Friday, August 24, 2012

Growing Biomass Crops in Iowa

SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant

FNC10-806 Waukee, IA – Randy Kasparbauer

Objective: To grow giant miscanthus (Miscanthus giganteus) on a plot and analyze costs, impact on soil and  natural habitat for wildlife, and potential profits.

Results: The perennial grass giant miscanthus has great potential as a biomass crop in Iowa, but farmers are reluctant to grow it because it’s new to them, and they’re not convinced they can make a profit because of the labor-intensive planting and harvesting required.

Giant miscanthus can produce up to 10 tons of biomass per acre per year. It is noninvasive and propagates 
from roots that continue to grow over time. We are growing a small plot in moderately good soil to both evaluate it and show local farmers how it can be established, harvested, and propagated.

In 2011, our first year growing the plot, the miscanthus did very well. Plans this year are to dig up some rhizomes for later propagation. By the time the project is completed in 2013, we expect to have completed a soil study, an analysis to determine whether miscanthus can help preserve natural resources, and an analysis to determine profitability.

All harvested biomass will be evaluated by a forage testing laboratory in Iowa. We’re working with the IKM-Manning Community High School’s agronomy program to give young people a chance to learn about this work, since these future farmers will be important in growing renewable biomass.

Miscanthus certainly isn’t a perfect solution for biomass production, but rather one piece of a biomass solution that will include corn stover, trees, and other crops. It is well-suited for buffer strips next to waterways and public areas, replacing switchgrass in land coming out of the Crop Reserve Program, or as an alternative crop for land on which farmers no longer can produce grain because of soil degradation.

Learn more at growingmiscanthus.blogspot.

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