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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Dairy Forage Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #275973

Title: The evolution of switchgrass as an energy crop

item PARRISH, DAVID - Virginia Polytechnic Institution & State University
item MONTI, ANDREA - University Of Bologna
item Casler, Michael

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/29/2011
Publication Date: 1/1/2012
Citation: Parrish, D. J., Casler, M. D., Monti, A. 2012. The evolution of switchgrass as an energy crop. In: Monti, A., editor. Switchgrass. London, UK: Springer. pp. 1-28.

Interpretive Summary: Switchgrass is a perennial grass species receiving significant focus as a potential bioenergy crop. This paper is the first chapter in a new book about the biology and production of switchgrass. This chapter explores the evolutionary history of switchgrass, from its origins a million years ago on the early North American grasslands to the recent massive levels of funding that have been applied toward its development as a dedicated biofuel crop. This paper will be highly useful to researchers and scientists who are interested in the history of switchgrass.

Technical Abstract: Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) has been identified as a model herbaceous energy crop for the USA. Intensive research on switchgrass as a biomass feedstock in the 1990s greatly improved our understanding of the adaptation of switchgrass cultivars, production practices, and environmental benefits. Several barriers remain to economic production of switchgrass for biomass feedstock including reliable establishment practices to ensure productive stands in the seeding year, efficient use of fertilizers, and more efficient methods to convert lignocellulose to biofuels. Overcoming these barriers will require basic and applied genetic, molecular biology, and plant breeding research to improve switchgrass cultivars. New genomic resources that are in the pipeline will aid in developing molecular markers and should allow for marker-assisted selection of improved germplasm in the near term. Research is also needed on profitable management practices for switchgrass production appropriate to specific agro-ecoregions and breakthroughs in conversion methodology. Higher costs of biofuels compared to fossil fuels may be offset by accurately valuing environmental benefits such as reduced runoff and erosion and associated reduced losses of soil nutrients and organic matter; increased incorporation of soil C; and reduced use of agricultural chemicals. Use of warm-season perennial grasses in bioenergy cropping systems may also mitigate increases in atmospheric CO2. A critical need is teams of scientists, extension staff, and producer-cooperators in key agro-ecoregions to develop profitable management practices for the production of biomass feedstocks appropriate to those agro-ecoregions.