Native Warm Season Grass Biomass | Ernst Conservation Seeds

Using Native Grasses for Biomass

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Ernst Conservation Seeds is one of the largest switchgrass seed producers in the country, having more than 30 years’ experience in the establishment, management, and harvest of native warm season grass seed and biomass.

Calvin Ernst demonstrates the height potential of Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Switchgrass, as well as other native warm season grasses, 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 thrive in marginal soil conditions too wet or dry for traditional crops.
  • Native warm season grasses require minimal nutrient input.
  • Native warm season grasses are efficient in converting sunlight to useable biomass.
  • Native warm season grasses have proven soil, water, air, and wildlife benefits.

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

A mix of switchgrass varieties adapted to your area can better acclimate to seasonal variation and soil conditions than a single variety. Diverse genetic material will allow the overall stand to thrive in a wider range of moistures, soil types, disease pressures, and weather.

Commonly, mixes that include other native grasses, such as Andropogon gerardii (Big Bluestem), Sorghastrum nutans (lndiangrass), Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem), Panicum amarum (Coastal Panicgrass), and Spartina spp.
(Cordgrass spp.), may create a biomass product that will satisfy many conservation program requirements while also being able to be marketed.

Switchgrass biomass can be harvested with traditional forage equipment which is readily available.
  • Our supply of switchgrass seed comes from various sources, including our licensing of the varieties produced by intensive breeding programs at numerous institutions and regional populations made available from USDA plant materials centers.

    The regional populations have minimal genetic improvement for general physical characteristics and have been adequate for decades for erosion control, wildlife plantings, and in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The new varieties, including ‘Colony’, ‘Performer’, ‘BoMaster’, ‘Timber’, ‘Liberty’, ‘Independence’, ‘Shawnee’, and RC Chippewa, have significant yield improvements and were bred with a focus on forage and biomass production.

  • As with several other native warm season grasses, switchgrass can produce high-quality forage. Used in a system of rotational grazing, switchgrass allows for robust growth during hot summer months. University of Tennessee findings suggest that the nutrient content of this forage can be as high as 16%-17% crude protein.

    Switchgrass makes a highly effective livestock forage and is increasingly used as a stand-alone grazing stock and in diverse native seed mixes.

    Ground switchgrass straw is experiencing increased use as a forage extender in livestock feeds in that it works to increase bulk and dilute protein in operations with sources of high-protein feed.

  • Switchgrass has extensive roots, growing as deep as 5′-6′. In addition to serving as a superior soil stabilizer in erosion control, switchgrass and its root system form a tremendous ecological filter, soaking up such nutrients as nitrogen and sequestering carbon dioxide.

    As a riparian buffer, the extensive root system and nutrient filtering qualities of switchgrass make it a powerful option.

    Use of switchgrass as a buffer or part of a riparian system between agricultural activity and watersheds is seen by many as one of the best methods for protecting these priceless resources.

  • Numerous studies have shown that ground switchgrass is easy on the pads of chicken feet, highly absorbent, and may represent a benefit over other beddings in the reduction of ammonia.

    Ground switchgrass is gaining popularity as an effective, readily accessible and inexpensive livestock and poultry bedding material.

    From a cost perspective, producers can grow switchgrass on their own marginal ground, then harvest and process it for their own bedding uses. In addition to helping with noise, site, and water pollution control, switchgrass can aid in making areas of marginal ground productive by supplying sustainable bedding.

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DISCLAIMER: The information in this review of practices is the result of more than 50 years of experience in seed production. Ernst Conservation Seeds has been supplying seeds and consulting in the reseeding of tens of thousands of acres of roadsides, surfacemined lands, conservation and restoration sites in eastern North America, as well as growing and supplying seed and consulting in the planting of hundreds of thousands of acres of CRP/CREP-related areas for erosion control and wildlife habitat. All of these practices are opinion only and our best advice as a result of these experiences. These recommendations do not cover all of the conditions that will be encountered in the field. All of the information is for individual consideration. Ernst Conservation Seeds is not responsible for conditions that will be encountered in individual situations. The use of brand names does not represent our endorsement of a specific product; rather, it represents our experience only and has not necessarily been replicated in peer-reviewed research. The use of chemical pest control agents is subject to manufacturers’ instructions and labeling, as well as federal, state and local regulations.
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