Biomass crops may be another option for Michigan farmers

Switchgrass and miscanthus may have potential to be added to Michigan cropping systems

Perennial grasses such as miscanthus and switchgrass have significant potential to produce large amounts of biomass with relatively low nutrient removal and high carbon sequestration (capturing and storing carbon) potential. These grasses have received much attention from alternative energy researchers and supporters due to their environmental attributes and productivity potential.

Switchgrass holds great potential as an energy crop and has a wide adaption range in Michigan. Switchgrass has been the target of a great deal of research at Michigan State University and elsewhere, including variety evaluation, weed control, establishment methods, and nutrient management. One resource from MSU is Switchgrass as a Biofuel for Michigan E-2987. You can access this bulletin online at: http://web2.msue.msu.edu/bulletins/Bulletin/PDF/E2987.pdf

A brief description of switchgrass can also be found on-line at: http://bioenergy.msu.edu/feedstocks/switchgrass.shtml

Miscanthus is a non-native species that has been successfully grown in some Midwestern states and is being evaluated in Michigan. Winterkill of miscanthus during the establishment year has been a problem with some clones in northern latitudes. A brief description of miscanthus is available at http://bioenergy.msu.edu/feedstocks/miscanthus.shtml

These perennial species need up to three years to establish a mature crop yield and are harvested using typical hay or forage equipment. Perennial crops typically require lower inputs and may be cheaper to grow than annual crops. Annual crops such as corn and sorghum can be used as biomass crops, but they can have significantly higher costs of production compared to perennial crops as a result of annual seed costs, multiple field operations, and cost of replacing nutrients removed. The example of corn stover to be used as a biomass source has additional economic considerations in that a portion of the input costs may be attributed to the grain, which may be harvested and marketed independently of the stover. This crop residue scenario offers financial advantages compared to a dedicated energy crop. Corn and sorghum have benefitted from many years of genetic improvement by commercial seed companies whereas switchgrass and miscanthus have recently begun to be genetically improved. In terms of energy output per acre, of the crop discussed here, corn has the highest yield in gallons of ethanol due to its ability to produce both grain and biomass.

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