Native Biomass

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Ernst Conservation Seeds is one of the largest switchgrass seed producers in the country, with more than 30 years of experience in establishing, managing and harvesting native, warm season grass seed and biomass.

In recent years, this native, warm season grass has attracted much attention as a potential source of alternative energy and sustainable fiber due to the following:

  • Native, warm season grasses are perennial.
  • Native, warm season grasses are able to thrive in marginal soil conditions that are too wet or dry for traditional crops.
  • Native, warm season grasses have minimal nutrient input requirements.
  • Native, warm season grasses are efficient in converting sunlight to useable biomass.
  • Native, warm season grasses have proven soil, water, air and wildlife benefits.

Spartina pectinata (Prairie Cordgrass)

Other native grasses and legumes can be mixed with native, warm season grasses to create a biomass mix that provides more diversity than a monoculture of one species; i.e., mixes of native grasses, such as Andropogon gerardii (Big Bluestem), Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass), Panicum amarum (Coastal Panicgrass), Spartina spp. (Cordgrass), and such legumes as Desmodium canadense (Showy Ticktrefoil), Senna hebecarpa (Wild Senna) and Chamaecrista fasciculata (Partridge Pea). A mix of switchgrass varieties adapted to your area can better acclimate to seasonal variation and soil conditions than a single variety.

Ernst Conservation Seeds is actively involved in numerous cooperative efforts with government agencies, universities and groups in the private sector that are interested in increasing the use of grass biomass in many applications.

Biomass production from switchgrass can vary greatly from one region to another. It is important to select switchgrass varieties that are well suited to the growing conditions of your area. Please contact us and we will be happy to make recommendations.

Biomass production can be enhanced with the use of treated seed to control seedling disease and insect damage. Ernst Conservation Seeds is permitted to treat switchgrass with Gaucho® XT, which reduces the need for the use of herbicides to control competitive weeds. It also increases first-year biomass production. Many states allow atrazine, at 1 lb per acre, to control many broadleaf and grassy weeds. Annual grasses can be controlled with the addition of Paramount® Herbicide. Other herbicides are available for specific conditions.

For more information, please consult the Native Biomass FAQs, any of the other links or one of our sales specialists at (800) 873-3321.

Native Warm Season Grasses and High Quality Biomass Production

View and download the following PDF to learn more about the use of native, warm season grasses for biomass production.

What is Ernst Biomass Doing?

Native grasses are some of the most efficient plants to (collect) convert energy into cellulose. The use of native grass as a renewable energy source is limited by our ability to harvest, transport and store biomass in sufficient quantity for use.

With more than 5,000 acres of native grass seed production, Ernst made the decision to develop a means of collection and densification of the crop residue for renewable energy or sustainable fiber.

Many methods of harvesting, collecting and densification were tried and rejected if they were not scalable or cost efficient. Today, we use readily available haying equipment to harvest and transport biomass to our pellet facility.

Large, round or square bales are started through our pellet mill by putting them through a tub grinder. Bales of different quality are mixed in a large feeder box with a walking floor. The rate of flow through the grinders, dryer and pellet mill is controlled from a computerized room.

Biomass is burned to heat and dry our grass biomass before it goes through the final grinder and Kahl vertical die pellet mill. Pellets are cooled and stored for packaging.

We currently sell our pellets as an industrial absorbent and for livestock bedding.