, the DSS4Ag reduced the cost and amount of fertilizers used and increased grower profit, while reducing the biomass produced. The DSS4Ag results show that when a biorefinery infrastructure is in place and growers have a strong market for their straw it is not economically advantageous to increase fertilization in order to try to produce more straw. This suggests that other solutions, such as single-pass selective harvest, must be implemented to meet national goals for the amount of biomass that will be available for collection and use for bioenergy. (author)
[en] In Asia, as elsewhere in the world, countries rushed to promote biofuels during the dramatic oil price increases of 2007-2008 as way to enhance energy security, without waiting for the settlement of controversial debates about the environmental effects of biofuels, especially their effects on greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, biodiversity, and whether biofuels cause a conflict between food and fuel. This paper does not settle this debate, but instead argues that there are straightforward, practical and feasible measures that can be implemented immediately in order to reduce the pressure of biofuels on the environment and food supply, and more generally increase food production. The key is to focus on increasing resource use efficiency in agriculture, especially different forms of energy use. Resource use efficiency in agriculture is low in many parts of Asia. Concrete measures that could be taken include reductions in market-distorting input subsidies and the introduction of resource-conserving technologies. These could be supplemented with greater use of non-fossil fuels in agricultural production, use of agricultural wastes in energy production, inclusion of input use levels in biofuel certification systems, and greater investment in agricultural research, extension systems, and infrastructure development. Biofuel fever has waned since the onset of the global financial crisis in late 2008, but it is likely to return when economic conditions eventually improve, and possible moves to strengthen the European Union biofuel blending requirements could further accelerate it. Much of the debate on biofuel-related impacts in the region has focused on deforestation, with little attention on agricultural input use, which could also have serious consequences for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In sum, this paper argues that governments can still improve the environmental performance of biofuels while reducing potential conflicts with food security by implementing the straightforward measures suggested here. Though these may appear to be basic textbook suggestions, many governments are still not following them even though the spread of biofuels increases their importance and urgency. The message is that the governments in the region should get back to the basics.