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Chuck Denney (UT Institute of Agriculture)
Thick stands of switchgrass grow along the perimeter of this experimental field at UT’s AgResearch Center in Gibson County. Previously researchers pretty much thought of switchgrass only for possible biofuels. But if it grows in the ground, and it’s nutritious, it’s also feed for livestock.
Dr. Gary Bates (UT Extension)
“A producer may have 30 or 50 or 100 acres of switch grass maybe going for biofuels, but take a portion of that and use it as a hay crop for his cattle.”
UT forage specialist Dr. Gary Bates says he likes switchgrass as hay because it grows well in difficult conditions.
Dr. Gary Bates
“This plant has a really deep root system. Physiologically it has a photo synthetic pathway that makes it much more efficient with its water use. So we have the chance to grow something with limited rainfall and still get pretty good production off of it.”
Producer Tim Brannon is growing 15 acres of switchgrass on his Henry County farm as part of UT’s research efforts, and likes the crop’s versatility.
Tim Brannon (Henry County Producer)
“We’re finding out if you do cut SG at an early stage, the protein content can get up there equal to say fescue - if it’s cut at the proper stage. And then you can still come along and get a biomass crop harvest later in the year.”
UT experts also believe switchgrass is easy on the air we breathe, and puts very little carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They’re conducting research statewide to measure how switchgrass keeps CO2 in the soil, which impacts possible global warming. UT’s Dr. Don Tyler is monitoring carbon levels at certain soil depths with Switchgrass in ten Tennessee counties. He says fossil energy sources such as coal or oil increase CO2 and other greenhouse gases. But SG has no additive effect. It uses CO2 as it grows, and then puts the same amount - or less - back into the atmosphere.
Dr. Don Tyler (UT AgResearch)
“Whereas switchgrass is a perennial, meaning it grows from one year to the next, a lot of the roots do not die. They’re like tree roots. They stay in the ground. This is a major source of potentially storing carbon below ground.”
Tyler says this research could go on for a decade. Meantime, researchers and more Tennessee farmers will be growing switchgrass - a crop that can be fuel, forage and a friend to mother earth
NOTE: UT recently announced it will collaborate with Dupont-Danisco in plans to build a biorefinery in Monroe County to produce ethanol from switchgrass.