I work with EEPP members to investigate the how the environment affects key plant processes (e.g., photosynthesis, biomass accumulation, water and nutrient use), as well as how plants affect the environment (e.g., soil quality, GHG emissions, water and nutrient cycling), with a focus on bioenergy and ecosystem service provision. Typical activities focus on the plant and field plot scale, with implications at the watershed and ecosystem scale. Through collaboration, we use our data to explain observed phenomena and predict future behavior, with an ultimate goal of providing useful information about the role biomass crops can and should play in the Midwestern USA.
We have placed major emphasis on understanding the likely value proposition bioenergy cropping systems offer to farmers and landowners, based on the hypothesis that landscape change will not occur until it improves the decision-makers' bottom line. In a series of papers (Brandes et al., 2016, Brandes et al. 2018a, Brandes et al. 2018b) we found that incorporating the perennial grass switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) into underperforming annual crop fields can improve farm profitability by millions of dollars, while also reducing nitrate leaching to near-target levels set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. By starting with a "do no harm" philosophy, we have used ecophysiological knowledge to gain traction with farm and policy communities that had previously seen perennial crops as competing, not complementing annual commodity crops.
But do perennials really perform as well as we think they do? Do engineered energy crops (both annuals and perennials) perform better than their existing counterparts? As a co-PI in the new Dept. of Energy Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts we will be addressing these questions and more in highly instrumented field trials.
As an EEPP officer, I would work to ensure we continue to focus on the likely real-world impact our community can and should have, using plant science to help make the world a better place.
Research Areas: Applied Plant Biology, Bioenergy, Ecophysiology
Story County Conservation (park cleanup service)
Food at First (community garden and soup kitchen)
Ames Community School District