Sustaining Soil and Water
It is critical to demonstrate that we can sustain production of woody energy crops over time with minimal environmental impacts. Therefore we are documenting changes in soil and water quality in response to poplar bioenergy crop systems in comparison to agricultural fields.
To date we have observed greater soil respiration and microbial biomass in poplar sites than in agricultural fields regardless of location, which indicates vigorous cycling of carbon and nutrients. We have learned proportional changes in groups of soil microbes and their functions in soil organic matter cycling depends more on soil and site conditions than on cropping systems. We have not observed any impacts of cropping systems on soil erosion or nutrient loss through the root zone.
Temporal changes within the poplar fields and in comparison to equivalent agricultural fields provide reference points with which to determine relative impacts of woody energy crops on soil quality and off-site nutrient transport.