Effect of previous crop on switchgrass production in southern Wisconsin

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) was identified as a potential bioenery production decades ago and more recently has been plugged by former President G.W. Bush in his 2006 State of the Union Address. As a result, in 2007 the US DoE funded a $125 million project at the UW CALS known as the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) to overcome bottlenecks in the conversion of cellulose to ethanol. Switchgrass is attractive as a biofuel crop because of its adaptability and suitability on marginal, highly erodible, and droughty soils; it has potential for sequestering large amounts of atmospheric carbon; and it provides nesting habitats for many species of wildlife. Switchgrass, a native perennial warm-season bunch grass adaptable from Canada to Texas, needs approximately two years in order to be sufficiently established to permit harvesting (Vogel et al. 2002), however may not reach full yield potential until the third year in colder climates such as Wisconsin. As the technology, demand, and markets grow for bioenergy production, more producers may become interested in establishing switchgrass on their farm. However, they may be hesitant to do so due to the lack of income generation during the establishment period. In order for producers to be able to grow switchgrass profitably, economically feasible systems for the establishment period need to be designed. The purpose of this study is to look at two dual cropping options with small grains that will allow farmers to realize economic gains during the establishment phase of switchgrass, but also without reducing switchgrass productivity.

Authors: Janet Hedtcke and Nicole Tautges