Using marginal farmlands to improve water qualityNews Type: State, Regional, Federal Source: NewFood Magazine
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Researchers have found that marginal farmland can be planted with planted with perennial bioenergy crops such as shrub willow to improve water quality.
Many farms have areas where the ground either floods or does not retain enough water or fertiliser for crops to thrive. Researchers have found that such marginal lands could become useful and potentially profitable if they are planted with perennial bioenergy crops such as shrub willow and switchgrass.
In a project that’s been underway since 2011, researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have been studying how shrub willow and switchgrass in sandier, easily dried-out patches of land can not only control erosion, but also suck up excess fertiliser chemicals that could otherwise contaminate surface water and groundwater. Excess fertiliser nutrients can lead to a host of downstream problems including toxic algal blooms, increased costs for water treatment facilities, and the growth of the hypoxic “dead” zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The focus is on improving water quality,” said John Quinn, a researcher at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois. But along the way they have found that shrub willow and grasses have other potential benefits as well, including being a source of biomass for biofuel, a resource for pollinators and other wildlife, and by providing other ecosystem services.