Submitted to: CD ROM
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: February 12, 2007
Publication Date: March 1, 2007
Citation: Vogel, Kenneth. 2007. Switchgrass and Other Promising Biofuel Materials. p. 46-47. In: Agriculture at the Crossroads: Energy, Farm, & Rural Policy. Speakers Handbook, Thursday, March 1. USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum 2007. Arlington, VA. Presentation at: www.usda.gov/oce/forum/ Technical Abstract: Switchgrass has been identified as a perennial biomass energy crop because it can produce high biomass yields on marginal land that is not suitable for grain crop production and provides many conservation benefits. The cellulose and hemi-cellulose of the biomass from switchgrass cell walls can be broken down into simple sugars that can be used to produce ethanol. USDA research on switchgrass was initiated in 1936 in a cooperative program with the University of Nebraska. This program was primarily focused on domesticating switchgrass for use in pastures and rangeland until the mid-1990. Much of the genetics, breeding, and management research for switchgrass used in grazed grasslands was developed in this program. In the mid 1970’s research was initiated on genetically modifying switchgrass biomass composition and demonstrated its feasibility and economic value. In 1990, research on developing switchgrass into a biomass energy crop was initiated in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy and has been active since that time. Research has been on all aspects of developing a full production system for switchgrass grown as a biomass energy crop in the Midwest and Central Great Plains including breeding and genetics, management, feedstock quality, economics, and environmental benefits. As a result of this research, a basic set of management guidelines and cultivars are in place for producing switchgrass as a biomass energy crop in this region. These technologies were field tested to obtain economic production costs for five years on 10 farms in Nebraska and South and North Dakota during the period 2000 to 2005. Primary production factors that affected feedstock costs were stand establishment which affected first and second year yields, fertilization and harvest management which affected post-establishment yields, and available precipitation which affected both establishment and yields. All factors except for precipitation can be significantly improved by management. Farmers that had the lowest production costs used recommended planting guidelines, best-available herbicides, followed fertilizer guidelines, and harvested at the recommended cutting height and stage of maturity. Based on the lessons learned in these trials, improved establishment technologies need to be developed as well as other management practices and inputs (Agronomics). New, high yielding cultivars and hybrids need to be developed with improved biomass quality (Genetics). Improved genetics and agronomics will improve net and total ethanol yields per acre.