System Performance

The System Performance team focuses on providing detailed analyzes of feedstock production options. The team also creates models to assist policymakers, farmers, and the bioenergy industry to make informed decisions about which bioenergy feedstocks to grow, where to produce them, what environmental impacts they will have, and how biomass production systems are likely to respond to and contribute to climate change or other environmental shifts.

Our System Performance team members have produced an extensive resource library with material for everyone interested perennial grasses and their role in the larger landscape.

Project Directors

  • Jason Hill, University of Minnesota
  • Cathy Kling, Iowa State university


  • Fernando Miguez, Iowa State University
  • John Sheehan, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  • Tracy Twine, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

2017 Overview

CenUSA Models Predict Large Water Quality Improvements from Perennials (Mar. 2017)

System Performance team research shows water quality benefits when biofuels are produced from perennial grasses; provides guidance for policymakers, farmers, and the bioenergy industry.

Case Study

Making Business Decisions with Precision Data Can Encourage Perennial Grass Production (Aug. 2016)

  • AgSolver, an Iowa-based company, helps producers shift to perennial grass production using software tools that assess crop potential and profitability.

Research Summaries

Competition For Land Use: Why Would a Rational Producer Grow Switchgrass for Biofuel? (Jan. 2015)

  • Keri Jacobs (Economics, Iowa State University explains that farmers value the conservation and environmental benefits of switchgrass grown for biofuels but also consider profit, alternative land uses, and public policy incentives when making production decisions.

Management Practices Impact Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Harvest of Corn Stover for Biofuels (Jan. 2015)

  • Virginia L. Jin (Research Soil Scientist, USDA-Agricultural Research Service) explains how residue management and tillage can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from soils during production of corn stover for biofuel.

Minnesota Watershed Nitrogen Reduction Planning Tool (Jan. 2015)

  • William F. Lazarus (Professor & Extension Economist, University of Minnesota) explains the use of this nitrogen reduction planting tool.

Fact Sheets

Estimated Cost of Establishment and Production of “Liberty” Switchgrass: Perennial Grass Decision Support Tool

The Economics of Switchgrass for Biofuel (Jul. 2014)

  • William F. Lazarus (Professor & Extension Economist, University of Minnesota) explains that the profitable production of switchgrass for biofuel  today depends  primarily on the price of oil, as well as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

  • Anderson-Teixeira, K. J., P. K. Snyder, T. E. Twine, S. V. Cuadra, M. H. Costa, E. H. DeLucia. 2012. Climate regulation services of natural and agricultural ecoregions of the Americas. Nat. Clim. Change. 2:177-181. doi:10.1038/nclimate1346
  • Gonzalez-Ramirez, J., A. Valcu, C.L. Kling. 2012. An overview of carbon offsets from agriculture. Annual Review of Resource Economics. 4:145-160. doi: 0.1146/annurev-resource-083110-120016. (Open Access)
  • Harding, K., T. Twine, A. VanLoocke & J. Hill. 2016. Impacts of second-generation biofuel feedstock production in the central U.S. on the hydrologic cycle and global warming mitigation potential. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43:10773–10781.(Open Access: doi: 10.1002/2016GL069981. 
  • Hill, J., L. Tajibaeva & S. Polasky. 2016. Climate consequences of low-carbon fuels: The United States Renewable Fuel Standard. Energy Policy. 97:351-353
  • Keeler, B., J. Gourevitch, S. Polasky, F. Isbell, C. Tessum, J. Hill & J. Marshall. 2016. The social costs of nitrogen. Sci Adv. 2:1–9. (Open Access: doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1600219
  • Keeler B., B. Krohn, T. Nickerson & J. Hill. 2013. U.S. Federal agency models offer different visions for achieving Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) biofuel volumes. Environ. Sci. Technol.  47:10095–10101. (Cover Feature). (Open Access:
  • Kling, C.L., Y. Panagopoulos, A. Valcu, P.W. Gassman, S. Rabotyagov, T. Campbell, M. White, J.G. Arnold, R. Srinivasan, M.K. Jha, J. Richardson, L.M. Moskal, G. Turner & N. Rabalais. 2014. Land use model integrating agriculture and the environment LUMINATE : Linkages between agricultural land use, local water quality and hypoxic concerns in the Gulf of Mexico Basin. Eur. Rev. Agric. Econ. 41(3):431-459. doi: 10.1093/erae/jbu009
  • Mu, D., Min, M., Krohn, B., Mullins, K., Ruan, R., & J. Hill. 2014. Life cycle environmental impacts of wastewater-based algal biofuels. Environ. Sci. Technol. 48(19):11696–11704. doi: 10.1021/es5027689.
  • Noe, R., E. Nachman, H. Heavenrich, B. Keeler, D. Hernandez, & J. Hill. 2016. Assessing uncertainty in the profitability of prairie biomass production with ecosystem service compensation. Ecosystem Services 21(A):103–108. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoser.2016.05.004
  • Panagopoulos, Y., P. W. Gassman, R. Arritt, D. Herzmann, T. Campbell, M. Jha, C. Kling, R. Srinivasan, M. White & J. Arnold. 2014. Surface water quality and cropping systems sustainability under a changing climate in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. J. Soil Water Conserv. 69(6):483-494. doi: 10.2489/jswc.69.6.483. (Open Access)
  • Rabotyagov, S., A. Valcu & C.L. Kling. 2014. Reversing Property Rights: Practice-Based Approaches for Controlling Agricultural Nonpoint-Source Water Pollution When Emissions Aggregate Nonlinearly. American J. Ag. Econ. 96(2):397-419. doi: 10.1093/ajae/aat094
  • Rabotyagov, S., C.L. Kling, P. Gassman, N. Rabalais & R. Turner. 2014. The Economics of Dead Zones: Causes, Impacts, Policy Challenges, and a Model of the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxic Zone. Rev. Environ. Econ. Pol.(Winter 2014) 8(1):58-79. doi: 10.1093/reep/ret024
  • Schilling, K E., P.W. Gassman, C.L. Kling, T. Campbell, M. Jha, K. Manoj, C.F. Wolter & J.G. Arnold. 2013. The potential for agricultural land use change to reduce flood risk in a large watershed. Hydrol. Process. 28(8): 3314-3325. doi: 10.1002/hyp.9865.=
  • Schmer M.R., K.P. Vogel, G.E. Varvel, R.F. Follett &  R.B Mitchell. (2014). Energy Potential and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Bioenergy Cropping Systems on Marginally Productive Cropland. PLoS ONE 9(3): e89501. (Open Access)
  • Sun, J., T. Twine, J. Hill, R. Noe, J. Shi & M. Li. 2017. Effects of land use change for crops on water and carbon budgets in the Midwest USA. Sustainability 9:1–14. doi: 10.3390/su9020225. (Open Access:
  • Tessum C.W., Hill J.D. & J.D. Marshall. 2017. InMAP: A model for air pollution interventions. PLoS ONE 12(4):e0176131. (Open Access).
  • Valcu, A., C.L. Kling & P. Gassman. 2016. The optimality of using marginal land for bioenergy crops: Tradeoffs between food, fuel, and environmental services. Agr. Resource Econ. Rev. 45(2):217-245. (Open Access).

Instructional Videos and Webinars

Enhancing the Mississippi Watershed with Perennial Bioenergy Crops

  • Perennial grass energy crops can play a role in improving water quality. Learn how, when compared to row crops, perennial grasses have been shown to reduce runoff, erosion and nutrients by as much as 90%. (7:00)

Switchgrass Economics in the North Central Region of the USA

  • Richard Perrin (Ag Economics, Univ. of Nebraska, Lincoln) walks the viewer through switchgrass production costs, potential markets, and market values for switchgrass biomass. Dr. Perrin also discusses potential break even values for corn and switchgrass production on marginal land. [42:49]

Competition for Land Use: Why would the rational producer grow switchgrass for biofuel?

  • Keri Jacobs (Economics, Iowa State Univ.) considers the current economics of switchgrass production in the Central United States and the fundamental challenges and opportunities that exist. [43:21]

Perennial Herbaceous Biomass Biomass Production and Harvest in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Great Plains

  • Susan Rupp (National Wildlife Federation) discusses 'Best Management Guidelines' for achieving wildlife sustainability during perennial herbaceous biomass production and harvest by producers and industry in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Great Plains. Sponsored by CenUSA, SunGrant, and National Wildlife Federation.

Switchgrass Cost of Production

  • Marty Schmer (Agroecosystem Management Research Unit USDA-ARS), discusses the factors influencing switchgrass production costs at the CenUSA Switchgrass Establishment Field Day held Mar. 20, 2012 in Mead, Nebraska. [33:59]

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)