Energy-crop company Ceres, Inc. has published two new crop management guides that include current recommendations on the establishment, management and harvest of switchgrass and high-biomass sorghum.

Energy grasses, which provide high yields of biomass that can be converted into low-carbon fuels or co-fired for electricity generation, are still relatively new to many growers. Moreover, production and harvest practices continue to evolve as the bioenergy industry takes shape.

The recommendations in the guides are based on results from the company’s extensive trialing network as well as its involvement in bioenergy projects, says Frank Hardimon, Ceres sales director. “Given our research with both producers and their customers, we often play a project development role in bringing parties together. This is where we learn the most – out in the field under real-world conditions.”

Hardimon has found that, once growers get over the initial learning curve, energy grasses more than live up to their reputation as low-maintenance crops. “We’re finding that, generally speaking, growers are able to use existing methods and equipment to plant and harvest energy grasses, but there are important differences and some new best practices to consider.”

The second edition of the company’s switchgrass management guide reflects how crop knowledge and recommendations are evolving. For instance, conventional wisdom held that switchgrass should be planted at shallow depths, but Ceres reports that current studies across multiple locations and seasons suggest that stand establishment and seedling vigor can be improved by planting seeds deeper depending on soil type and geography.

Like switchgrass, new high-biomass sorghum hybrids have gained considerable interest among bioenergy producers since they can produce very high yields in as few as 90-100 days. Like other energy crops, sorghum uses water and other inputs very efficiently. Here again, despite a long history of production, new practices are needed.

In North America, high-biomass sorghums generally flower very late in the season, if at all, and thus keep growing until a killing frost, says Walter Nelson, the company’s product manager. “Crop management practices and harvest times, therefore, are influenced heavily by delivery requirements and end-user preferences, such as for moisture content and overall biomass quality,” says Nelson.

Published under the company’s Blade trade name, the free guides are titled Planting and Managing Switchgrass as a Dedicated Energy Crop, 2nd Edition, and Managing High-Biomass Sorghum as a Dedicated Energy Crop. They can be downloaded at www.BladeEnergy.com. Print copies can be requested by emailing info@BladeEnergy.com.