PIKETON, Ohio – Corn isn't the only plant being explored in Ohio as a potential biomass crop.

Ohio State University Extension researchers at OSU South Centers at Piketon are studying the feasibility of growing giant miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) across southern Ohio to be used for combustion and conversion to ethanol.

Giant miscanthus, a perennial warm-season grass from Asia, is garnering attention across the Midwest because of its high biomass output and its adaptability to many different soil types.

Maurus Brown, an OSU Extension bioenergy and specialty crop specialist, hopes that successful establishment of giant miscanthus in Ohio will open doors of opportunity for farmers.

"We are interested in learning how miscanthus performs under field conditions in southern Ohio. This is an educational opportunity for farmers to learn how to plant it, produce it, harvest it and market the biomass to industry," said Brown.

Brown is collaborating with Mendel Biotechnology, a developer of energy crops, on the five-year trial, which will began this month. About an acre of land on the OSU South Centers campus in Piketon will be used to produce unfertilized miscanthus.

"The data collected will be disseminated to develop a better understanding of crop performance, production practices, input costs, budgeting, harvesting and marketing the biomass crop," said Brown. "In addition, we also want to learn more about impacts from insects, diseases, weather and fertility issues."

Unlike annual row crops such as corn, giant miscanthus varieties are not propagated by seed. In order to establish the plant, it must be propagated via rhizome division or via plugs. This could mean high input costs for initial establishment. However, such an investment can be amortized over many years due to a long crop rotation.

According to the Iowa State University publication "Miscanthus Hybrids for Biomass Production," the planting rate is about 4,000 plants per acre, but commercial planting rates will be ultimately determined by the economics that work best for the farmer and the end user.

In addition, the plant typically grows through one crop season before it's ready for harvest. The miscanthus crop planted at OSU South Centers likely won't be ready for harvest until fall or winter of 2011.

But once established, the plant has a lengthy stand life -- as much as 15 years, and since it's a perennial there's no need to re-plant each year.

Ohio State researchers also have their eyes on giant miscanthus because the plant is considered more productive than other biofuel crops, such as switchgrass. For example, according to University of Illinois research, miscanthus can produce twice the biomass as switchgrass.

If successful, miscanthus could become an important value-added crop for Ohio farmers.

"Miscanthus production is not intended to compete with established field crops like corn and soybeans," said Brown. "There are plenty of opportunities to grow the crop on marginal land, land enrolled in conservation programs, and land not suited for corn or soybean production."

For more information, contact Maurus Brown at 740-289-2071 or brown.989@cfaes.osu.edu.

SOURCE: Ohio State University.