Perennial crops that are used for bioenergy are harvested for the use of their biomass as fuel, especially for the generation of heat, electricity, and biochar. Wood, agricultural crops and waste, algae, and livestock manure are types of biomass used in bioenergy production. Perennial bioenergy crops can be incorporated into corn and soy production systems as a third crop. There are many benefits to transitioning marginal land to growing perennial bioenergy crops. A few environmental benefits are:
- Reduce nutrient loss due to more infiltration and water retention in soil and crops, sequester soil carbon, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Soil stabilization and erosion prevention due to harvesting methods. Only the tops of the plants are harvested, which leaves the living roots in place. Root systems are typically deeper and stronger than annual crops and helps stabilize and regenerate soil function.
- Increased wildlife and soil microbial diversity.
There are many economic and agronomic benefits to growing these crops as well. Some of which are:
- There is a potential to offset the cost of and dependance on traditional fuel types (gas, propane, etc.).
- There are emerging markets in renewable bioenergy. Early involvement in these markets may offer farmers a financial benefit due to limited availability of crops.
- These crops can grow on marginal lands where cash crop yields are not strong or profitable. This provides an opportunity to create value to an area of the farm that previously was not valuable or profitable.
- Hay baling and harvesting equipment can be used to harvest leafy biomass, so there is no need to invest in specialized equipment.
- Management practices surrounding these crops increase soil health and long-term productivity potential.