The University of Georgia and Ceres, Inc., an energy-crop company, are working together to develop high-yielding switchgrass varieties and improved crop management techniques for the southeastern U.S. Switchgrass has been deemed a prime feedstock material for cellulosic ethanol and other biopower uses.

The two entities recently announced a multi-year project to bring plant breeders, agronomists and support scientists at Ceres and the University of Georgia together to develop improved varieties. Field researchers will also evaluate cropping practices in the Southeast, adapting developments made by The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, an Ardmore, OK, ag research institution.

“This project allows us to expand our internal and collaborative plant breeding activities in a region where we believe the industry will have a strong presence,” says Ceres plant breeding director Jeff Gwyn. The University of Georgia’s experienced researchers have a well-regarded collection of switchgrass breeding materials and germplasm — the precursors of commercial varieties, he adds. “There’s a lot of headroom for improvement and I’m confident that working together we can continue to drive up yields at a robust pace.”

Georgia and other southeastern states have a “unique set of environmental factors” – a long growing season and high rainfall, says University of Georgia plant breeder Charles Brummer. He adds that regionally focused research will be valuable for growers across the Southeast.

“By trialing and selecting new products in the middle of their target market, we can make greater gains more quickly and with greater certainty,” says Brummer. Researchers will also examine seeding rates, row spacings and no-till planting recommendations, and other crop management practices.

Ceres will have commercialization rights for products developed under the Ceres-funded project. The Noble Foundation will also participate in the project, including both field research and switchgrass breeding lines. Other aspects of the collaboration were not disclosed.

In December, Ceres launched the first switchgrass and sorghum varieties developed for bioenergy, which are sold under the company’s Blade Energy Crops label.