It’s not uncommon for farms to have troublesome areas where corn and soybean yields don’t quite measure up due to various physical features because of their vulnerability to soil erosion. These underutilized areas and marginal lands might be better suited for establishing perennial bioenergy grasses, especially switchgrass. 

Switchgrass is a hardy, warm season perennial grass that was previously known for its use as a forage crop. However, plant breeders and agronomists have now developed a switchgrass cultivar named ’Liberty’ that has proven to be a high yielding biomass crop. This renewable, nonfood bioenergy feedstock holds great potential for conversion into a “drop-in fuel” and subsequently lessening dependence on fossil-derived fuels. While switchgrass isn’t a new crop, the logistical challenges of harvesting, storing, transporting, and marketing it as a bioenergy feedstock are still being researched.

Field days on Aug. 19 at Beaver Crossing, Neb., and Aug. 20 at Humboldt, Neb., will provide information on the agronomics, economics, and sustainability of biomass production of switchgrass and other perennial bioenergy grasses. The field days are sponsored by CenUSA Bioenergy, a multi-state USDA-sponsored research project, focusing on the use of perennial bioenergy crops in the Midwest. CenUSA partners include: University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), Iowa State University, Purdue University, United States Department of Agriculture - Agricultural Research Service, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, University of Vermont, and the University of Wisconsin.

Topics at the field days are: pest and disease management; genetics establishment/ management/economics; harvest/marketing – commercialization/biomass – biofuel conversion process; alternative uses – livestock; and environmental benefits – soil/water/wildlife. The field days will include drill and harvest demonstrations and discussion, as well as the opportunity to see various grass varieties. 

Liberty switchgrass will be featured at the field days. According to UNL Extension Educators, Keith Glewen and John Hay, nearly two decades of research and breeding by the USDA-ARS grass breeding program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has gone into developing this variety. Liberty was developed for the Midwest as a bioenergy crop with a high rate of winter survival combined with high yields.

There is no fee to attend the field days, but preregistration is encouraged for meal planning purposes. Registration includes complimentary noon lunch, refreshments, and field day materials. Preregister by calling UNL Extension at (402)624-8030 or online at: http://ardc.unl.edu/bioenergyfeedstockfieldday. Field site maps will also be added to this website.

Registration day of program is from 8:45 – 9:15 a.m. The field days are from 9:15 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

CenUSA is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no.  2011-68005-30411 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.