Planning ahead: possible insect pests of switchgrass, Miscanthus, and other biofuel crops
Growing conventional crops like corn and soybeans for production of alternative fuels, namely ethanol and biodiesel, is an established market opportunity for growers. However, perennial grasses like switchgrass and Miscanthus are also being considered as more sustainable options to produce bioenergy (ethanol and electric power). As part of the effort to understand how to best grow and manage perennial grasses, the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois is exploring the potential pests (insects, plant pathogens, nematodes) that growers may need to monitor and manage if production of perennial grasses expands in the next few years.
In some media outlets, especially on the internet, information available suggests that perennial grasses will be invulnerable to insect pests. This is most often implied for Miscanthus, which could have fewer pests because the grass is not native to the United States. However, with the evolution of established insects and accidental movement of other pests, plants that seem relatively pest-free tend not to stay that way. Recent examples of changing pest situations in the Midwest include the variant corn rootworm and the soybean aphid.