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Agronomy Day 2009

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Tour B

Future Opportunities in Production Agriculture-Dedicated Energy Crop Switchgrass Management

D.K. Lee
D.K. Lee
Assistant Professor Biomass and Bioenergy Crop Production
Department of Crop Sciences
217-333-7736
leedk@illinois.edu

National energy security and climate change will require large-scale substitution of fossil fuels to renewable energy, which can be produced from cellulosic biomass. Biomass is all plant and plant–derived materials. Cellulosic biomass is the nonstarch, fibrous, woody, and generally inedible portion of plant matter. A biorefinery is a processing and conversion facility that efficiently separate biomass feedstock into individual components and converts these components into marketplace products, including biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts. To meet the Federal goal, 30% replacement of current U.S. petroleum-based fuels with biofuels, at least one billion dry tons of cellulosic biomass feedstock will be required annually. The size of the U.S. bioenergy industry will be determined by the quantity and quality of biomass feedstock available. As a starting material in feedstock to biofuel conversion system, sufficient and secure supply of quality biomass feedstock is a critical step in accomplishing the national goals.

Potential resources for cellulosic biomass feedstock include crop residues (corn stover, wheat straw, etc.), perennial grasses (switchgrass, big bluestem, miscanthus, etc.), woody crops (hybrid poplar, willow, etc.) and other agricultural biproducts. Perennial grasses, dedicated energy crops, for biomass feedstock production have many advantages including reduced cost of fuels, pesticide, and fertilizer; high yield potential on land not suitable for annual crops; soil and water conservation; increased carbon sequestration; and wildlife habitat conservation. To be a promising perennial energy crop, a perennial species should be native or noninvasive, have high biomass yield potential, have high nutrient and water use efficiency, be able to be established with seed or relatively inexpensive vegetative propagules, be harvested with typical farm equipment, and exhibit positive environmental attributes. Because of these reason, switchgrass was chosen as a model energy crop by the Department of Energy.

Switchgrass, a native, perennial, warm-season grass, is important for forage and conservation in the USA and southern Canada. The use of switchgrass as renewable bioenergy crop has many obvious environmental and economic benefits including soil conservation, improved energy gain, and improved reduction of greenhouse gas emission. Although switchgrass is native and well adapted to our environment, proper management of genetically diverse cultivars is necessary for sustainable biomass production. Here are the important agronomic management components you need to consider for switchgrass biomass production.

Cultivar selection: origin of cultivar, cold tolerance, yield potential,
Establishment: seed bed preparation, timing of planting and methods, seeding rate and depth
Management: weed control, fertilization and soil fertility, harvest timing and frequency, cutting height

Aerial application of a fungicide to a corn field

change and challenge