Monday, November 2, 2009: 2:10 PM
Convention Center, Room 305, Third Floor
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), is a perennial, warm season prairie grass native to most of North America. It is currently used for hay, pasture, and conservation, but was recently identified by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) as a main herbaceous, dedicated bioenergy crop due to its ability for high biomass yields, environmental enhancement characteristics, and ability to grow well on low input, marginal cropland. There are two distinct ecotypes; uplands and lowlands. Lowlands are more adpative to warmer climates such as the southern USA and are much higher yielding than uplands. However, all switchgrasses have a deserved reputation of poor seed quality and difficulty in getting productive stands especially in a biofuel feedstock monoculture planting. Switchgrass is an indeterminate flowering perennial grass meaning seed ripens over a long period of time making it difficult to time harvests for maximum seed yields. It also experiences severe seed shattering. These characteristics leave the crop vulnerable for wind and storm seed loss. The seed can also be very dormant with dormancy varying by cultivar and both pre and post harvest management. Because seed emergence can be poor due to seed dormancy, seed is priced and seeded on a pure live seed (PLS) basis leading to high seed prices. Lowland switchgrass cultivars are also considered to be a "native" grass in the commercial seed trade whose seed production and marketing was historically relegated to more local and regional companies. With the current emphasis on seed quality and new proprietary lowland cultivars, the market structure is already changing to meet the demands of a more sophisticated biofuel industry.