Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Lincoln, Nebraska » Wheat, Sorghum and Forage Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #300785

Research Project: Improving bioenergy and forage plants and production systems for the central U.S.

Location: Wheat, Sorghum and Forage Research

Title: Switchgrass for biomass energy

item Mitchell, Robert - Rob
item Schmer, Marty

Submitted to: Nebraska Crop Protection Clinic Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/2/2013
Publication Date: 1/7/2014
Citation: Mitchell, R., Schmer, M.R. 2014. Switchgrass for biomass energy. Nebraska Crop Protection Clinic Proceedings, University of Nebraska. 13-16. 2014.

Interpretive Summary: Switchgrass is the model perennial biomass energy feedstock for the Great Plains and Midwest. Switchgrass has been grown for grazing, haying, and conservation in the region since 1936. During the past 25 years, switchgrass best management practices have been developed for biomass energy production in the Great Plains and Midwest. Switchgrass is economically and environmentally sustainable on cropland that is marginally productive for row crops, similar to land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program. The development of new cultivars, herbicides, and planting equipment has resulted in the rapid and repeatable establishment of switchgrass in the Great Plains and Midwest. Growing switchgrass for biomass energy on marginally productive cropland will reduce erosion, store large quantities of soil carbon, and provide perennial grassland habitat for wildlife.

Technical Abstract: Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) is a native warm-season grass and is the model herbaceous perennial biomass energy feedstock for the USA. More than 75-years of experience confirm that switchgrass will be productive and sustainable on rain-fed marginally-productive cropland east of the 100th meridian. The development of best management practices for biomass energy production have accelerated establishment and increased production efficiency. With adequate precipitation, switchgrass is readily established when quality seed of adapted cultivars is used in conjunction with the proper planting date, seeding rate, seeding method, and weed control. Advancements in herbicides, cultivar development, and planting equipment make it feasible for stands to reach 75% to 100% of the cultivar’s yield potential 15 to 18 months after planting. Long-term studies indicate switchgrass stands can be maintained indefinitely, but stands are expected to be renovated to higher yielding material after about 10 years. Switchgrass requires about 10 pounds of N per acre for each ton of expected yield if the crop is harvested once annually after dormancy. New biomass-specific cultivars like ‘Liberty’ produce up to 8 tons of biomass per acre and are well-suited to marginally-productive cropland in the Great Plains and Midwest.