Within a couple of years, Iowa farmers may be commercially growing switchgrass to fuel a power plant.

Alliant Energy is testing small amounts of the grass as an alternative to coal at its Ottumwa generating station in Chillicothe, IA. Eventually, 5% of the fuel burned at the generating station may be switchgrass, totaling 200,000 tons burned annually.

"The preliminary results are very positive," says Martin Braster, coordinator of the Chariton Valley Biomass Project. "The switchgrass mixture produces less greenhouse emissions and is a good renewable source of energy."

The biomass project, a cooperative effort of government agencies and private sources, is managed by the Chariton Valley Resource Conservation & Development, Inc., Centerville, IA. That’s a non-profit corporation focused on helping southern Iowa farmers.

"This renewable energy source will offer every coal-fired generating station a good alternative as governmental policy concerning green fuel changes and as coal gets more expensive toproduce," says Braster.

More than 80 farmers are involved in the project.

John Deere windrowers and balers harvested the switchgrass needed for the ex-perimental phase of the project, and the company’s Ottumwa Works personnel developed the expertise on how and when to best cut and store the crop.