Ohio State University researchers are evaluating switchgrass production in Ohio for potential biofuels production. Three years of preliminary switchgrass research suggest production is feasible in the state, they say. But it will be at least another year before the crop is harvested and data generated to evaluate its production and economic efficiencies.

"We have been able to grow very good stands of switchgrass at three Ohio sites: the Jackson and Western agricultural research stations, and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), Hoytville branch," says soil scientist Rattan Lal. "The goal is to see how much biomass switchgrass grown in Ohio can produce and what impact the crop has on soil properties and soil carbon sequestration," adds Lal, also director of the OARDC Carbon Management and Sequestration Center.

Switchgrass, a native, warm-season summer perennial, can produce 8-10 tons per acre of biomass, potentially producing 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, compared to 400 gallons per acre for corn. Switchgrass has lower management inputs and is also tolerant of poor soils, flooding and drought. But there are production challenges.

"Switchgrass is difficult to establish," Lal says. "Our initial establishment was not easy and we even had to do some replanting and transferring from greenhouses. Once switchgrass is established, however, it's a remarkable species, growing quite successfully, especially in no-till systems." The grass reaches full yield only in the third year after planting. When managed for energy production it can be cut once or twice a year with regular hay or silage equipment.

For additional information on using switchgrass for biofuels, visit hayandforage.com