Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Planting and Growing Giant Miscanthus as a Bioenergy Crop in Missouri

SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant Recipient FNC07-692
Kingsville, MO – Steve Flick

Objective: To determine the commercial viability of giant miscanthus as a bioenergy crop.

Results: Interest in developing energy from biomass continues to grow. Giant miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) is a vigorous perennial grass that can grow as tall as 14 feet. It has tremendous potential for bioenergy because it recycles nutrients, has a significant yield, has little or no need for chemical weed control or fertilizer, and will produce for many years.

I decided to develop fieldscale plots of giant miscanthus and gather data to identify the suitability of Missouri soils for the grass and evaluate the production potential for our region.

In 2007 I began by handplanting 5,000 plants, covering 15,000 square feet on my farm. Later, I modified a bermudagrass sprigger to plant rhizomes. Giant miscanthus thrives in hot, wet conditions.

Our two harvests so far were 6.7 tons in 2008 and 11.7 tons in 2009, more than the harvest from traditional switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) grown in the area. We processed one crop of round bales into biomass pellets, which were used at a local utility to create electricity.  Planting giant miscanthus is very labor intensive, and I believe most farmers who grow it will plant it in small fields (less than 10 acres). If purchased from a local grower, the rhizomes will cost about $5,500 per acre to establish.

I believe giant miscanthus is most likely to be of interest to young, beginning farmers; displaced tobacco farmers; and truck gardeners.  Small-city farmers might also be interested.

Future success will depend on building more biorefineries that can process giant miscanthus.  These plants can provide jobs in rural America. Missouri has one biorefinery, the Show Me Energy Cooperative, which licenses technologies to other producer groups so they can emulate our model. With today’s tight capital markets, I see these plans being developed on a small scale – fewer than 150,000 tons per year.  Processing biomass is not easy, but the demand for renewable fuel is growing, especially for European export.

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