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Environmental assessment of new germplasm

The aim of this WP is to provide an assessment of the environmental and related economics impacts of the improvement of these biomass crops.  This includes determination of effects on local hydrology and the effect of key physiological traits for biomass maintenance and quality and transpiration efficiency to soil and plant water status, based on environmental characterisation of the field sites.

Experiments at Aberystwyth and the University of Lancaster are using spaced plants of divergent miscanthus germplasm under rainfed and rainout shelter conditions.  All other field experiments use a common experimental design and crop management at a wide range of sites to examine responses of different clones to water stress in the field.  Dynamic measurements of soil water status are made to keep the well-watered treatment close to field capacity.  Growth traits such as annual stem height and diameter increments, total crop biomass at harvest and crop transpiration efficiency (biomass per unit of water applied) are being measured.

Well known and new genotypes of poplar are being tested at the University of the Balearic Islands and Lancaster; INRA is testing four clones; Alasia is testing 2 Poplus nigra and POP5 mapping populations.  For miscanthus, the University of the Balearic Islands and Lancaster are testing 5 core clones.  For arundo, the University of Bologna and Alasia are testing arundo (natural collection and genotypes.

The research will also examine if and how crop growth in the field can be modelled on the basis of measurements made in controlled environments.  Parallel monitoring of growth, water status and environmental conditions will produce detailed clone-specific response data.  Analysis of covariance is used to examine genotype x environment (drought) interactions.  Similar measurements made through advanced phenotyping in WP2 will support this.  Measurement of environmental variables at each site will allow growth to be predicted using crop-specific models (eg. MISCANFOR, ForestgrowthSRC), and the value of controlled environment characterisation of crop performance determined.

For arundo, the environmental assessments include evaluation of dynamic changes of a shallow water table below the crop root zone throughout the growing period using observation wells will be located across the experimental plots below an arundo crop.

Finally, this research includes socio-economic analysis of the viability of biomass crops.  Harvest data for 2 years allows a dynamic analysis of both short and longer-term strategies for the efficient and income-maximizing adoption of drought resistant cropping systems for biomass production.  Producers’ concerns (e.g. profitability, economic risks of particular practices, production, gross returns, income stability, environmental benefits) and farmer acceptance of new crops are being compared to those of the conventional crops.  Focus group research and analysis address socio-cultural determinants of attitudes of land-based agents such as growers, farmers’ unions, various NGOs (including consumers’ organisations, environmentalist groups) and stakeholders in policy making and governance towards cultivation, marketing and use of non-food crops in place of, or in parallel with, food crops, in the UK, Greece and Germany.