Researchers at the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Central Grasslands Research Extension Center near Streeter are studying perennial grasses to see which might produce the best biomass for energy production. In spring 2006, they planted seven species of perennial grasses, including tall and intermediate wheatgrass, altai and basin wildrye, big bluestem and two switchgrass varieties alone and in combinations in plots at Streeter, Hettinger, Minot, Williston and Carrington.

This 10-year study is a follow-up to one conducted from 2002 to 2006 on the feasibility of producing switchgrass as biomass for ethanol. "That's not to say that switchgrass is the best possible biomass crop for North Dakota, and this research is critical to determine the best options available to our farmers and ranchers as they become involved in producing feedstock for the bioenergy industry," says Ken Grafton, dean of NDSU's ag college and director of the North Dakota Ag Experiment Station.

In the switchgrass study, yields varied among the test sites in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, and the average cost of production was $53 per ton. The results of that study started the researchers wondering if other grasses might be more suitable for North Dakota's growing conditions and cost less to produce. "We probably can produce a lot of grasses here very well," says Paul Nyren, director of the Central Grasslands Center.

The researchers want to know how much biomass the various species produce. "Three to 4 tons per acre would be good," Nyren says.

Source: North Dakota State University.