Nov 18, 2013
Insight: climate change would benefit energy crop production in China
The successful development of second-generation energy crops will greatly depend on how sustainably they can be produced, and novel crops that better adapt to climate change could become more widely cultivated in the future. On the basis of a previous study showing that the Loess Plateau of China – one of the most seriously eroded regions of the world – could potentially provide more than 30 million hectares of marginal land for growing the Miscanthus energy crop, this new research, published in Environmental Research Letters (ERL), further demonstrates that the region could become increasingly desirable for producing energy crops in a future warmer climate.
Using the PRECIS regional climate change model, our study found that the total land area good for growing Miscanthus in the Loess Plateau would continuously increase from 2011–2099. As a result, the total yield potential for the crop in this region would increase by around 20%. This result can primarily be explained by predicted increases in temperature and precipitation across the Loess Plateau, which would improve the yield of perennial C4 plants relying exclusively on rain to flourish. Areas that are currently too dry or too cold to support Miscanthus could be turned into energy crop fields, especially along the arid–semiarid transition zone.
Large-scale production of perennial energy crops would drastically change land use in the Loess Plateau, which, together with climate change, could help create an environmentally sustainable agricultural system. Producing energy crops in a region suffering from serious erosion would thus help ecologically restore this area. Together with the effects of climate change, this strategy would create a larger surface area of high-quality cropland in the Loess Plateau that could then be used to grow food crops. Rotating between food and perennial energy crops would give rise to a new agricultural structure that sustains and balances food and energy crop production in the long run.
About the author
Wei Liu is an assistant professor in the State Key Laboratory of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences. His current interests are in modelling productivity and sustainability of second-generation energy crops. Tao Sang is a professor at the Institute of Botany, where he is working on the theory and methodology of new crop domestication, with an emphasis on Miscanthus energy crops.